In order to further Social Justice, Preach!


by Mr. John Keenan, O.P., J.D., lay promoter, peace & justice, Western Dominican Province. 

                On April 13, 2011, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops [hereinafter “USCCB” or “Bishops”] forwarded to members of Congress a letter [See here] noting that writing a federal budget demands “wise bipartisan leadership, clear priorities, and moral clarity.”   America’s financial house needs to be put in order, the USCCB noted, by “fulfilling the demands of justice and moral obligations to future generations; controlling future debt and deficits, and protecting the lives and dignity of those who are poor and vulnerable.”  The Bishops note three “moral criteria” regarding difficult budgetary decisions:  (a) that “every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity; (2) that “the central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects ‘the least of these’”  (Matthew 25), including the those who hunger and are homeless, or who are without work or are in poverty; and, (3) that “government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.” 


Calling life-affirming health care an “urgent national priority,” the Bishops throw great doubt on proposals to convert entitlement programs such as Medicare or Medicaid to block grant programs or subsidies; and the bishops called foreign aid an “essential tool to promote human life and dignity” and to enhance global security.  Pleading that the budget must reduce deficits and protect the poor, jobless, and vulnerable, the bishops call for “shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirements programs fairly.”   The Bishops declare themselves pastors and teachers, “not experts or partisans.”  


                While the Bishops call for “priorities” in the national budget; their focus is wrong-headed.   It is agreed that the budget must be life-affirming, must contain worldwide military adventures and commitments, must provide a social safety net for the poor and vulnerable, must tackle the monumental debt as an overarching generational moral issue; and must control spending.  


As David Walker, former Comptroller of the United States recalled in 2007 that nearly 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire fell for three main reasons: declining moral values and political civility at home, an overconfident military in foreign lands, and government fiscal irresponsibility.   As the old saying goes, nothing changes under the Sun.  Our modern American Republic is plagued by the same issues.   Whether Congress should expand or contract national spending, on what programs it should focus, and the degree of international spending is a prudent question to be answered within the constraints of the constitutional system of limited government framed by the American founding fathers.   


                The real Gospel focus of the American bishops is not a call for governmental action, but the moral make-up of our country.   Their resources should be focused on improving the mediocre catechetical teaching and preaching that occurs around the country, and call American Catholics to personal responsibility and to live a moral life.  While not universally true, many pastors do not teach or preach, but simply cite moral platitudes and generalities during the Homily at Holy Mass.   


                What is needed, is preaching!  True preaching.  If the Bishops want to change the culture and touch the hearts of the American people that will ultimately guide the Congress, preach!  In other words, the Bishop’s pleading to Congress regarding spending rings empty.  Why?  As teachers, the primary office of bishop is to teach the Faithful through effective formation of his priests and congregation.  The Bishops need to preach charity and morality from the pulpit with particularity.  In order to realize social change, the Bishops must engage hearts and minds where it counts: at Church.   A converted heart motivated by love of God and the Gospel, will seek the necessary right action and moral change in their own lives and in their own families and communities. 


                Many social problems our Nation faces are a direct result of immoral conduct.   For example, the rising poverty rate among women and children is due to sexual conduct outside of marriage.    The federal Medicaid and supplementary security income budgets have exploded over the last decade.   Far too many unwed mothers find themselves with few choices and cornered in poverty.  Government rightly comes to the rescue to aid these mothers and children to uphold the human dignity of these vulnerable persons; but let’s not deny the immorality at play.   When unwed men and women act immorally and sleep with one another with utter disregard for other human lives, the children are born in poverty, the mothers are desperate, and the fathers abandon the family.  In the end, the taxpayer is called to fill the remaining monetary void.  It is a desperate problem that finds no immediately solution other than right moral sexual conduct among the American people—especially Catholics.


                There is no easy answer; yet the Bishops hold a part of the solution.  Where are the preachers?    The Bishops need to preach.  Their priests need to be pastors.  The priests need to preach from the pulpit.   Part of the solution is concrete preaching calling people to improve their personal lives by right action, personal responsibility, and moral conduct. 


Preaching should encourage the Faithful to follow the Ten Commandments; to engage only in marital sex; to uphold marriage as between a man and a woman; to encourage choices of life and family; to stay faithful to their spouses; to raise their children rightly; to not worry so much about activism but more about putting their own lives and families in order; to act charitable with family, neighbors, and other parishioners; to tell people to work hard, to pay their bills; to pay their taxes; to stay faithful to home and country; to give a day’s work for a day’s pay; to be honest and not to commit fraud or lying; to be good and effective students and teachers; to be just bosses and managers, and on and on.   


Admittedly, the USCCB has a role in national politics, but its call over the years for expanded government belies the reality that the quality and nature of preaching over the last generation has achieved mediocrity at best.   On many moral issues, until recently the Bishops have remained silent.  In order to pursue a more perfect society, they must engage moral Preaching.


                Calling the Faithful Catholics to live faithful, moral, responsible and good lives is the first step to changing society to live like Christ and focusing His people to act justly with charity.   Such a message can change the world.

 By Mr. John Keenan, O.P., J.D., promoter of peace & justice, Western Dominican Province; Blessed Margaret of Costello Chapter, Boise, Idaho.