photo of Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA

Budgets are Moral Documents

On the Monday after Easter PBS talk show host and social commentator Tavis Smiley appeared on NBC’s Today Show with Ann Curry.  During a discussion about the pending battle over the federal budget, he made a comment that I think is compelling and worth repeating and reflecting upon: “Budgets are moral documents.”

Smiley believes there has not been enough attention paid to the poor since 2008. I agree. He also questions “are we going to side with the weak or side with the strong in this country?” Budgets, he asserts, say a lot about what our values and priorities are as a society, and in looking at the budgets that have been proposed so far by both parties adds “Frankly, I don’t like the look of any of them.”  I agree with that, too.

Smiley’s appearance was related to his upcoming book, Fail Up. He cautions that we cannot be afraid of the future or we will be frozen by the fear of failure. Failure, he notes, does not have to be final or fatal and in fact can make us stronger as we learn from our failures. When we celebrated Easter this past weekend we heard the risen Jesus say to his disciples at the tomb, “Be not afraid.” They were about to embark on a new and uncharted road to build a church that is still strong more than 2,000 years later.  Many of them failed along that road – tortured, stoned, imprisoned. Yet their work succeeded beyond anything they could imagine, because they stood in the truth.

Easter challenges us to think and act anew like those first disciples, both individually and together as a faith community. The Gospel calls us all to advocate for the poor and weak so that each person in America and in the world lives with dignity and respect.  Those of us committed to this work see lives transformed, dreams become a reality, and people restored to wholeness.  Just as important, we recognize the presence of Christ in our midst, in the needs of our sisters and brothers.  These “appearances” are a sublime gift.  But you can only see them with the eyes of faith.

In the days and months ahead, as we debate how we go forward as a nation, we will again step into unknown territory, and we can’t forget that our budget – the blueprint for how we allocate our resources – is a moral document.  Our guidelines are simple. Focus on the poor. Side with the weak. Love God and your neighbor. And in doing so, be not afraid. That is the truth we are called to uphold every day, above all else.