Stephen Kent

For thousands of travelers like me that week, the discomfort of being packed into a seat unfit for the human frame was further increased by the announcement that the plane would be sitting on the taxiway for at least another hour.

It was the result of an insufficient number of air traffic controllers caused by furloughs in response to the budget demands of saving money.

Not looking forward to what could occur on the return trip, I was delighted when Congress quickly passed — and the president signed — a bill to employ some creative accounting to return the air traffic control system to full strength. The feeling of relief no doubt was shared.

The air travel inconvenience was but one of hundreds of events caused by the mandated spending cuts of sequestration. What about cancer patients who could not get their medications, preschoolers being forced out of Head Start programs and ending Meals on Wheels deliveries for seniors? Columnists, commentators, the public spoke out. Why should only one item receive an exemption? It isn’t fair.

That one feeling — “it isn’t fair” — could do more than the hundreds of documents and books did to bring the concept of preferential option for the poor to the forefront in continuing budget negotiations.

It “doesn’t seem right” could spark the first glimmer of greater public and secular understanding of the foundational Christian principle of economic justice.

“Economic Justice For All” was the landmark document published more than 25 years ago by the U.S. Catholic bishops to apply the major principles of Catholic social teaching to the economic structure of the country.

“The obligation to provide justice for all means that the poor have the single most urgent economic claim on the conscience of the nation,” the document said.

Preferential option for the poor means “that meeting fundamental human needs must come before the fulfillment of desires for luxury consumer goods, for profits not conducive to the common good and for unnecessary military hardware,” according to the document.

A feeling of discomfort that my problem is solved while the problems of others aren’t solved, could open understanding to these principles and be the basis for turning principles into policy. Without getting to the realities of shifting money interdepartmentally, could millions of dollars for helicopters that the Army does not want be better spent on workers building new bridges and highways?

The discussion isn’t about government spending, it is about priorities. And this is where faith is to influence and impact the economy, not the other way around.

But suppose budget-building, as an expression of national priorities, began at zero. Of all available resources, how much goes for defense, how much for human needs?

Pope Francis speaks of his desire for a church of the poor. What is he calling us to? Not that all will be poverty stricken, but an attitude of how to be poor in spirit while being materially rich. Living the spirit of detachment amid the riches of the world is not an easy task.

Perhaps this reaction sparked by sequester will cause us to examine our lifestyles and ask: How does this decision contribute to the situation of my brothers and sisters?

A concrete example affecting enough people may help us to reflect and study how our faith is to influence and impact the economy, not the other way around.


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: