MCC: Fr. David McCauley is Keynote Speaker at JRLC Day on the Hill

On Thursday, February 17, Fr. David McCauley, Interim Executive Director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, was the keynote speaker for the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition’s (JRLC) Day on the Hill. What follows below is the full text of his speech.


It’s a frightening honor for me to stand here before you this morning.  I have viewed the JRLC with awe since learning of its existence in January 1995 as I was preparing to begin a new phase of ministry in my own life –responding to a call to minister in the public square as ED of MNCC.  That sense of awe only grew as I grew in my grasp of all the JRLC is – a coalition of four distinct faith traditions bringing a common witness – a united voice for justice.

I want to add that it is not only awesome; it is also unique.  In meeting with State Catholic Conference Directors from across the US, I have learned that MN stands alone in drawing together those of the Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic and other Christian traditions to address the common good of all peoples.  I consider it a blessing to be among your number and am so grateful that we stand together.   Join Brian in thanking you for your presence today and for the advocacy work you do for JRLC.  And legislators,  you have made government service a career; we thank you not only for being here, but for your on-going everyday ministry to people of MN – that is what your service is.  Though we may not always see things in the same light, we know that you, as much as we, are seekers of justice and for that we thank you.

We, who are the JRLC share a common ancestry and a common God; in our varied faith traditions, we are sons and daughters of Abraham – the one who with his wife Sara extended hospitality to a stranger – and in that gesture – became the fore-runners of innumerable generations.

It’s that faith that brings us – that calls us to be here.  Our God governs with equity and judges with justice — is “a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of distress” – that is the theme of our gathering today.  That faith offers our challenge, our task, our ministry today – to bring and preserve justice in our day – to be the voice for justice – empowering the powerless – to seeing that none live in oppression.

I hear the words “fair” and “equal” used a good deal in the political spectrum; not so often, justice!  They are not synonymous.  Carelessly equated by some they can have very different meanings.  Life for many is not “fair” – or if we’re willing to say all are starving together is fair, maybe it is!  But it’s not just!  Fairness and justice are not the same.

Or, “ all are created equal”  –yes!  That is not to say all are the same – that all have the same gifts and same limitations.  And those gifts we each enjoy as individuals – they aren’t given just for us.  They’re given to be shared.  Let’s take life itself , the first and most basic gift:  No one of us gifted with life to be lived in isolation.  We are a people and the gifts given are to be shared as part of our common life together.  One reaps. One sows – another markets – another packages – another purchases and re-sells, still another purchases and consumes.   One has the gift of music, another enjoys athletic skills, one is a gifted thinker, the other a  leader.

No, the equality we share is an equality of  rights by virtue of our human dignity.  Unfortunately not all enjoy those rights – are not treated as equals – all are not given justice. Rights bring responsibilities – my right to freedom goes along with yours.  “We are called on together to protect “our” rights?   Does that make it fair or unfair?

When we speak of justice for all, we usually address it as the “common good.”  The “good” of one is not necessarily the good of another – certainly, not of all!  The voice of justice, the common good, demand that all have that which is necessary for life commensurate with human dignity – food, housing, security, employment, healthcare.

I make no pretense of being an economist; I am not.  I respect the skill of those who are.  However, since the decimation of our economy in 2008,  in bank failures, stock price decreases, the undermining of home values , mortgage foreclosures, stagnant real estate sales, and soaring unemployment rates and govt. compensation, lack of space in homeless shelters, increasing use of food shelves and food stamps,  — if what I hear and read in the media is correct – corporate profits and stockholder values, bank profits have returned to what they were or beyond.  There has been no decrease in unemployment, use of homeless shelters or food shelves, and mortgage foreclosures – and the real estate market has remained stagnant at best.  During the same period, reduced income taxes for top wage-earners  have stayed in place and the middle class has experienced a minor decrease.  Wages have remained stagnant at best and pensions have been negatively affected.  Real estate taxes, bonding bills, special assessments and service reductions have soared.  Something is awry!!!!   Call it fairness/equality or justice …. Something doesn’t add up.  We do have serious financial problems to solve – not, however, on the backs of the poor.

In responding to those in need, some would suggest Charities – our churches and benevolent organizations be caretakers for those in the safety net – but we say NO!   we aren’t asking charity – we’re seeking justice – justice demands that rights be granted– that includes empowerment for the oppressed; they are powerless: if we are to serve the common good, we must lift them from the safety net to the ability and the will to know the dignity of work, to earn a just wage, and to themselves, find their skills, their gifts – and bring them to the common table.  That’s their right.   And that is our pledge: to climb with them the ladder out of poverty, out of unemployment or employment skills, out of a lack of education,  — and we believe that to be the role of government as well.

