We are in jeopardy of losing our way as Christians in America so long as we place the well being of the middle class over and above the common good. Two years ago we had an opportunity as a people to address the horrific circumstances of undocumented immigrants living in America, we chose instead to leave immigration reform in limbo and to crack down on “the illegals”; deporting parents and tearing families apart. Today health care reform once again gives us the opportunity to stand with the poor and to embrace one another as brother and sister, but will we?
While the health, well being and futures of tens of millions of Americans hang in the balance, we as a country continue to play a tired and oppressive contact sport called partisan politics that seems oblivious to human suffering. Political ideologies not only trump Gospel mandates, but even worse, actually use and manipulate them for partisan gain. The Judeo-Christian heritage along with Islam, Hindu and other religious traditions have assigned a vaulted place for those who languish in poverty; while a very strong populist sentiment in America rants about “lazy” welfare recipients and bemoans “entitlements” for the poor.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that the final frontier to humanity’s inhumanity is poverty; he was planning a march and major campaign on behalf of the poor when his life was cut short. Mahatma Gandhi was adamant throughout his life that India had no room for those who considered certain human beings untouchable; his unrelenting dedication to the truth of human equality cost him his life. Then we have Jesus of Nazareth who stood with the poor, identified with the poor and was brutally murdered for challenging the religious and government leaders of His day to really and truly make room for the poor at God’s table.
As much as the world has changed since biblical times it has indeed remained eerily the same. While ever so many modern day prophets like Martha Hennessey and Frank Cordaro cry out for access to health care for all human beings living in our country, the powers that be; political, religious and otherwise manipulate the truth and create a clever smoke screen that insists on the welfare of the privileged at the expense of those who have next to nothing.
To their credit our American Bishops have argued for over three decades that Universal Health Care is a moral imperative for any country that would call itself civilized. Today, every other industrialized country in the western world has universal health care for their citizens save America. We as Americans enjoy the largest, most prosperous middle class the world has ever known; yet thirty six million Americans live in debilitating poverty, forty-seven million have no health care, and the fastest growing number of Americans becoming poor are children under the age of six. The decisions we make collectively as a people will undoubtedly not escape the notice of a God whose Son said: “as often as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Today our Catholic Church in America lobbies for a universal health care that includes the immigrants among us (those derisively called illegals and respectfully referred to as undocumented). The Church speaks in an uninterrupted voice of respect for human life that stretches back to the hospitality that Abraham offered the stranger, in the spirit of St. Francis, Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day, to our present day insistence on the sacredness of every human life including the unborn, minorities, those living in abject poverty, the homeless, and the list is vast and endless. The heartbeat of truth that pulses through the religious heritages of the world will not accommodate a relativist moral mentality that champions the health care needs of some segments of our population “deemed worthy”, while marginalizing others using the manipulative language of “entitlement”.
As we of the Dorothy Day House Youngstown prepare to open our doors on November 22nd, we sound a clarion call on behalf of all our brothers and sisters who struggle at the margins of our society to raise their families and make ends meet. We stand unabashedly on the side of the Social Gospel and in the name of Jesus of Nazareth: “to bring Good News to the poor, …to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Matt. 3:18)
As we set out to fulfill the “Works of Mercy” as annunciated in Matthew 25 we give thanks to our generous benefactors and partners for supporting this initiative. We challenge all to understand that the one step we take for charity on behalf of the poor rings hollow and is for naught, if we fail to take the other step for social justice; a step that makes us all brothers and sisters and that transforms us from a tired group of pilgrims into an authentic community of Christ’s disciples. Let all people of good will speak up and be heard and tell our political representatives that their work on health care reform is not complete until each and every human being living in our country has equal access to health care period, and that includes our undocumented brothers and sisters.
Jesus’ Gospel message led Him to a gruesome death on the cross and so it should not surprise us that the powers that be – including the populist masses and corporate lobbyists still call out for the head of anyone or anything that has even the faintest echo of being a threat to their status quo. Let us of Dorothy Day House Youngstown be tireless in following in the footsteps of Christ by working for peace and social justice. Our Bishops echo the Gospel call to justice in calling for equal access to health care for all an absolute human right and moral imperative; so let us pray for the courage, strength of character and moral fortitude to champion our Gospel values even when they prove unpopular with the powers that be.