We Come Alive Together

Simone Campbell, SSS
April 27, 2017

As I write this, a few weeks ago Speaker Paul Ryan stated with righteous indignation that “well people shouldn’t have to pay for sick people.” This is one of his “principles” as he works to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I found this shocking because the whole principle of insurance is that you pay into it so that when you need to use it you can. Some have lower costs and some have higher costs, but all get the care they need when they need it. Costs average out over time. That is the whole theory of insurance and I thought Speaker Ryan would understand this “business model”. But apparently he does not.

The longer I pondered this misunderstanding of how insurance works, I came to see that there is even a deeper blindness. In the Republican commitment to individualism, they have lost sight of community and the common good. The biggest problem with the Republican effort at healthcare legislation is that it lacks the awareness that it is community which makes healthcare effective. It is not just about the individual. Healthcare is a communal good. This is why Pope Francis and his predecessors have clearly stated that healthcare is a human right.

Our nation’s hyper individualism is sucking the life out of our nation. Just focusing on myself is contrary to my Catholic faith and contrary to our Constitution. As I was pondering the Lenten readings, I was struck that all of the scriptures involve some aspect of community. No one is acting alone. This led me to an insight about Speaker Ryan’s flawed faith analysis.

The gospel reading on the second Sunday of Lent was the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus before the apostles. I love this story! Simon Peter both gets it wrong and gets it right. First, the truth of Jesus and the presence of Moses and Elijah are revealed to this small community. Peter and presumably the others are awed and surprised. Peter in his enthusiasm blurts out how good it is to be there and offers to “build a tent” as an altar for the three. But a bright cloud surrounds them and a voice says “This is my beloved…listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5) After a bit, Jesus helps the apostles stand up and tells them not to be afraid.

Reflecting on this scripture led me to know that we are called to see Jesus and the elders transfigured in our midst. In community we see the dazzling truth of the Divine’s presence and are urged to act. It made me think of our bus stop this past summer at Integrity House in Newark, New Jersey. It is a therapeutic community for people with substance use disorders. With guided interventions, staff and residents work together toward sobriety. We met with about 25 of their community members and heard about their struggles and hopes. Many residents previously had brushes with the law and had done jail time. They discovered that they could not do this work alone. Only in community could they be transformed. One woman said “It takes so much to fight addiction and depression! I can’t get rid of my demons by myself. I have to do my part, but alone I’m not enough.” She said by working in this community, however, she and others are being transformed.

While this was one woman’s story, I think it is also the story of our society that Speaker Ryan missed. It is not effective for us to be alone in our caring for our families, ourselves, or our communities. We are not made to be isolated. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that when I feel alone is when fear and division rise. We can only be “transfigured” in a group. Together we can be made new. This is the basis for sound, inclusive healthcare policy.

Let us remind our elected officials that we are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers. If we embrace this truth and act in community, then we will have a healthcare system that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. Then we will be the people that we aspire to be—transformed and alive.

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.