Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Open Letter to Future Members of the 112th Congress

NOTE: Very well done blog on the next Congress by fellow friar Dan Horan, OFM.  Wanted to share this with everyone and say, take a moment to check out his blog: Dating God: Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century 

Dear Honorable Senators and Representatives of the 112th Congress of the United States,

I write this letter on election day 2010, the results of which will significantly shape the composition of your legislative body. As of this writing the polls are still open and the elections undecided. It is with that uncertainty about the partisan construction of the next Congress that I write unswayed by party agendas and respective majorities/minorities in the House and Senate. I am interested in expressing my concern to whomever is selected by the voters today. My outlook remains the same and my advice unchanged in the face of the possible electoral results.

I am a Franciscan friar, which is a Roman Catholic religious who professes the three evangelical vows (poverty, chastity and obedience), lives in community and serves the Church as a public minister. It is from my location in society as a Franciscan and as a Catholic Christian that I write.  While I have deep respect and reverence for the faith traditions (or lack thereof) of others who confess another creed (or not), what I have to say comes directly from my commitment to “follow the Gospel [i.e., "Good News"] of Jesus Christ, according to the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi” (the summary of our religious rule of life).
The Gospel has particular content and is not simply an amorphous resource for people to ground their personal interests — as is often the case.  Instead, the Gospel presents us with the message and illustration of Jesus of Nazareth’s (who Christians hold to be the Incarnate Word of God) proclamation of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

The meaning of the Kingdom of God, which is indeed good news, is found in the actions or deeds and the preaching of Jesus. It is the expression of Isaiah’s summary of God’s mission on Earth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  It is an upside-down presentation of the values of popular culture, Roman (at the time, U.S. today) society and Hellenistic (at the time, perhaps ‘secular’ today) philosophical worldviews.

God’s way, it is made clear, is not our way.  But it can become our way.  At least, that’s the point of the Christian good news.

It becomes our way when we live as God has intended us to live, following the example God set forth in the Incarnation and the subsequent mission of Jesus.  I believe that it takes shape in several ways, each of which provides insight into how you might approach your legislative duty beginning on January 3, 2011.
  1. God is humble.  The Greek word Kenosis, or “self-emptying,” is what is used to describe the God of all Creation entering our world in a new way, as a human being.  You too should strive to live as humbly as possible.  Empty yourself of the delusions of grandeur, importance and perpetual re-election to enter into a world in need of your service.
  2. Maintain a preferential option for the poor. For those of you who are avowed Christians, this is imperative.  For those of you who are not, I appeal to you as a person of good will. Perhaps the most poignant illustration of God’s desire that we serve the poor first is the parable of the sheep and goats in Matt 25. It is those who care for the least among us — clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty — that God raises up.
  3. The Gospel shows us that God is a God there for the outcast, misunderstood, marginalized, sinner, criminal and abused. We too need to be people there for those least among us. It will be tempting to be a legislator who is there for the wealthy and powerful — they can repay you. But it is just and right to be there for those who have no or little means to repay you. Sometimes this is a monetary issue, and sometimes it’s simply political capital. Do the right thing to advance the rights of all people, even if it means you risk losing the next election.
  4. Jesus spoke of providing for the stranger and alien. Perhaps because he too felt like a stranger and alien at times with nowhere to rest his head and no honor in his own land. WWJD when it comes to the immigrant, stranger and alien?  Welcome them. Be attentive to the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Unless you are a Native American or a descendent of a slave or indentured servant, you came from one who was once an immigrant to this land – don’t lose sight of our collective history as a nation, nor of our individual responsibility to take care of all people.
  5. In line with everything that has been said above about the Gospel imperative to look out for the least among us, know that access to healthcare is not simply a privilege that should be limited and available only to the wealthy. Is that what God would have us do? Prohibit our fellow women and men from the care they need to live flourishing human lives? The Gospel suggests no. Jesus does not heal only the wealthy and powerful, but often times the person on the outskirts — the sick, disabled, forgotten and unloved. These are the ones in need of healing, these are the ones you should work to protect.
  6. Jesus dined, conversed and worked with all sorts of people.  You should too.  Don’t let partisan loyalties and superficial issues get in the way of doing what is right.
To those who have read this little letter, I am grateful. Know that I join you in a spirit of prayer in our joint efforts — you in your legislative way, and me in my own way — to make this world a better place.  Do what’s right. Live in the pattern of the Kingdom of God.

Peace and Good,
Br. Daniel P. Horan, OFM

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