Scripture Reflections – Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

Dt 4:1-2;6-8; Jas 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

“You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”  These words of Jesus condemning the Pharisees for following the letter of the Jewish food laws but ignoring the spirit of the entire Torah – mercy and love – are resonating within me in a particular way today.

Before I left for retreat last Thursday (it was lovely, by the way) I thought I heard over a very static-filled radio that Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York had agreed to give the benediction at the Republican convention this week.  I hoped that I had misunderstood, but sadly I did not.  The Archbishop maintains that his appearance is pastoral and not political and that his presence in no way implies the support of the Catholic Church for the Republican party.  Really?

It’s all the more sad to me because just a week ago the Archbishop, to his credit, resisted pressure from Conservative Catholics to disinvite President Obama to the annual Al Smith dinner held in the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.  This dinner is and has always been about as bi-partisan as one can get, focused not on partisan politics but on encouraging dialogue among both parties concerning issues of social justice close to the heart of the Church.

Today I read in my local Catholic newspaper a guest article by the Archbishop of Denver which adds to my general angst.  It was an opinion piece clearly aimed at backtracking form the official position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic bishops criticizing now Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan for the creation of a budget plan which disregards significant Catholic social justice principles.

Does the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the United States really understand that God is not a Republican?   Don’t get me wrong – God is not a Democrat either, but the hierarchical opposition to certain policies of the Obama administration leaves no doubt about the bishops’ thinking there.    More to the heart of the matter – Do our bishops realize that the more and more they carry on this charade of supporting Republican candidates and causes in all but name (and thus lose their tax exempt status?) – the more credibility they lose as independent moral teachers in the hearts and minds of more and more of the faithful?  Or, like the Pharisees whom Jesus speaks about in this Sunday’s  gospel reading, are they more concerned about clinging to human traditions (especially those which feature a red, white and blue elephant) over God’s commandments?

Because when it comes to politics, Jesus and many of the prophets before him told us very clearly: God’s constituency consists of all of the human race, with a particular emphasis on the weak, the lame, the poor, the needy and the oppressed.

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

P.S.   Below you will find the text of the letter I wrote to my Catholic newspaper today:

In his guest column printed in your August 22nd, 2012 edition, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, Colorado wrote: “His (Congressman Paul Ryan’s) fiscal perspective has been roundly condemned as being somehow anti-Catholic – even by a few American bishops.”   In fact,  the budget proposal spearheaded by Congressman Rayn in the House of Representatives was criticized by representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as about 60 other heads of various Christian denominations and religious organizations and the heads of 45 developmental agencies.   According to the statement released by the USCCB, Congressman Ryan’s budget plan “undermines the lives of dignity and the rights of poor and vulnerable people”.   
While I absolutely agree with the Archbishop that Compassion for the poor cannot disregard fiscal responsibility, we must also keep in mind that  the Catholic social justice  principle commonly referred to as the “preferential option for the poor” forbids disciples of Christ to balance the budget of the United States on the backs of those in need.
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