In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus very powerfully conveys his vision for life in what has come to be known as the Beatitudes in a very powerful and inspiring way. When reflecting on the Beatitudes, one also may notice that the use of language that Jesus has chosen to communicate the Beatitudes conveys not only his vision for the lives of his followers, but also how he wants that vision to be brought about.
For example, “Blessed are the peacemakers ….” Notice that Jesus does not say “Blessed are the peaceful,” rather he deliberately says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” the implication is clearly that the followers of Jesus need to be active in actually bringing about the world that Jesus challenges us to create. Clearly Catholics are called to advocate actively on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable in many ways. One way that may not immediately come to mind is to work in the legislative arena for the common good.
The Catholic Advocacy Network (CAN) is one of the ways that the bishops of New York State have developed to facilitate Catholics to carry out this Advocacy Ministry using the technology of the internet and e-mail. The CAN is a grassroot network of concerned Catholics who want to make a difference in the legislative arena. The Network sends e-mail alerts on breaking legislative developments, offers pre-written messages to your elected representatives and enables you to send the message with just a few clicks of your computer mouse. If you wish, you may modify the pre-written letter or you may delete it entirely and write your own letter. There are no addresses to look up, no stamps to find and no letters to forget to mail. It could not be easier! You can let your voice be heard from the comfort of your home and it literally only takes a minute.
Does it work? You bet it does! We have already found this to be a powerful tool to communicate with our legislators in our advocacy efforts. Last year alone the 66,000 active members of the Catholic Advocacy Network (CAN) sent over 300,000 messages to our legislators. The potential of this CAN is enormous: there are 7.5 million Catholics in New York State. As the network grows, our ability to affect the laws of our state and nation will only grow.
The Network is administered by the New York State Catholic Conference, which is the official public policy office of the Catholic Bishops of New York State which is located in Albany. There is no cost to joining the CAN and your name will not be given to any other lists. Participation in the CAN requires very little commitment of time, and offers many benefits.
What principles guide our Advocacy Ministry? While public policy can often be complex, our guiding principles are not. Thankfully, the Church has outlined seven easy to understand Principles of Catholic Social Teaching that guide us in the formulation of our positions on public policy matters. They are: respect for the life and dignity of human persons; a call to family, community and participation; recognition of human rights and responsibilities; special concern for the poor and the vulnerable, the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity with our brothers and sisters; and care for God’s creation.
These are the standards by which we must judge any proposed legislation. Further, it is the duty of Catholics to advocate for the poor and the vulnerable in the public square, and put the common good ahead of party politics. Catholic teaching cannot be labeled or dismissed simply as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. It is often not politically correct. It is always faithful to the Gospel.
How do I sign up? Simply go to the New York Catholic Conference website, www.nycatholic.org and click on the “Take Action” button on the home page. That is it! Once a member, you can join us in pursuing the moral priorities and legislative priorities of our bishops. Catholics CAN make a difference in the halls of our state and federal government.
Father Vavonese is director of the diocesan Public Policy Office.