When you are frustrated and in pain over the political direction of your country, what do you do? The source of much of my anguish was over our 2018 Federal Budget.
To me a budget is a moral document. What I saw in this proposed budget were more benefits for the rich and fewer for the poor. I kept thinking and praying about how to reverse the situation. Who in the world has the moral authority to speak out on behalf of the poor? Why, of course, the nuns, the sisters in our country who could write letters to the author of that selfish document!
Here is a bit of the story of a project which I have begun: a call for American sisters and nuns to write letters to Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the main author and advocate of this very harsh budget.
Since the beginning of our country, U.S. sisters have been on the side of the poor and have worked toward the common good. We have many stories to tell which could encourage our political leaders to change our present policies. Who better than American sisters to help articulate what a faithful and just budget, inclusive for all, would be?
Many of us in religious life grew up with Vatican II. I am grateful that my congregation helped me to interiorize and to live out the mission of Jesus as he announced it: To bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free! And to do so in joy!
This is the basis of my hope that this fall, many hundreds or even thousands of American sisters will be writing personal letters to a fellow Catholic, Paul Ryan. In our letters we will be sharing our stories about the needs of those we encounter in our ministries, and we will ask him to craft a budget that promotes the human dignity of all peoples.
It is lamentable that care for people who are poor, ill or elderly, for children, single mothers, and our beloved Earth is woefully missing in the proposed 2018 federal budget. Ironically, though, it calls for tax cuts for corporations and the rich and boosts a big military buildup. This letter-writing campaign is a great opportunity to "announce good news to the poor" and to promote the common good for all.
NETWORK , (founded by a group of Catholic women religious in 1971 to do Catholic social justice lobbying) has a proven track record of effective lobbying on economic issues. In the famous Nuns On the Bus effort of 2012, they traveled the country to draw attention to sisters' work with the poor and to protest aid cuts on that year's federal budget proposed by Paul Ryan.
This year, NETWORK was to introduce this campaign at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) meeting in August. Soon after, NETWORK should be following up with an invitation to all the sisters in the United States, to participate in a letter-writing campaign. They will coordinate the reception of the letters and will present them to Paul Ryan — with visits to other members of Congress — late in 2017.
Writing personal letters to Paul Ryan about the federal budget, and telling him and other lawmakers how that budget, as designed, will hurt many of the people we have worked with, are sorely needed prophetic actions.
It won't be as easy as signing a letter or petition, or sending an email or making a phone call. It will take time, thought and commitment.
Currently, I am working with about two dozen of my own sisters of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary to think about the letters we will be writing. We have had two meetings and more are planned for the coming few months. At the first meeting, 17 of us sat in a circle, listened to the invitation to this project, prayed quietly and then went around the circle sharing thoughts and comments. I heard "Great idea!" "Something concrete we can do!" "It is prophetic!" "Positive initiative." As I listened to those initial comments, I was so encouraged.
In the past few months I have spoken with more than 100 sisters and others regarding this idea. Since I have been working in peace and justice initiatives for almost all my religious life, these conversations have been joyful reunions for me.
One of my first encounters was with a sister at LCWR. As I introduced myself to her, I mentioned that I was part of the Justice Peace Education Council, which in the 1980s presented hundreds of "Infusion Curriculum" workshops in Catholic schools in more than 50 dioceses throughout the country. Immediately she said, "Oh, I attended one and I remember it so well — it was so positive." (The records of JPEC have been placed in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, but are not yet available.)
I'm also encouraged to hear about the about the wonderful works of sisters already engaged in trying to promote the common good and change the moral imperative in our country. The founding director of NETWORK is still working for Earth justice at her motherhouse. One younger sister sends regular positive tweets to President Trump, modeling comments of love, healing, peace, goodness and relationship. Wouldn't it be great if we could get the support and participation of all the sisters in the US?
Many of us are now beginning to wonder — in addition to the letters, how can we share this prophetic action with others in our country? Besides writing the letters and encouraging other sisters to get involved, how can we publicize this action to our family, friends and the public? How can we communicate our excitement at the possibility of filling the U.S. media with a new social vision?
There now exists a Facebook page: "A Fair and Moral Budget: Nuns Write Letters to Paul Ryan." Join it and ask others on Facebook to do the same. Send us something to put on this page. Contact your communications people and ask them to be involved.
Hold a workshop writing meeting with your retired (but active) sisters.
When you write your letter, share it with others.
As do so many other powerful actions, this is beginning as a grassroots initiative — and now it is in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
We ask for your prayers from all over the globe for the success of this venture!
[Kathleen Kanet is a sister of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary who has worked as a teacher and administrator in an elementary school and as caseworker and supervisor in a preventative service program for preservation of families. She has co-founded several national and international organizations which promote peace and has been involved in multiple educational activities around the issues of peace and justice.]