For a millenium the basilica of St Peter's and St Paul outside the walls, although miles apart, were connected by a covered colonnade, a visual sign that Peter who represented the foundation of the church in Jerusalem and Paul who went as missioner to the nations, had roles that were intimately tied to one another. Every community or institution that wants to have an impact in the world must have both a vision out of which it operates, and a commitment to spread its message, its good news, to everyone.
Another necessary aspect of this bilateral identity, which some call roots and branches, is its ability to address the major issues that its people confront everyday. What for instance has the church to say to the people who are organizing Occupy Wall Street? Thousands of people all around our country have been gathering to protest high unemployment, greed, corruption and the terrible and growing disparity between rich and poor people in our nation.
Whether you support the protests or not, it is impossible to ignore them. They are loud, angry and persevering and they echo a telling Op Ed piece in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristoff almost a year ago "From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent," Kristoff wrote, and "The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976." (1) From the perspective of faith, it is not simply the skewed numbers that demand our attention, it is how this disparity in wealth affects the poorest among us who Jesus demanded we protect and help.
It seems to me that Jesus was responding to a similar situation in today's gospel when he drove people who were selling things out of the temple. The Lord's upset was not simply an angry rant against the sellers, he was raging against those who sold things and provided a money exchange around the temple at terribly inflated rates, especially to pilgrims who arrived at the temple in Jerusalem for the first and often the only time in their lives.
During the ugly budget debates in the Spring of 2011, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offered some moral guidelines for us in this regard and warned us that just as the the poor pilgrims in the gospel were protected by an angry Jesus, we too must keep the needs of the poor before us when we make our budgets. The bishops wrote, “Many proposals under discussion fail the moral criteria of Catholic teaching to protect the poor and advance the common good,” and “Poor and vulnerable people didn’t cause our budget deficit. They should not bear the greatest burdens in overcoming them. Don’t make them pay for it.”(2)
Today, talk with someone about your own temptation to greed and the Christian responsibility to keep the needs of the poor in front of us when we make our personal and national budgets.