By Sheila Read, Justice & Peace Specialist
For many years, I was a news junkie who was deeply immersed in politics. As a former journalist on Capitol Hill, I had to be. But I also longed for a better world, and thought that politics could bring that about. What else could change the flaws in our social and economic system that creates so many unjust consequences? After 12 years in Washington, I was disillusioned. I was tired of empty rhetoric, vitriol and outright lies. Tired of what I saw as the focus on power rather than creating ethical policies.
So when my husband and I moved to North Carolina, I unplugged from political news. I focused on my new work as a clinical social worker in a state psychiatric hospital. But it wasn’t long before I realized that state political decisions on mental health reform were having a huge impact on the lives of the patients. The hospital was overwhelmed with record numbers of patients being admitted. State funding for mental health had been cut. Policy on community treatment had been changed and was being carried out ineffectively, resulting in a revolving door of patients who were falling through the cracks, going without medication or adequate therapeutic support.
I ended up resigning in protest of the broken system and unsafe working conditions. Looking back, I realize I missed an important opportunity. I could have spoken out to legislators in state government and advocated on behalf of those I had seen suffering under the new policy.
Recently, I was reminded of this lost opportunity. Inspired by Pope Francis, the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province approved a new mandate to advocate on behalf of people who are poor and marginalized and to work to bring media attention to important social concerns. “Politics is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good,” Pope Francis has said.
The core of the Gospel message is to love God -and to show that love of God by loving our neighbor as ourselves. If my own family member had been suffering because of shortcomings in the mental health system, would I have become involved in advocacy? Where are you falling short today in speaking on behalf of others who lack a voice? Let us pray for the grace for our eyes to be opened to the people suffering around us – and for the courage to advocate on their behalf.