Faith & Life


By JOAN PATTEN, AO     6/25/2024

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE Day! With four months until the presidential election, one can bet conversations over family picnics and gatherings will include politics. For most of us, discussions about political parties and their respective platforms generally are points of division and conflict. Before we brace ourselves for a debate over hot dogs and watermelon, it’s good to find a coin or a dollar to help us recall the foundation of our country: “In God We Trust.”

This is the official motto of the United States, and it is printed on the currency we use daily. If we experience anxiety over the state of our nation or frustration by the political scene often distorted by the media, we have lost sight of God. Our freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly are rights that our founding fathers fought for, but the source of these goods is God, and His hands sustain them.

Trust in God is not a passive act. It is an active choice we make every day. As Catholics, we are called to receive these truths with gratitude and recognize that these rights are at the service of our relationship with God and our neighbors. When political platforms divide our nation and cause us to be hostile towards one another, we have lost sight of our neighbor.

Our freedom allows us to choose to love and worship God and love and serve our neighbors, who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As the laity, our baptismal mission is to be Christ’s light, leaven and salt by living and proclaiming the values of the Gospel into the world. Creating a just society that protects the vulnerable and cares for the poor is the work entrusted to all of us as Christians living in the world.

We will either fail to recognize these needs or be overwhelmed by them and not know how to respond if we do not first form our conscience as the Church directs us. The Church, through our bishops, does not tell us who to vote for but teaches us how to live in God’s truth so we can approach all situations with the mind of Christ (cf. I Cor. 2:16). We take on the mind of Christ by doing what Christ is doing; Christ is always listening to His Father (cf. Jn. 5:30). If we want to think with the mind of Christ, we must make ourselves available to be formed by Christ.

In “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizens” (, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops encourages us to form our consciences according to God’s revealed truth so we may be equipped to approach the difficult political and social decisions of our times. Our bishops have identified four interrelated principles to guide this formation and our political decisions: the Dignity of the Human Person, the Common Good, Solidarity and Subsidiarity.

In the document, our bishops guide us to form our conscience by turning away from the voices of the media and instead taking time to listen to God. We form our conscience by taking time for prayer and reading Sacred Scriptures, seeking to grow in the virtues of prudence, wisdom and charity. Forming our conscience is not just a duty, and it is a path to peace and fulfillment. It causes us to grow and go beyond forming our opinions based on personal or popular preferences. Instead, we want to be united to God, who is Truth, so judging a matter rightly, we may promote what is good and renounce what is evil. This formation will give us peace in our hearts and cultivates our desire to seek God and serve Him in our neighbors, especially the vulnerable and poor.

Each year, we gather to commemorate our independence as a country and give thanks to God for the rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Let us remember that God is the Giver of these rights and the source of unity that makes our country the United States.