While visiting friends in St. Augustine, America’s oldest parish, a few days ago, two things made me think of Paul Ryan. One, I heard middle-schooler Sam Franzini point out that you could detect USA GOLD in Gabby Douglas’ last name. And two, while attending Mass at the Basilica in historic St. Augustine, we heard Fr. Ed observe that the way we treat others should make them say “I saw Jesus!”
1. Would young Sam see Ayn Rand in Ryan with the same clarity that he saw USA GOLD in Douglas? Would voters?
2. And would we say “I saw Jesus!” once we see how Paul Ryan would treat the poor, the hungry, the old and the vulnerable?
Paul Ryan is a Catholic who says wonky things like “Our gifts and talents come from God, not government.” This belief apparently absolves government from providing what God does not. (Ryan’s newly disclosed wealth, inadvertently omitted, we are told, from earlier filings with Congress, makes it clear why Ryan has trouble identifying with those going hungry in this economy.)
As an elected representative of the people—and acolyte of Ayn Rand, Ryan is as willing as Romney, maybe more so, to shrug off the suffering of people who are poor, hungry, old and vulnerable. God, he believes, dispenses gifts and talents to those who most deserve them (and they tend to be wealthy) and leaves the rest to fend for themselves as best they can. Ryan’s God does not do welfare.
But Catholics famously do.
Hey, maybe Ryan just does not understand the concept of looking out for the poor and the vulnerable? My mother –who is no theologian but who has a wonderful sense of what it means to be Catholic –often says that we are supposed to give away with the left hand what we receive with our right. That is a simple, practical translation of the Catholic insistence on “a preferential option for the poor.”
The man lauded for his wonky ways should check out the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It offers a very helpful explanation of how we live out this core Catholic idea:
Here are two excerpts that someone who is intent on protecting the wealthy from more tax increases while taking food stamps away from hungry families might want to pay attention to:
“The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; the production to meet social needs over production for military purposes.” (Address on Christian Unity in a Technological Age [Toronto, Sept. 14, 1984] in Origins 14:16 [Oct. 4, 1984]). Economic Justice for All, #94.
Solidarity does not mean choosing the poor over everyone else, but recognizing that authentic human development cannot be achieved without the inclusion of poor people as full participants in society. This means not only that the poor must have access to enough food, but that the poor must have a real voice in deciding how the food system—and indeed, society itself—should be organized to serve the common good, at home and abroad. Food Policy in a Hungry World, 8.
I’m with the Bishops –and the nuns–on this one. It is good to see the bishops and the nuns agree on the Ryan budget, the one Romney called “marvelous.” It fails the test as far as Catholic social teaching is concerned “since it deliberately harms people at the economic margins. It is also unpatriotic because it says that we are an individualistic, selfish nation” says Sr. Simone Campbell of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby. Seniors who will be facing up to $6400 more in healthcare costs if the Romney/Ryan
budget becomes a reality, may be hard pressed to see Jesus in Paul Ryan. Check out how ThinkProgress summarizes Ryan’s plan for America.
Maybe Sr. Simone Campbell could offer a little private Catechism lesson for the Ayn Rand devotee. She has already indicated a willingness to introduce Mr. Romney to the poor, so I am quite sure she would oblige.