One of the less dramatic, though no less necessary, issues the upcoming Synod of Bishops is likely to address is how to make the second Sunday reading intelligible to the congregation. As Pheme Perkins explains in this issue, even some well-instructed lectors do not seem to know what to make of the Pauline and other epistles that parishioners hear read on Sundays and feasts. Some exegetes favor reading longer passages to provide greater context. But longer readings by themselves will be no help without more knowledge of the early church and its theology.
Informed biblical preaching by the homilist on the epistles and Acts of the Apostles at intervals, or at the beginning and end of a given sequence of readings, might increase biblical literacy among the faithful. From time to time, a series of homilies on a particular letter or on a theological question or theme, rather than on the Gospel reading, would also contribute to greater understanding. Failing that, brief introductions, as found in many missals, could provide a minimalist solution. Of course, there is also the option given to bishops’ conferences to omit one of the readings before the Gospel, but that would undercut the Second Vatican Council’s goal of acquainting people with more of Scripture.
The second reading represents an important part of our liturgical heritage; texts presented there amount to more than half the New Testament. Without some serious reconsideration, the proclamation of the second reading is at risk. Like the washing of the priest’s hands after the preparation of the gifts, it could become a vestigial rite from another time that no longer speaks to Christians today.
Worsening Health Coverage
Poverty in the United States increased in 2007, according to the Census Bureau’s annual report released on Aug. 26. A Catholic Charities USA spokesperson has said that of the 800,000 more people living in poverty, half a million are children (see Am. 9/15). But it is not poverty alone that has made life more difficult for many Americans. The census report also notes that health coverage for working Americans has declined. At the turn of the present century, almost 65 percent of the public was covered by employer-based insurance. But even prior to the 2008 economic downturn, that percentage had dropped to below 60 percent.
The health coverage situation would be still worse if it were not for the fact that from 2006 to 2007 the number of people who receive Medicare grew by one million. Military health coverage also increased significantly during the same period. But the biggest jump of all was in Medicaid, which increased by 1.3 million users. Ron Pollack, executive director of the nonprofit health advocacy group Families USA, has pointed out the irony in the Bush administration’s attempt to cut back Medicaid. President Bush made two attempts to veto legislation intended to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and yet Medicaid’s biggest increase was for children. The number of children covered either by the latter or by the Children’s Health Insurance Program grew from 20.1 million to 20.9 million. The next president will need to tackle affordable health care as among the most pressing of domestic priorities. Health care reform is long overdue, with too many Americans looking to hospital emergency rooms as their only resource for health care.
A Neighbor in Need
The widespread poverty in Haiti has for too long stood as a stark reminder of the failure of Western powers to rescue a neighbor in need. The poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti now faces almost unimaginable hardships as hurricanes have ravaged the country’s crops and left tens of thousands of people displaced. The United States has offered $10 million in emergency assistance and has sent a naval ship equipped with planes and helicopters to help deliver relief to hard-to-reach areas. This is a commendable response, but Haiti will require much more help from its Western neighbors, and the United States in particular, if it is to recover from these natural disasters and emerge from the decades-long grip of poverty.
What is needed is a long-term financial commitment from Washington and other Western powers to the Haitian cause, something akin to a Marshall Plan for Haiti. Imagine leaders from the United States, Mexico and maybe even Venezuela putting aside their differences in a common mission to eradicate hunger and disease in this corner of the Caribbean. Money alone will not transform a country as politically unstable as Haiti; yet a grand humanitarian endeavor led by the United States would send a strong signal that this country is as committed to the war on poverty as it is to the so-called war on terror. Haiti is only a short flight from Florida, but for reasons of language, and perhaps race, it has too often been treated as if it were much farther away. The island upon which Columbus first set foot in the “new world” deserves more of our attention and assistance.