(The following article was posted Monday, Dec. 5, on the website of the Diocese of San Bernardino. It was written by Bishop Gerald Barnes. Thanks to Christopher Zehnder for calling my attention to it.)
What are we to make of the Occupy Movement that has found its way from Wall Street to many communities here in our diocese? How does our Catholic faith inform our view of it?
Some of us may have already joined the protests or considered it. Others may wonder ‘what’s the point?’ or question the use of civil disobedience as a means of political expression.
Certainly this movement is a reflection of the dissatisfaction and despair felt by so many who face unemployment, foreclosure, poverty, hunger and other ill effects of the Great Recession that has gripped our country for the past three years. Our diocese has felt this pain significantly, reporting unemployment and poverty rates that are among the worst in the United States. It’s no surprise, then, that people in San Bernardino, Riverside, Redlands, Victorville and other cities are taking to the streets to vent their frustration.
One of the great gifts of our nation is our right to freedom of expression, to speak our mind publicly when we disagree with a prevailing policy or wish to bring light to something we believe unjust. Those participating in the Occupy Movement are exercising that right and should be free to do so. At the same time, any destruction of property, violence and other abuses that take place as part of these protests must be condemned. Even such a strong statement of disagreement must carry the flag of civility. We have the right to disagree with one another. We do not have the right to be disrespectful of anyone.
The Occupy Movement is challenging the fairness of our economic system, given that more and more people are being hurt by it than helped by it these days. Our faith is concerned with the economy in its impact on the human dignity that God grants each of us. We may think of the economy in terms of job reports, business transactions, stock markets and growth projections but Catholic teaching holds that the economy must be measured by how well it serves the people. Does it provide opportunities for meaningful work for the individual, a stability of food and shelter so that families can thrive, a distribution of resources that does not disproportionately favor one group over another and, in reflection of our Lord Jesus’ call in Matthew’s Gospel, does it provide for the poor and most vulnerable among us?
Much is made about the opportunity in America to go as far financially as your hard work, intelligence and determination can carry you. This is a great ideal but the workings of the economy must make it true. If the system is conducive to wealth for some at the expense of many others, this great statement of opportunity is not being lived. Those who have joined the Occupy Movement are telling us that such an imbalance may have come to pass.
This dovetails with our Catholic teaching that policies, laws and systems are created to serve the common good. We are not concerned just about individual opportunity but how the economy enhances community life. Whether or not we choose to become part of the Occupy Movement, we are called as Catholics to exercise Faithful Citizenship, raising our voices when we see moral failure in the public policies and government actions that shape our lives. We do this not to side with a particular political ideology or to follow a cultural trend. We do it for the same reason every time – to protect and promote human dignity. We believe that every life has value – regardless of economic status, race, age, health or any other factor. This is the love to which our Lord Jesus Christ calls us.
Twenty-five years ago, a time that seems prosperous compared to today’s economic climate, the Bishops of the United States issued “Economic Justice for All,” a pastoral letter that applied Catholic Social Teaching to the U.S. Economy. It remains remarkably relevant today. As a reference for Catholic thinking about the Occupy Movement, I highly recommend a revisiting of this letter. It can be found at: http://www.usccb.org.
Regardless of your opinion about the Occupy Movement I urge you to continue to pray for those who find themselves in the margins of our society because of these difficult economic times, and to come to their aid in whatever way that you can.
This time of Advent is a time of hope. It is a time for reflection and action. We prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s coming. May he find us waiting in hope; attentive to each other’s need; and sharing with one another the gifts He has given us.
My best wishes to you for a joyous and blessed Advent.
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