Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Welcome to the many family members and friends of the children who celebrate First Eucharist this weekend.  What a great pleasure it is to celebrate the faith of these children and the example of their parents who are good shepherds and their first teachers in the ways of faith.

In their document “Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility,” the US Bishops call Catholics to form their consciences in the light of their Catholic faith and to bring our moral principles to the debate and decisions about candidates and issues.  This week citizens of North Carolina are being asked to vote.  A key decision we’ll make is whether or not to amend our state constitution defining marriage. The amendment would re-define marriage providing that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”  With this constitutional amendment in place, the legislature and courts could not create or recognize civil unions or any other form of domestic partnership for any purpose.

In a letter contained within this bulletin, our bishop, Michael Burbidge, asks us to vote on May 8 in support of this amendment.  Information about the church’s teaching on sacramental marriage is available at www.foryourmarriage.org, and the bishop’s teaching on the amendment at www.catholicvoicenc.org.  It’s my hope that discussion about this amendment will help us better understand why we look upon sacramental marriage between one man and one woman as holy and sacred.

I encourage you to rightfully form and vote your conscience on May 8.  The bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote. Our purpose is to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with God’s truth. We recognize that the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience, and that participation goes well beyond casting a vote in a particular election (Faithful Citizenship #7).  The Second Vatican Council also speaks to the primacy of conscience in the pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:  In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of people in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a person who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin (Gaudium et Spes # 16).  How do we form a right conscience?  It’s not always easy.  The Catholic Catechism offers this guidance:  To this purpose, a person strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his gifts (Catholic Catechism # 1788).

I have found as a priest that healthy human relationships inside and outside of marriage are not easy. They require hard work, understanding, and sacrifice. Emotional abuse and violence against women and the sad reality of separation and divorce happen with ever greater frequency. Amendment 1 does not address this human struggle. The first question is not the definition of marriage. The first question is how to improve, how to strengthen human relationships. The most simple and basic question I ask myself is what vote would Jesus cast to help make known the reign of God in our midst?

I pray that you will take the time to form your conscience on this issue by taking seriously what the church teaches through our bishop, reflecting upon and interpreting the data of your own personal experience and the signs of the times, conversing with trusted people, and most importantly, praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If this happens then I know you will make a wise and holy decision this Tuesday, May 8.

In the peace of Christ,

Fr. Mark