The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, followed a week later by the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, are moments to recall our own future with God. Because Christ is risen from the dead in his own body, all of us look forward to rising from the dead when Christ returns in glory. A risen body is a glorified body, entirely suffused with the Holy Spirit, free of all the limitations, the diseases and the mortality that our bodies now suffer under. Jesus’ body, formed in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is glorified, as is the body of his mother. The rest of us, living now or already dead, can only wait in hope to know what life in a glorified body will be like.
In the meantime, we care for our bodies. Some want to resist natural aging through artificial means and others watch what they eat and exercise regularly; but we all age and, eventually, we all die. We have an obligation to reverence our body and care for it as a temple of the Holy Spirit, who was first given us in baptism. We have an obligation not only to take proper care of our own bodies but also to help others to care for theirs. Visiting the sick is a corporal work of mercy. Health care is an integral part of the ministry of the church.
Because so much health care is provided by Catholic hospitals and in other Catholic institutions and because the church wants everyone to be cared for compassionately and appropriately, the church is very involved in the current public debate over changing the health care “system” in our country.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is actively involved in conversations on this issue with legislators and their staff in Washington, D.C., and with the White House. Because the health care proposals are multiple, everyone is talking about a moving target. Nevertheless, there are a number of principles that shape the USCCB conversations and should influence Catholics as they speak with their own senators and members of Congress. Particularly important for us in Illinois are conversations with Sen. Dick Durbin and with Rep. Dan Lipinski. The principles and priorities we need people to think about and act upon are:
■ Support for universal health coverage that protects the life and dignity of all, especially those who are poor and vulnerable. For too many of us, especially the so-called working poor, access to health care now means a visit to the emergency room of the nearest hospital. Our society should do better.
■ Opposition to any efforts to expand abortion funding, mandate abortion coverage or endanger the conscience rights of health care providers and religious institutions. These are “deal breaker” conditions for support for any health care legislation. The Hyde and Weldon amendments to current federal health care provisions are well established in law and must be respected lest universal health care coverage become a means to advance a minority pro-abortion agenda through governmental imposition. These long-standing and widely supported protections are essential parts of the “abortion status quo” that the president publicly supports. Abortion is not health care; it is a killing. It is never medically necessary, since advances in medical science make it possible to save the life of both the mother and the child in difficult cases.
■ Support for measures to expand eligibility for public programs, such as Medicaid, to all low-income families and vulnerable peoples and by offering adequate subsidies for cost-sharing of insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. Efforts to control costs should be applied equitably across the spectrum of payers.
Since the conversation and the legislation keep changing, and since the USCCB priorities are not completely reflected in any current bill or in the policies of either major political party, those who want to follow the discussion more closely can regularly check a special Web site www.usccb.org/healthcare.
All of us are involved in the current debate. The bishops are doing what we should do: clarifying principles and talking to the appropriate parties in Washington, D.C.; but the bishops do not govern this country. Those who want to take their responsibilities as citizens in hand and join the public conversation should write their legislators and speak to the public media.
There are interests on all sides of the health care reform debate who seek to use the church to advance their own agendas and priorities. There is a campaign underway to fax bishops, asking why we are not working to protect the unborn. The answer is: We are, and so should every Catholic. Others are wrongly declaring there is no abortion funding in the current legislation. They are either ill-informed or deceitful. Still others ask why the bishops are not supporting health care reform unconditionally. Our response is to state the principles that are consistent with the Catholic faith. Those who hold that faith, ordinary citizens and legislators, will make these principles their own and act accordingly. Our advocacy for health care that protects the life and dignity of all is a unified message based on Catholic teaching; it is not a partisan or ideological platform.
This is a moment significant for the future of our society. Our care for one another is in crisis and should be thought through together. Beyond the public conversation, please keep this issue in your prayers and reflect on it before the Lord. He will keep us honest, rescue us from distorting others’ positions and place us squarely in the company of the poor. That’s the place we have to be to receive his blessing.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago