WASHINGTON—House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) today talked about gratitude and civil society in remarks at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast.
Following are Speaker Ryan’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Good morning, everybody.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
I am so glad to be here with you this morning. Thank you, Reverend Cortes, for bringing us together.
Before I begin, I want to talk about a commitment I know we all share, and that is finding a way to fix our broken immigration system.
In the House, we have brought together lawmakers from across the spectrum, moderates and conservatives, to find a path forward.
As a result, we will have a debate and votes on the House floor next week.
My goal has always been a lasting solution, to address our security challenges, and to address the DACA program so we don’t have another problem five, ten years down the line.
Next week’s votes are an important step and I want to thank you for your leadership. Your voice plays a critical role in this discussion.
Now I am also glad that this morning is very different from the morning we had a year ago on this day.
At around this time last year, I was in my office on the phone with Jennifer Scalise.
Her husband, my dear friend, had just been shot on a ball field across the bridge in Alexandria.
That is about as much as we knew. We didn’t know how bad it was yet. We certainly didn’t know that Steve had such a long fight ahead of him.
There is one thing from that time I remember so vividly. No matter where I went, the first thing people would say to me was always, ‘How’s Steve Scalise? How’s his family? How are his kids? Please tell them we’re praying for them.’
I know many of those prayers came from the people in this room.
I am glad I have this chance to thank you on Steve’s behalf. Our prayers were answered. Thank you.
Days like that, trials like that, they make you think about what truly matters. They make you realize: we have so much to be thankful for.
We have this precious gift of life God has given us.
Gatherings like this make us grateful, too; grateful for fellowship and compassion.
It’s not always easy to be thankful, is it? We tend to wake up thinking about what we don’t have, what we haven’t figured out.
But every day we have this beautiful opportunity to give thanks.
A grateful heart can do so much. When things are getting away from us, it can slow us down to reflect. At our wit’s end, it can take us back to the start. In the trenches, it can counsel us to respond with kindness instead of in kind.
God gives us peace. He gives us a sense of wonder. He gives us the capacity to love unconditionally.
That, most days…that is more than enough.
And it doesn’t take much to have a grateful heart.
Jesus said all you need is “a grain of a mustard seed.”
One of my mentors is Bob Woodson, founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, one of the great poverty-fighters of our time.
Bob puts it so well when he says: “Faith in God transforms the inside, and that faith transforms the outside.”
Faith transforms the outside. It makes us healers.
There are people living out this message every day.
There is a ministry in San Antonio called Outcry in the Barrio. It is run by a friend of mine, Jubal Garcia.
Basically, they take heroin addicts off the street.
But they don’t just get them clean. They get them on the right path. They help them change their lives, and they do it through Christ.
I first visited Outcry four years ago. I can recall Jubal taking me from bed to bed. We knelt down, and he pulled me in, and showed me the scars, the track marks, on the arms of one of these men.
Then Jubal said—I’ll never forget this—he said, “help me pray for him.”
I have to tell you, in that moment, in that place, I did not see suffering. I saw possibilities. I saw how unifying, how transforming faith can truly be...how it sees the person, not the problem…how it heals soul-to-soul, eye-to-eye.
I saw how, as Jubal says, we can ‘heal ourselves’ as a country.
Look at how, right now, our economy is doing well. Hispanic unemployment fell to its lowest level on record this year. Wages are finally picking up.
We have this economic recovery. Now we need a recovery in our civil society too.
Too often, faith is used to divide us. It is used as a wedge, a cudgel for judging each other. And social media is a self-appointed jury that speeds all this up until it feeds on itself.
These debates often end up focused on the individual and the government. It diminishes what comes in between, which are the great mediating institutions in our lives.
Edmund Burke called them the “little platoons,” the places where we begin our “public affections.” They are the family, the churches and charities, the Scouts and the youth sports teams, the Esperanzas and the Outcry in the Barrios.
Tocqueville thought this was the genius of our system, how these institutions bond us to one another in a way land or government never can. They are the antibodies of the community, defending against both isolation and dependence.
They help foster that distinct sense of purpose that keeps us going…those things that, when the tank runs empty, they keep the heart full.
At the core of this is freedom, especially religious freedom.
Whether we are Republican or Democrat or independent, it does not matter.
We should all want our faith-based organizations to have the maximum freedom to carry out their missions…whether it is changing lives ravaged by opioids, empowering people to find a steady job, or building charter schools so more children can get a decent education.
The ‘little platoons’ can be the great equalizer. We should be an example for the world on this.
I want to close with a few words as a father.
When I announced my retirement from Congress, much of the media focused on what I was giving up.
All I could think about was what I was gaining.
What I am most grateful for these days is the chance to spend time with my kids.
We have three teenagers. Our son Charlie just graduated 8th grade from our parish school actually. It’s true what they say, how ‘the days go slow, but the years go fast.’ They really do.
I could go on and on about how their games went on Saturday, but it’s what we do on Sunday, on the Sabbath, that always sticks with me.
We just spend that time together—no real structure to it. But that time is where we really form those lasting bonds.
I want them to lead long, productive lives, and to prosper. But I think just as much about how I want to them to live.
That’s why those in-between moments mean so much to me.
That’s why this revival of civil society, of these mediating institutions, is so important to me.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter says:
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.”
It all begins with a grateful heart, with planting those mustard seeds of grace.
I truly believe that if we all do our part...if we start this recovery in our civil society…if we make room in our hearts, make time for one another…we can have a new time of thanksgiving, and a new birth of freedom in this country.
I pray for this. I pray for you. I pray that we all have more days to rejoice and be glad, to work together to ‘transform the outside.’
May God bless you all. May God bless the United States of America.