Advent Reflection:
The Importance of the Census

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
November 30, 2016

Woven into my Advent thoughts this week, is the marvel of the census. In many ways the census is at the heart of our Christmas story because it was Caesar Augustus’s census that required Mary and Joseph to leave Nazareth and return to Bethlehem to be counted.

I thought a census was about the emperor’s desire to know just how many people were under his rule. But reflecting on the reality, I realized it is also about Mary and Joseph’s desire to be seen and registered as family. The “House of David” is a metaphor for the familial ties to an extended clan. So the counting was important not only to the emperor, but also to the family. The census is both an individual and communal act.

So too, is our work on ensuring adequately funding for the 2020 census. The census seems quite mundane and individualistic, but it is a communal act. To be counted means that each individual is accorded the same dignity. It doesn’t matter whether the person is in a Manhattan penthouse, under a bridge or in an overcrowded apartment. Each individual is just one.

What I had failed to realize was the communal nature of the census. The census data collected in each state impacts the amount of federal funding  states recieve for many programs. It affects how we understand poverty and the struggle of low income families. For justice-seekers, the census data is a crucial tool that enables our government to provide for all. The census gives us a snapshot of our society and to be accurate it needs to include each and every person, especially the groups that are historically hard to count.

This Advent, let us work to prepare for the census for the individual dignity of having everyone seen AND for the communal vision that we are all connected.