In the Gospel description of the Last Judgement, there is really only one question: how do we treat “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). In the midst of an intense battle over federal budget cuts and raising the debt ceiling, the central moral criteria are how the lives and dignity of “the least of these” are affected by the political and policy choices facing the nation. Why are the lifelines for those who are poor and vulnerable most at risk in these debates and decisions? Catholic social teaching—with its focus on human life and dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity, a priority for the poor, and the pursuit of the common good—offers criteria for national discussion and decisions in the midst of this crisis.
This dialogue asked how our national conversation neglects issues of poverty and racial and economic justice, and why this is happening. It asked how we can help shift national and ecclesial discussion and action to focus more directly and consistently on lifting up the “least of these,” to protect the lives and dignity of those left behind in our nation and communities, and to renew the Christian commitment to seek to “bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives and to set the downtrodden free” (Luke 4:18-19).
Kim Daniels, director of the Initiative and member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, opened the dialogue. John Carr, founder of the Initiative and former director of justice and peace efforts for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, moderated the discussion.
The participants addressed questions along these lines:
- Why is there so little attention, coverage, and priority given in the media, politics, and policy to issues affecting the most vulnerable in our society?
- How can our religious communities heed Pope Francis’ warnings about turning inward and his call to focus on the peripheries?
- In the U.S. national budget and debt ceiling battles to come, how can the voices, needs, and lives of poor children and families be heard and protected? What action is required?
- What happened to the “racial reckoning” of 2020, and how can we bring renewed energy and commitment to overcoming racial injustice?
- The COVID-19 pandemic was supposed to teach us that we are in this together, but instead, it exposed our deep divisions. How can we strengthen and renew a sense of solidarity and compassion?
- Where do these obligations fit in the faith and consciences of Catholics and other people of faith? In the work of parishes, dioceses, and faith communities? In the agendas of national Catholic organizations and other religious ministries? In the priorities of policymakers who are people of faith?
- How do we make the Matthew 25 criteria of caring for the “least of these” the center of our personal lives, ecclesial structures, and national decisions?
This dialogue was co-sponsored by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the Center on Faith and Justice at Georgetown University.
View articles, statements, and other resources for this dialogue.