Cities, states, and nations are suffering financial pains these days. How shall the financial woes and crises of the present be settled in a just and reasonable way?
Unfortunately, the argumentation usually reduces to the political. That’s understandable. After all, government representatives and officials are the ones facing these public problems; however, if political ideologies take the foreground, as is happening in places like Wisconsin and Ohio, there is a tendency to set aside compromise, reasonable debate and civility.
Disagreements can escalate into anger. I have seen that happen between my siblings and extended family. Even in Catholic communities there are disputes arising because of financial stress on parishes and schools.
Are there any guiding principles that flow from the gospel or from the Church? What should a Catholic do? What follows is my short, overly-simplified response to these questions:
We Catholics are obliged to take seriously our civil duties. First, we owe respect to public officials charged with the welfare of citizens—the common good. That means respect for people from the lowest clerks and janitors to police, fire and public safety officers. We have to show respect to those in elected office—whether we agree with their views and whether or not we voted for them. In my opinion, growing disrespect is often shown our public servants.
On questions and debates about taxes it is worth pondering the words of the Lord: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (cf. Matt 22:21). Of course, that does not solve budgetary and legislative issues, but such basic respect for public officials ought to constrain all violence and open the doors to civility. Rational, respectful debate in the quest for the common good seems to be lacking in our political processes today.
Second, we need to remember that the Church’s social teachings are rooted in the gospel. Because Catholic social teachings express gospel-based values, every Catholic ought to endeavor to live those values every day of our lives. Fundamental respect of every person, regardless of race, religion, age, politics, gender, ethnicity, etc., must characterize social interaction. Social and economic rights must be accorded to all and balanced in an equitable manner in our nation and in the world.
Sometimes, with the current polarization in the Church, we Catholics easily forget the basic value of respect for every person. We are tempted to use name-calling as we dismiss those persons with whom we disagree. It takes self-control to stifle such knee jerk reactions, lest disagreement turns to disrespect and disrespect to hatred, which explodes in violence. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us (cf. Mt 5:43-48). In other words, we ought to strive to have no enemies.
The question is, do we cultivate gospel attitudes? Do we witness to the gospel by the way we lead our lives? I confess, I have a lot of growing to do. How about you?
***** Photo: federico stevanin
by the Roundtable Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors