We, the people
October 17th, 2016
By Sister Jean Evans, RSM
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
As children, how many of us had to memorize and recite the preamble to the Constitution? In “Healing the Heart of Democracy,” Parker Palmer, reminds us of common ground and common cause and pleads for the recovery of the common good, a sense of “we, the people.”
Since the easy money of the dot-com days of 2000, the catastrophic events of 9/11, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Wall Street crash of 2008, the emergence of the Tea Party conservatives, the obstructionist Congress of the last eight years, and the ubiquitous presence of social media, we have witnessed the growth of an “I” obsession that has successfully robbed our nation of its sense of we the people.
Like Parker Palmer, Pope Francis weighs in on the excesses of individualism, “Our world is being torn apart by wars and violence, and wounded by a widespread individualism which divides human beings, setting them against one another as they pursue their own well-being.”
In his speech to Congress on Sept. 24, 2015, Pope Francis urged American lawmakers no fewer than six times to promote the common good of our society: “You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.”
This teaching isn’t new. It appeared in 1891, when Pope Leo XIII wrote, “… civil power must not be subservient to the advantage of any one individual, or of some few persons (read: gun lobby) inasmuch as it was established for the common good of all (‘Rerum Novarum’).”
Without such basic conditions like clean drinking water (read: Flint), nourishing food, shelter (read: homelessness), safety on the streets (read: police killings), a relatively toxin-free environment (read: pollution, nuclear waste), and quality public education (read: charter schools), no citizen will achieve full potential. Nor can anyone flourish under the burden of inordinate college debt (read: 8 percent).
What is the root cause of our inability to promote the common good within our society?
It is the idolatry of money, says Pope Francis unequivocally. In a society that idolizes money and views human beings as mere consumers, financial systems rule rather than serve (read: Wall Street). The resultant inequality spawns violence in society and the common good is forgotten.
Sister Jean evans is vocation minister for Sisters of Mercy West Midwest and assists Mercy Sister Suzanne Toolan with music at first Friday prayer around the cross, Taizé, in Burlingame.
From October 20, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.