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Sister Denise reflects on Election Day

The last several months have heightened my awareness of and gratitude for the privilege of voting as a way to exercise responsible citizenship and to shape public policy in the United States. As is often the case for me, it is in witnessing the lack of something that tunes me into that “thing’s” value.

Sister Denise Wilkinson

Think back to the images of the people of Egypt, of Syria, of Libya. I am aware, as well, that our nation has its own way of exercising violence against our citizens, of limiting access to rights like education, health care, shelter, food — the list goes on.

We are not a perfect people; we are not free of what Gandhi called “social sins.” And how many times do we hear friends, family (maybe even ourselves) proclaim: “It doesn’t matter who I vote for — nothing ever changes. So I’m not going to vote.” I bet each of us feels some resonance with that sentiment.

So why vote?

Could it be as simple as “it’s the right thing to do?” Voting is a refusal to hand over to another — any other — my freedom to choose a person with values and sensibilities about our city, our nation, our world, that correspond to my values and principles. It’s a refusal to give into cynicism (or lethargy or sloth) and a statement of my willingness to step into the political process and to learn what I need to learn about candidates so I can make an informed and intelligent and responsible choice. It’s a refusal to despair and it’s an act of hope to continue to believe and act from the belief that participation is always more effective than observation.

These thoughts were swirling around in my head when I stopped writing to go to our daily Eucharistic Liturgy. There we heard the passage of Jesus reminding the Pharisees not to invite friends, family or wealthy neighbors to their banquets but instead invite “beggars and the crippled, the lame and the blind” (Luke 14:13).

Father Dan, our chaplain, commented on how often Jesus calls our attention to our duty to those who have the least. He followed that by reminding us of the saying that “the true test of any society is how it treats its poor.”

Thanks to Father Dan, I started to think about how my vote in local or national elections can be one way to act responsibly on behalf of those made poor. I made the connection — once again — between good citizenship, an informed conscience and Gospel living.

Informing ourselves

Learning about candidates and proposed policies and stated viewpoints certainly takes a willingness to inform myself via a variety of sources. I appreciate these websites: Catholic Charities USA and Network, as well as Pax Christi.

The Sisters of Providence sponsor (along with other religious communities) 8th Day Center for Justice, located in Chicago. Their newsletter, “Centerings,” and their website are very helpful in my quest for alternative information.

America Magazine” has good social analysis and discussion of the social teachings of the Catholic Church. There’s a ton of resources out there — and it does take an effort to get a view other than from the TV network and syndicated print and electronic media.

Voting in favor of Gospel values

As Christians our votes have to be in favor of Gospel values and one of the clearest Gospel values has to be Jesus’ preference for the poor, despised and discriminated against.

Given that Gospel priority, how will I vote and for whom will I vote? And then, how will I continue to interact with the officials elected in order to shape the public agenda in favor of the Gospel? After all, voting is just the first step in exercising responsible citizenship.

Being a responsible citizen and being a citizen who follows the way of Jesus takes effort. Making the effort depends on our ability to hope for things as yet unseen — but possible. So vote, friends, vote!

Let’s exercise not only our freedom to vote but our responsibility to live our faith in the political choices we make. May each informed, principled vote we cast, make it more likely that the “beggars and the crippled, the lame and the blind” will benefit the most from our choices.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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