Fighting to ensure that any eventual health care reform bill passes moral muster is tough enough. So why, you may be asking yourself, have the U.S. bishops, in addition to requiring conscience protections and rejecting abortion funding, renewed insistence on coverage for immigrants, even, apparently, illegal immigrants?

In crude ideological parlance, that puts them to the left of President Barack Obama, who knows there is little political stomach, even among progressive allies, for such a fight. And yet that is the policy stand of the bishops' conference as explained in our Page 4 story this week.

Strategically baffling? Yes and no.

Yes, because there is little chance that such a provision would pass. Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly are opposed to such largesse. Catholics track similarly.

But also no. It may be that what America needs right now is a conscience prick about what society is supposed to be all about: serving the common good, as Pope Benedict XVI so forcefully underscored in his latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

Granted, government resources are limited, so the advisability of allocating public funds to those who are in the country illegally is a question for legitimate debate. Governments must consider how their policies might incentivize further, perhaps unsustainable, illegal influxes of migrants. And cost is a question: It would be immoral to burden future American generations with a suffocating national debt simply to soothe today's consciences.

And yet, wherever they stand on this federal issue, Americans need reminding of their personal obligations. All we have is not ultimately ours but a blessing of God's, intended for the betterment of all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Greed is what got us into this economic crisis, and greed is again rearing its head. A September cover story from Forbes magazine reads: "The new masters of Wall Street: They're getting rich making thousands of trades a second. Are you picking up the tab?"

Bank-employee bonuses are back, even as American taxpayers who helped bail those same banks out are suffering the highest unemployment rates in decades.
Not all Americans suffer from advanced avarice. But most of us are conditioned to judge new societal programs to help others on whether it will take away from what we already have. It is important that we are able to provide for our duties, but the spirit of generosity is so easily suffocated that we need to be on constant guard.

Ask yourself the question: In what ways am I developing generosity in my life? When was the last time I denied myself a purchase for moral, not monetary, reasons? Do we give, as Mother Teresa said, until it hurts?

Parishes are an ideal place for Catholics to test their generosity, and those that have a developed practice of the corporal works of mercy are already living charity. Many parishes have risen to the current crisis by providing a forum for job-seekers and those who have been financially crippled by the economic crisis.

But what about wealthier parishes pairing with poorer ones? What about parishes becoming a focal point for the community to pull together, helping those in their own midst who suddenly find themselves unable to pay their house payment, their rent, their health care costs, their utilities or their food costs? This is no utopia; this is the Gospel, and it falls on us to bring it to reality.

The U.S. bishops are challenging the consciences of all Americans. What is our response?