The opening words of Minnesota’s constitution assert that “Government is instituted for the security, benefit and protection of the people….”  And that is a re-iteration of words of our federal constitution:  “… in order to form a more perfect union …. Establish justice … domestic tranquility, common defense … general welfare   ….. the blessings of liberty  … we come together.  That is the purpose of government.  And one of our many blessings in MN and the US is that our government is a participatory one – that is why we are here – today – in the public square – to participate in government.

Conservative icon, Wm. Buckley – and I don’t reference his conservatism in anything but respect – wrote a brief book entitled “Gratitude.”  His reference point is America; I think his remarks are equally applicable to the portion of America called MN.  In the chapter “The Patrimony and Civic Obligation: he writes “Those of  lucky enough to live in the United States are the beneficiaries of a cultural inheritance that is impossible to fully reckon and that gives us enormous advantages – from the laws and institutions built over generations that allow free people to prosper to the music we enjoy.  It is vital, he states, that citizens acknowledge this debt to civilization.  One of  the ills of modern life, is that we take to many things for granted. He lamented the failure to acknowledge a running debt to one’s homeland.  One way citizens routinely acknowledge this debt is through taxes reasonably enacted.

As a nation and a state, we face incredible budget deficits.  It is the role of government to responsibly respond to the deficits – just as each of us in our individual and family situations must – but remember we’re talking now about “we and “us” – not “me and him or her.   It seems our choice is to raise revenue or fail in justice – in meeting the needs of the common good.  Yes, those who are able are called on to share more fully so those who lack are not denied justice.

Both state and nation used to boast a progressive system of taxation; those who can give more are asked to do so; that’s how we have become who we are – or were!   MN was once 1st in education, 1st in caring for those without power; we have fallen to mediocrity.  Why should the rich pay more?  Because they have more!

Unfortunately, that makes them the “bad guys.”  Would that it were so simple!  We must ask, would we be any different – or has our success – our prosperity made us all the same –It’s mine – not ours!   Blessings and curses alike!  For all the criticism of the financial sector, it was ordinary people who let it happen by themselves “seeking the magic bullet – investing in the impossible schemes – buying what we could not afford.   What would happen, if for one day, the rich could really place themselves in the ranks of the poor – and the poor in  the ranks of the rich.  History suggests an unhappy response:  the great depression of 1929 saw many of the wealthy jumping from the high bridge – and lottery winner are notorious for being broke in a short time.

We were once an industrial nation; no longer!   We have a much truncated industrial block; some would blame it on high wages for those who worked in our factories.  The high wages also purchased the goods manufactured.  When one segment works against the other; all fail.  When cooperatively – and justly, we thrive!

Bishop Peter Rogness, St. Paul Synod of ELCA in a op-ed piece published  in the Star Tribune on  2/7/11, suggests in speaking of our nation that “We have changed from a people sharing a common life to several hundred million individuals who happen to live near one another.    While spoken of our nation (and we speak to Federal officials too) that same sad statement is all too true of Minnesota as well.   We have made government, in many cases, an enemy.    We have lost the realization that our individual well-being is tied to well-being of our neighbors.  Is it necessary that we ask if prosperity need isolate us  from one another and erode our common purpose?

Through our government, we build roads and hire teachers; we employ police and fire-fighters to keep us safe and establish courts to maintain order,  we protect our land and build parks; we must also care for the poor/the powerless / and empower them.

Our individualism touches closely on our understanding the freedom of which we rightly boast in our society as well.  Too often, in reflecting on freedom, we look only to a “freedom from”  ……  freedom from unjust aggressors, freedom from illness, freedom from exploitation – and too seldom the “freedom to”. ….. freedom to work together to overcome natural disasters,  to defeat threats to our security,  to end injustice – and let’s be very pragmatic to deal with budget deficits.

That freedom brings with it responsibility for our actions.    Participatory government brings not only a freedom to participate but a call to that participation and the acceptance of that call.  We enjoy the freedom; the responsibility comes with it.  That’s why we’re here!

One final word:  I have spoken of the common good and placed that in the context of the immense dignity of every human being.  In leaving this room to continue our work together. It is imperative that we respect one another’s dignity in our disagreements about solutions – that we speak respectfully – listen to each other – be open to learn from each other- and recognize that the noble art of politics calls us to compromise.

Share this page to spread the word.
Share Tweet