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Catholic Church of the Beatitudes: Prophets in Our Midst

Social justice message of the traveling Nuns on the Bus should not go unheeded

We’ve all heard the stories about prophets from the Old Testament. They were charged with giving people warnings to mend their ways.

The prophets were very specific about the transgressions that people were committing. Isaiah warned against unjust laws (Is. 10:1-2), while Ezekiel (Ez. 34:4) scolded the leaders of Israel for neglecting the weak, the sick and the injured. Zechariah demanded, “Judge with true justice, and show kindness and compassion toward each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the resident alien or the poor” (Zechariah 7:9-10). The messages of those ancient prophets were direct and passionate. Many of their messages could be aimed at the same problems in our society today.

To consider what a prophet today might look like, check out the nuns who packed themselves into a bus to follow Rep. Paul Ryan around in June, challenging his budget proposal with the same strength and passion exhibited by the Prophets of old. How is their message a message from God, and why should we listen?

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a social justice lobby, is the organizer of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour launched on June 17, starting in Iowa and progressing through nine states over two weeks.

Their message is simple and clear. They oppose the budget proposed by Rep. Ryan as being in direct conflict with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. While Ryan claims his budget proposal is based on “the Social Magisterium of the Church,” the Sisters on the bus maintain that it is diametrically opposed to what Jesus taught us about our responsibility to care for the marginal members of society.

As Sister Simone explained, Catholic Social Teaching is based on the Gospel. And if we open up the Gospel we find that Jesus “was always at the margins of society.” He continually preached the need to care for the less fortunate. So while Ryan maintains that we are required to be socially responsible, his budget takes away the essential component of social responsibility: those who have more care for those who have less.

According to Sister Simone, although Ryan says his budget will decrease our national debt, “In fact the Congressional Budget Office says he’s going to increase the debt.” To pay for the costs inherent in the budget, which has already been passed by the House of Representatives, “he wants to cut food stamps so much that every church, synagogue mosque, house of worship in the United States will have to raise an additional $50,000 per year for 10 years to replace what he wants to cut. It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to work. There needs to be public/private partnerships, but this won’t work.”

In Iowa (where Sister Simone made these remarks), his budget would cut $15 million out of the Head Start program over two years. The budget would also cut 1,000 jobs in the state. The budget would end the small-business tax cut. Ryan also wants to increase the cost of drugs for seniors. “That’s wrong. This is not us.” This is not based on the Declaration of Independence, which says all people are created equal. Even Catholic bishops call the budget immoral.

As Sister Simone also said: “We have to have each other’s backs and put ourselves in relationship with those who struggle,” but Ryan’s budget would “devastate those at the margins.” Our solidarity is what will keep us from slipping into isolation, loneliness and depression, because the only time we are fully human is when we are connected to each other.

Alternatively, the Nuns on the Bus propose a much different set of programs (a Faithful Budget) that would be based on responsibly sharing the burden of reducing our deficit while maintaining programs that “lift people out of poverty” and help them become self-reliant. The Nuns on the Bus don’t spend their time finger wagging. They proclaim the Gospel by their ministries to the poor and underserved, which they are continuing as they make the bus pilgrimage — visiting homeless shelters, taking meals with the underserved and hungry in soup kitchens, trusting in the hospitality of others for their nightly accommodations.

At the same time they are proclaiming the need to take care of the neediest people in our society, the Sisters are also standing up against the recent harsh assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious performed by Vatican representatives. They point to the decades of social justice work that religious women in this country have done to minister to those in greatest need — building and staffing hospitals and schools; providing shelter for abused women and for orphans; ministering to prisoners, to the ill and the elderly; in short, caring for people often abandoned by society. These women are living their faith, not just proclaiming it from a pulpit.

The prophetic voice of the Nuns on the Bus should not go unheeded by faith-filled people. Anyone who opposes oppressive and unjust laws, who decries greed and selfishness, and who abhors sexism will listen to that voice and act (and vote) accordingly. I applaud their courage and their selflessness and stand in solidarity with them. I invite you to do the same.

— Lynn Kienzel is a parishioner at the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which meets at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns.

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