Joe Biden, the Vice-President of the United States, answered the moderators question during a debate last week on how his religion influenced his political beliefs in a way that reminded me of why I, too, remain a practicing Catholic. The Vice-President stated that he is a life-long practicing Catholic because he believes in and is influenced by Catholic social doctrine which encourages one to do such social conscience things as feed the poor, cloth the naked, visit the sick, etc.
The Vice-President’s words made me reflect on a time during the Great Society era of the Johnson Administration when I, along with many other social conscience citizens read such books as Harrington’s The Other America and Jackson’s Rich Nations and Poor Nations. At that time, the fresh air of Vatican II had been blowing for nearly a decade. Flags and draft cards were being burned to protest the war in Vietnam. Priests and nuns were marching in civil rights parades. It was a time of hope for senior citizens facing hospital bills that could wipe out their savings; it was a time when welfare recipients welcomed the postman who brought government funds to help pay essential bills.
It was also a time Peace Corps volunteers increased and young teachers, without government encouragement, left good paying jobs in the suburbs to teach in the inner city. I was one of the latter. The teachers with whom I became most friendly after making the move were teachers who had done the same. Some were black; some were white; some were Catholic; some were Protestant; and some were Jewish. All were committed to improving the lives and the abilities of the economically impoverished in our charges. We all felt called to withstand race riots on the streets and the looming specter of aides babies predicted in the media. I cannot speak for those of other religions, but I was proud to be a member of a church that supported government programs that treated the poor with dignity.
Although I am a practicing Catholic, there are times, especially most recently, as the world learned of pedophile priests and the alleged cover-up by church officials when I am embarrassed to be a practicing Catholic. But, no matter what individual members do even if they are members of the clergy, the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church remains caring and compassionate. It continues to offer high ideals based on universal moral principles. Thank you, Joe, for reminding me to be grateful for a faith that informs my life and that makes me proudly humble.