If we don't love the poor and do all we can to improve their lot, we're going to go to hell, the Catholic archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, recently said. It's not pretty, but it is real. And not just if you believe in hell, but if you care about the future of the country, of civilization.
We actually are a people of compassion, and we happen to believe that people who want to serve their neighbors out of love of God and humanity are a necessary thing for our neighborhoods, for civil society, for the life of our nation. And perhaps it is largely out of a fear that there are not enough of those people that so many of us have fallen into a reflexive, default position that the government must provide.
But the government can't give love like a woman who has devoted her life to Christ, forgoing marriage and children so that she can serve; American history was built on the service of Catholic sisters, running hospitals and schools. The government cannot provide palliative care like them. Our default position must be ensuring such women have the space and latitude to serve.
Which is why vice-presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan's recent speech on poverty is so important.
No matter who your parents are, no matter where you come from, you should have the opportunity in America to rise, to escape from poverty and to achieve whatever your God-given talents and hard work enable you to achieve, he said in Cleveland.
Political rhetoric so often deals with change. But what we're really seeking is renewal. Renewal helps us sustain and transmit the best of our past. Renewal builds on foundations. Renewal is truly progressive.
Renewal, too, is why some of the most prominent American Catholic bishops have been meeting in Rome, along with lay and even ecumenical leaders from throughout the world. Earlier this month, when I joined them, receiving a message to the women of the world from Pope Benedict XVI, it was notable that it was the same exact message Pope Paul VI had delivered in 1965. His message had not been clearly communicated and received. Effectively, the message was: Let's try this again, being responsive and uplifting to our current circumstances, throughout the world.
Beyond any partisan politics, the best intentions of both the protesting nuns and Ryan can be heard in the words of Paul VI: From this Catholic center of Rome, no one, in principle, is unreachable; in principle, all men can and must be reached. For the Catholic Church, no one is a stranger, no one is excluded, no one is far away.
It's a message that is not always communicated by Christians.
We are Catholics before we are Democrat, we are Catholics before we are Republican, we are even Catholics before we are Americans, Archbishop Chaput has also said in recent days, because we know that God has a demand on us prior to any government demand on us. For Catholics, he says, the issue of abortion requires ... loyalty to the Church prior to their political party.
The Democratic Party has gotten worse and worse& on life issues because Catholics have let them. Perhaps the Republicans are the ones not taking the Catholic vote for granted. The Democrats could get there, too, if Catholics and other people of faith, with a concern for America's soul, expected more -- a defense and protection of human dignity and its attendant freedoms. We could be on the verge of an awakening, a renewal of our union, however imperfect, cleansing it of the poisons of a culture of death and inauthenticity.