Health care, justice and the course of our national debate

With the summer ending, most of us will focus again on the normal routine of work, ministry and family life.  But as we do, we should remember a line from the second reading of last Sunday’s liturgy…

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas 1:27).

The Epistle of James, along with many other passages of Scripture, reminds us “to be doers of the Word and not hearers only,” and that “faith apart from works is dead.”  In other words, claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ is not enough.  We need to prove it by our actions.  We show our faith first by seeking God in daily prayer, and by treating our family, friends, coworkers and the strangers we meet every day with justice and love. 

But our obligations go beyond that because the Church is a community, and God created us as social creatures.  Our Catholic faith should shape the way we think about all of the public issues we face.  That means we should be informed and engaged as believers when it comes to the social, economic and political problems of our time.  For Christians, good citizenship is a subset of, and subordinate to, our fidelity to God.  We have duties to other people not because the state says so, but because they—like us—were created by God and are loved by him. 

Of course, most of the really important things in life have nothing to do with politics.  But some issues do demand our involvement, and when we get involved, we need to do so as Catholics first.  Over the past four decades, first the left, then the right, and now the left again, have become quite skilled at using religion to press their agendas.  It’s not a surprise.  It’s not even really new.  Faith and politics have always intersected on important human dignity issues.  But when that happens, our task is to act as disciples, not agents of a political party; and to distrust partisans, no matter what their political tribe. 

The health-care debate this fall is a good place to remember our discipleship and think clearly about the course of our country.  We can start by considering a few basic facts.

First, while adequate health care for all Americans may not be seen by some as a “right” in the same sense as our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it certainly is an obligation of a just society.  If we see ourselves as a civilized people, then we have a duty to satisfy the basic medical needs of the poor, the elderly and the disabled to the best of our ability.  This is why America’s bishops have pressed so hard for national health-care reform for so many years, and continue to do so.

Second, a government role in ensuring basic health care for all citizens can be completely legitimate.  Historically, Americans have had a prudent distrust of government and expanding state power.  But that does not justify excluding government from helping to solve chronic problems when no other solutions work.


Third, the principle of subsidiarity in Catholic social thought reminds us that problems should be solved as modestly and locally as possible.  In other words, government involvement should normally be the choice of last resort.  Moreover, a proper government role in solving the health-care crisis does not necessarily demand a national public plan, run or supervised by government authorities.  Real health-care reform need not automatically translate into federal programming.

Fourth, no national health-care plan can be morally legitimate if it allows, even indirectly, for the killing of the unborn, or discriminatory policies and pressures against the elderly, the infirm and disabled.  Protecting the unborn child and serving the poor are not unrelated issues; they flow from exactly the same Christian duty to work for social justice.

Congress and the White House deserve our thanks for highlighting the health-care issue in a vivid way.  But that doesn’t absolve their proposals—or anyone’s counter-proposals—from questions, criticism and serious, patient debate.  Too much is at stake to handle this complex and crucial issue like a juggernaut.  As Catholic citizens, we have the duty  to keep ourselves “unstained” by the slogans, shortcuts and tribal loyalties of party politics and to stay focused on defending and advancing human dignity—from conception to natural death; especially when the issue is health care.

[readon1 url=”http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/2491/Archbishop’s-Column/”]Source: DCR[/readon1]

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