Platform for the Common Good

In Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 11), Jesus lays some “woe tos” on the towns. It must have been especially painful for Jesus to condemn Capernaum, his dearly beloved home town, for failing to listen to his message. The residents of these towns were not getting it. They did not grasp the message that Jesus was putting forth.
Often, as Catholics, we have not got Jesus’ message. As Sr. Helen Prejean said recently, “We have tamed Jesus. Where is the wild in Jesus?” It was in the Jesus movement for the first three centuries. Then, Instead of converting Constantine, Constantine converted the church. He domesticated Jesus. Tamed him! We have paid the price ever since. Instead of standing over against empires and challenging them based on the real teachings of Jesus, we have got in bed with empire. We have grown prosperous and powerful. We have failed to get the message of Jesus. We have watered down the Good News.
The Desert fathers and Mothers got the message. When the empire was co-opting the Jesus Movement in the fourth century, these men and women fled to the desert to recapture the essence of Jesus’ teachings. Francis of Assisi got it, “If we have possessions, we have to have weapons to defend them.” Dorothy Day got it as she lived with the poor and marginalized. Franz Jagerstetter got it when he refused military service in Hitler’s army. Oscar Romero got it when he stood up for the people of God in El Salvador. Joshua Casteel, a n Iraqi veteran and former interrogator at Abu Ghraib, got it when he converted to Jesus and claimed conscientious objector status.
Now, the people of God who are the Catholic Church, are getting it. Joan and I have just returned from a peak formation experience. We travelled to Philadelphia, the seat of our liberty and freedom, to participate in The Convention for the Common Good. The convention was the joint effort of 17 national Catholic groups. It was a grass roots movement where people from across the country discerned the teachings of Jesus for today. The process culminated in the ratification of The Platform for the Common Good ( ).
The content of the Platform is far from the individualistic pietism of the past. The Platform comes from a recognition that Jesus came to alleviate human suffering—to set captives free, to liberate the oppressed, and to give sight to the blind. Jesus came to show us the way to life through Gospel nonviolence. Jesus came to tell us that it is about justice and mercy not sacrifice. Yes, we pray and enter into a personal relationship with Jesus but we now do so in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Beloved Community. We recognize the Gospel call to be with the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized.
Gandhi said that people who do not mix politics and religion understand neither. The Catholic Bishops call us to full participation in the political process where we can witness to life—the life we have in abundance with Jesus. We are not one issue citizens interested only in abortion. We are interested in all life issues—abortion, war, violence, poverty, capital punishment, economic exploitation and immigration. In the words of the Platform:
Our Catholic tradition raises the best of what it means to be human and challenges us to live up to these ideals. With the U. S. Catholic Bishops [], we acknowledge that ‘we are a nation founded on ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ but the right to life itself is not fully protected.” . . . Victimized are the unborn, those experiencing war and violence, those suffering from economic poverty in our nation, and those fleeing violence and poverty in other nations. Like the U. S. Bishops, we believe “these challenges are at the heart of the public life and at the center of the pursuit of the common good.”
It is time to get involved and to bring the hope of the Good News and the wisdom of our Catholic Social teaching to bear on the electoral process. Through prayer, reflection and further study, we must become informed citizens who know the issues in their totality and vote accordingly.
The Obama campaign sent its Catholic outreach coordinator, Mark Linton, to the convention. [I am not being partisan. I am not aware that the McCain campaign sent anyone for us to meet with.] We had a chance to meet with him and to express our views on issues which concern us: abortion, future relations with Cuba, the war in Iraq, Iran, FISA (Homeland Security legislation), capital punishment, and the Israeli Palestinian issue. This is what it is all about—making candidates aware of our moral positions based on catholic social teaching.
Jesus was very involved in the political processes of his day as he challenged the Roman Empire and the Jewish priestly establishment. He reminded them that the kindom of God is about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and proclaiming a year of Jubilee debt relief. In the face of injustice, he called for mercy and justice. In the face of human misery and suffering, he promised new life now. He gave his life so that we might live nonviolently and have life in abundance—no exceptions. It may not be easy at times. Bishop Gumbleton reminds us not to get involved “if we don’t look good on wood!” But we must be involved—Jesus would have it now other way. I am encouraging you to pray and study. I am encouraging you to get involved.

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