Stephen Kent

The state of the union is not so strong. The state of the union is not to be confused with the condition of the country, perhaps a more apt title for the presidential speech typically delivered to a joint session of Congress each year.

The union, in the sense of community, is far from unified. It is divided on many core issues and beliefs.

While a “Condition of the Country” speech could point to an improving financial market, reduction of military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some improvement in the domestic economy as positives, it doesn’t represent the “more perfect union” envisioned by the drafters of the Constitution of the United States.

There is division about the role of the nation. Those who want the United States to be the most powerful country in the world are separated from those who ask “at what cost”? There is division about government responsibility for senior citizens and for the less well-to-do. What is entitlement and what is a handout?

When it comes to nuclear weapons, should we reduce the arsenal to prevent disaster or continue to maintain arms for overkill? On taxes, should the rich pay a greater share? On guns, should we have an absolutist view of the right to bear arms or await the next massacre?

There is no consensus on reducing spending or increasing taxes, a gulf that threatens the continued operation of government. The state of the union will remain far less than a “more perfect union” until there is unity on understanding the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death.

A “Condition of the Country” speech may provoke warm feelings that things are OK or at least getting better. But that should not keep us quiet or keep us from making an effort to reach an agreement on the most vital issues, such as the sanctity and dignity of all human life.

The timing of the surprise papal resignation — a day before the State of Union speech — brought new attention to a man who consistently has warned of the demoralizing effect of secular culture.

In five speeches to the U.S. bishops in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI noted what he called an “increased sense of concern on the part of many men and women, whatever their religious or political views” of a “troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life.”

This has imperiled the “future of our democratic societies.” Progress is not how fast we remove snow from a massive blizzard or clean debris from tornadoes.

“Progress has increased our capabilities but not our moral and human stature and capacity,” Pope Benedict said. “We have to regain an internal balance and we also need spiritual growth.”

“Above all else we must try to make sure that people do not lose sight of God,” he said.


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