Anyone who watched the squabbling in Washington last week concerning the federal budget may have pricked up their ears during the reading of the Gospel at Sunday’s liturgy. Lazarus has fallen ill, and after a few days dies. His sisters, Mary and Martha, cry upon seeing Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yes, Lord, if only you had been here last week.
In the Gospel, Jesus restores Lazarus to life. But he does not do this as a circus side show; he does something startling to refocus our intention on the power of God and to call us to him in continuing his work here on earth.
We recognize that the economic crisis that began a few years ago has made it critical for our nation to rethink and redesign how funds are gathered and allocated through the budget. And we agree that all of us – government and individuals – need to live within our means. But there are more than 40 million Americans for whom their meager earnings do not provide enough to survive. So how do we craft a budget that takes us into the future? What should be the focus that drives us and informs us to make the right decisions?
In his encyclical letter, Caritas in Veritate, issued at the height of the global economic crisis, Pope Benedict XVII offers this cautionary note: “I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: ‘Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life’”
He then instructs us to seek the common good:
“Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of “all of us”, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society. It is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it. To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the pólis, or “city”. The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis.”
If millions are living in poverty, who is answering their cries for help? Like Jesus in Bethany, we are called to stand before what appears to be an impossible task and find solutions that are rooted in his love for all of us. As the President and members of Congress press on with their work we ask Americans to think and act anew about what we stand for as a nation, and whether our every action is directed to provide every living person with the opportunity to take ownership of their lives to the extent that they are able.