The first paragraph of the U.S. bishops’ statement, Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on Parish Social Mission, states: “The parish is where the Church lives…where the gospel is proclaimed…where believers are formed and sent to renew the earth. Parishes … are the heart of our Church.”
Catholics feel emotionally and literally connected to their parish. They come together as a community to be fed and to hear the Word. The primary setting at which the great majority of Catholics hear the Church’s teachings is at weekend Masses. That’s why homilies about Catholic teaching can have a great impact and directly influence actions by members of that parish community.
When the U.S. bishops sent a letter to Congress on May 19, 2017, expressing concern about the proposed federal budget and stating that a budget is a moral document, we at St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, MD, wanted to make sure that parishioners were aware of the letter. We put a short quote from the letter into the bulletin and a copy of the complete letter as an insert in the bulletin. At the end of each Mass, an announcement from the altar invited people to sign a thank you note to the bishops in the gathering space as they leave. We had signature sheets available headed by a quote from the letter: “The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates.”
Many readily signed while others wanted clarification about certain paragraphs in the letter, which led to interesting, in-depth conversations. It was an opportunity for people with varying viewpoints to have a civil discussion, unfortunately too rare these days. Although it was exciting collecting the signatures, the education component was most important. People went home with the bishops’ letter in hand so they could consult it as the budget debate continued.
People have heard the gospel mandate to protect those who have less (e.g. Matthew 25) many times. It resonates with them. They also realize that difficult budget decisions must be made. The letter reminded them that a budget is not just an accounting of money, but a document that has deep moral implications, because how we spend our money shows what we value. A budget should be guided by criteria that respect the life and dignity of the human person and promote policies that enable people to live a truly human life, such as the right to food, shelter, health care, education, etc.
This concern for the physical well-being of others has deep roots in Catholic teaching. Pope Francis in a papal audience (5/16/13) quoted the words of the fourth century bishop, St. John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.”
We at St. Francis of Assisi parish put faith in action in various areas. We have a sister parish in Haiti. We have active ministries with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Pax Christi. We promote the full inclusion of people with developmental differences, offer pregnancy outreach and assistance, help with refugee resettlement, and participate in many other ministries. Collecting signatures to thank the bishops for their leadership on the federal budget brought all these interests under one banner.
In an era when there are so many issues competing for attention, there can be a temptation to turn off the flow of information and retreat. This action, instead, emphasized ‘oneness’ in the Spirit. Our acts of justice and peace do not flow from any particular political philosophy, but from our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.
As the bishops said in their closing paragraph, they “stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good.” We stand with them.
Marie Barry is a former Staff Associate in the Office of Social Development in the Archdiocese of Washington. A parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, MD, and St. Camillus in Silver Spring, MD, Ms. Barry holds a Master’s degree in Theology from Washington Theological Union.
Read WeAreSaltAndLight.org’s recent feature story on St. Francis of Assisi’s budget advocacy. Join the U.S. Catholic bishops in taking action to ensure that the well-being of those who are poor and vulnerable is prioritized in federal budget policy.