On Sunday, August 9, 2009, I took a neighbor lady to Mass at a local parish. The celebrant chose the proposed health care plan currently being pushed through Congress (as soon as they come back from vacation, of course) as the subject of his "Homily." (I had to look that up. A "Sermon" is based on the scripture reading for that day, while a "Homily" is on any subject consistent with Christianity that has some relevance to the congregation. Now you know.)
Some people walked out on the sermon, and a couple of people went up to the priest afterwards and told him how outraged they were that he would dare talk about "politics" and "attack" the infinite wisdom of the State. They didn't put it that way, of course, but the implication was that the priest had no right to do anything other than get up and talk in vague platitudes and make people feel good about themselves.
For the record, the priest only commented about the moral implications of the health care proposal as it has been explained in the newspapers. He told no one what to do, restricting himself to pointing out that, as described, the proposal is not completely consistent with the moral teaching that is common to all religions and philosophies with a basis in the natural law.
Seeing the people who walked out and hearing the comments, I got the impression that the bishop would soon be receiving secret reports on the priest's no doubt scandalous behavior and making people feel bad about themselves. (Knowing how the bishop feels about the subject, however, I have a sneaking hunch any such reports will quickly be deposited in File 13.) Nevertheless (although it is not my habit), I wrote a "fan letter" to the priest, if only to give him some documentary evidence to support the contention that not everyone was offended or outraged by the sermon. I mean homily.
With respect to the Just Third Way, however, the point was to seize the opportunity, and try to see if CESJ or any of the other organizations in the Just Third Way could find some way to introduce more people to the possibilities offered by the Doctors' Plan for Universal Health Care in particular, and Capital Homesteading in general. In this way, we will be able to respond more effectively to our critic (and others) who told us we would "rue the day [we] ever heard of health care financing reform." (cf. our July 30 posting on "Who is Responsible for Our Health Care?") Here's the letter, with incriminating names removed to protect the guilty:
First, let me say once again how much I appreciated your homily at Mass yesterday on the dangers represented by the health care plan currently being pushed through the Congress. It was a necessary wake-up call and reminder of the need for moral guidance in these matters, particularly in light of your obligation to present the teachings of the Church in a practical and comprehensible manner. I hope I adequately conveyed my approval of your action in our brief discussion after Mass.
Second, I confess to being ill-prepared to talk with you, as our volunteer who was with me pointed out, and not having any business cards with me. Let me redress that omission by giving you Dr. Norman Kurland's contact information and our website address again in a possibly more legible fashion:
Dr. Norman Kurland, President
Center for Economic and Social Justice
Third and finally, I'd like to suggest some possible initiatives to take advantage of your bringing these issues out into the open.
One, you might want to visit the CESJ website, www.cesj.org, particularly the "executive summary" of the "Doctors' Plan for Universal Health Care," which was prepared, in part, with input from Dr. Steve White, past president of the Catholic Medical Association. You might also find Dr. Kurland's brief bio useful, as well as the short description of some of CESJ's accomplishments. Of special importance is the pamphlet, Introduction to Social Justice, written by one of CESJ's co-founders, the late Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., "America's greatest social philosopher" (as he was termed by Rev. Andrew F. Morlion, O.P., Ph.D., confidential papal secretary and founder of the International University of Social Studies in Rome).
Two, your mention of Dr. Mercedes Wilson gave me an idea. We have on occasion characterized CESJ's "Just Third Way," particularly the "Capital Homesteading" application, as an economic agenda for the Pro Life movement, especially since the principles of economic justice on which the Just Third Way is based appear to provide a good follow-up to Caritas in Veritate. It would, I think, be very useful for Dr. Kurland and Dr. Wilson to talk. If you could help arrange a meeting, it would be mutually beneficial to both CESJ and Dr. Wilson, especially in her position as a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. You might try mentioning my name in connection with the U.N. conference in Copenhagen that I attended with Father Matthew Habiger, O.S.B., Ph.D. (former head of Human Life International), but I doubt that she remembers me. (Father Habiger is currently on the CESJ board of counselors.)
Three, I spoke with Dr. Kurland earlier today about the possibility of giving a talk at the parish on the Just Third Way as a Pro Life economic agenda, and its congruence with the natural law (and thus Catholic social teaching). Dr. Kurland is generally willing to give talks if an organization can guarantee a large enough crowd, and a small honorarium and travel costs are covered. It might be possible to draw attendees from other parishes if a notice could be inserted in the local Catholic newspaper or other parish bulletins, possibly even nearby Catholic colleges and universities. Including people from institutions of hire (and higher) learning to a talk by Dr. Kurland might suggest some possible courses for them that convert them from the education-as-job-training paradigm to the realization that education is for life training.
If you like, I could drop off copies of a couple of our recent publications at the Rectory, Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen (2004) and In Defense of Human Dignity (2008), or (if you prefer), Capital Homesteading is also available on the website as a free download.
Again, thank you for your homily on Sunday. I think far more people appreciated it than were able to tell you. I saw one woman make applauding motions with her hands, which was most encouraging, even though I generally consider applause at Mass inappropriate.