Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

  May 10, 2004

The role of religion in governing society

Two of the dearest people of Waverly recently had physical setbacks.

Sister Rose Fitzpatrick, C.S.J. is recuperating at Bethany Convent 1870 Randolph, St. Paul, MN 55105 and Mabel Fitzpatrick is at Park View Care Center, 200 Park Lane, Buffalo, MN 55313. They would love to hear from Waverly!

I am taking a risk here, because I have no business writing a religion column, but I found this passage from Fr. Ron Rolheiser's book, "The Holy Longing," so compelling that I have to share it as widely as I can.

As an old social worker, it fits in well with what I believe, and as a graduate of St. Mary's High School, with the Sisters of St. Joseph as my teachers, it is what I still strive to live up to. Here is the passage in question:

Throughout the centuries, the Christian churches have developed social principles as an integral part of the teachings of Jesus. Obviously, as in most everything else, there are some major differences among the various denominations as to how these teachings of Jesus are understood and applied.

However, despite these differences, there is essential consensus on the major points. With few exceptions, all Christian denominations hold and teach the following principles:

1. All people in this world have equal dignity and should enjoy equal rights in terms of respect, access to resources, and access to opportunity.

2. God intended the earth for all persons equally. Thus the riches of the world should flow equally and fairly to all people. All other rights, including the right to private property and the accumulation of riches that are fairly earned, must be subordinated to this more primary principle.

3. The right to private property and the accumulation of wealth is not an absolute one - but must be subordinated to the common good, namely, to the fact that the goods of the earth are intended equally for everyone.

4. No person, group of persons, or nation may have a surplus of goods if others lack the basic necessities.

That is the present situation within our world, where some individuals and nations have excess while others lack the basic necessities. This is immoral, goes directly against the teachings of Christ, and must be redressed.

5. We are obliged, morally, to come to the aid of those in need. In giving such aid, we are not doing charity, but serving justice. Helping the poor is not an issue of personal virtue and generosity, but something that is demanded of us by the very order of things.

6. The laws of supply and demand, free enterprise, unbridled competition, the profit motive, and private ownership of means of production may not be seen as morally inviolate and must, when the common good, and justice demands it, be balanced by other principles. No one has the moral right to earn as much as he or she can without concern for the common good (even if he or she is a celebrity).

7. Physical nature, too, has inherent rights, namely rights that are intrinsic to itself and not simply given to it because of its relationship to humanity. The earth is not just a stage for human beings to play on. It, too, is a creature of God, with its own rights which humans may not violate.

8. The condemnation of injustice is part of the church's essential ministry of preaching and is an essential aspect of the church's prophetic role.

9. Movement toward the poor is a privileged route toward God and toward spiritual health. There can be no spiritual health, individually or communally, when there is no real involvement with the struggles of the poor. Conversely, riches, of any kind, are spiritually dangerous.

The world has changed in a way that has necessitated a growing emphasis on social justice. Until the industrial revolution, the moral focus of the church was on the family. The family was the unit upon which the very existence of the culture depended. Until the industrial revolution radically changed things, Christian moral theology was focused quite strongly on the moral contours of the family - monogamy, sex as linked to marriage and procreation, mutual respect within marriage, the duties of parents and children toward each other, and the like. All good.

Then the industrial revolution brought forth a whole wave of new issues: exploitation of workers, urban poverty, slums, anonymous urban living, and isolation from family structures.

Churches began to teach about racial justice, the necessity of just wages, moral checks to unbridled capitalism, the rights of unions to exist, private and government responsibilities to the poor, and most of the other social justice principles just stated.

What is needed today is not isolation, but essential connectedness,;not militarism, but expenditure for the enhancement of life, not tribal nationalism, but global justice.

(Father Rolheiser goes on with this meditation on The Lord's Prayer.):

Our Father. . . who always stands with the weak, the powerless, the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the aged, the very young, the unborn, and those who, by victim of circumstance, bear the heat of the day.

Who art in heaven. . . where everything will be reversed, where the first will be last and the last will be first, but where all will be well and every manner of being will be well.

Hallowed be thy name. . . may we always acknowledge your holiness, respecting that your ways are not our ways, your standards are not our standards. May the reverence we give your name pull us out of selfishness that prevents us from seeing the pain of our neighbor.

Your kingdom come. . . help us to create a world where, beyond our own needs and hurts, we will do justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with you and each other.

Thy will be done. . . open our freedom to let you in so that the complete mutuality that characterizes your life might flow through our veins and, thus, the life that we help generate may radiate your equal love for all and your special love for the poor.

On earth as it is in heaven. . . may the work of our hands, the temples and structures we build in this world, reflect the temple and the structure of your glory so that the joy, graciousness, tenderness and justice of heaven will show forth within all of our structures on earth.

Give. . . life and love to us and help us to see always, everything as gift.

Help us to know that nothing comes to us by right and that we must give because we have been given to. Help us realize that we must give to the poor, not because they need it, but because our own health depends upon our giving to them.

Us. . . the truly plural us. Give not just to our own, but to everyone, including those who are very different than the very narrow us. Give your gifts to all of us equally.

This day. . . not tomorrow. Do not let us push things off into some indefinite future so that we can continue to live justified lives in the face of injustice, because we can make good excuses for our inactivity.

Our daily bread. . . so that each person in the world may have enough food, enough clean water, enough clean air, adequate health care, and sufficient access to education so as to have the sustenance for a healthy life. Teach us to give from our sustenance and not just from our surplus.

And forgive us our trespasses. . . forgive us our blindness toward our neighbor, our self-preoccupation, our racism, our sexism, and our incurable propensity to worry only about ourselves and our own. Forgive us our capacity to watch the evening news and do nothing about it.

As we forgive those who trespass against us. . . help us to forgive those who victimize us. Help us to mellow out in spirit, to not grow bitter with age, to forgive the imperfect parents and systems that wounded, cursed and ignored us.

And lead us not into temptation. . . do not judge us only by whether we have fed the hungry, given clothing to the naked, visited the sick, or tried to mend the systems that victimized the poor. Spare us this test, for none of us can stand before your gospel scrutiny. Give us, instead, more days to mend our ways, our selfishness and our systems.

But deliver us from evil. . . that is, from the blindness that lets us continue to participate in anonymous systems within which we need not see who gets less as we get more.


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