“To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity.” Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium #180)
The 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering is in full swing. Hundreds of leaders in the Catholic community from across the country and as far away as Cameroon, Australia, Canada and Vatican City, have come together for this annual conference sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The climax of the gathering will take place when these leaders bring an agenda driven by justice, truth and the common good to lawmakers in Congress this coming Tuesday. These latest blog entries have attempted to throw into relief the different issues that CSMG participants are praying about and discerning in the light of Catholic social doctrine. This one will briefly explore spending priorities in the federal budget.
Last evening, Father Daniel Groody, CSC, from the University of Notre Dame, laid bare for CSMG participants what he considers the heart of Catholicism. According to Fr. Groody, “Catholicism is about bringing fractured humanity back into unity and communion.” It’s humbling to consider that Christ’s work of building solidarity is taking place mysteriously even now, in hearts, families, charitable works, in the Church’s work of prophetic announcement of the Kingdom of God and in the prophetic denouncement of injustice and fractures to the community of humankind.
Injustice, division and poverty are scandalous contradictions to the Kingdom. Our response to each of these defines us as believers. This is no less true when considering our efforts as a nation to address the fractures in our own commonweal.
The bishops of the United States have identified significant imbalances in the allocation of our nation’s resources to promote our common good, particularly in the federal budget. We are all familiar with the pervasive economic imbalances that continue to generate poverty, unemployment and underemployment. We’re also familiar with the need to resolve the problem of our federal debt. But because of the politically motivated rhetoric that often distorts perceptions of federal funding priorities, it’s not as commonly known that over half of the federal discretionary budget goes to defense spending.
This real imbalance comes at the expense of programs at home and abroad intended to address poverty and create opportunity. Not only does our nation’s discretionary budget devote disproportionate resources to the military, but the United States spends disproportionately relative to other countries. Indeed, the U.S. spends more on military and defense than the next 10 highest countries combined, most of those being U.S. allies. Investment in nuclear weapons modernization programs, currently being pursued by President Obama, undercuts the long-term goal of working for a world free of nuclear weapons.
The needs of national security cannot be denied; however, one ought not pit national security against the common good and the needs of the poor and vulnerable. Indeed, recent events around the world have given the lie to the belief that peace can be achieved by military force alone. Even national security is only at the service of the common good. Nuclear weapons modernization is but an example of the unnecessary spending that undermines both national security and human security.
When the bishops speak out on these and similar issues, it is commonly objected that they lack the necessary competence on matters of economy and federal spending. One ought to consider the consistency over the decades with which the bishops have raised these issues and the degree to which their words have been prophetic. Pope Francis’ words are also instructive here:
The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being. It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven.
The serious immediate and long-term challenges facing our national economy demand a just and equitable balance of needs and resources. These choices have real consequences on people’s lives.
Dylan Corbett is manager for mission & identity outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.
Check out the USCCB backgrounder, A Peace Economy: Rebalancing Spending Priorities.