Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Solidarity with the poor

"Christianity hasn't failed; it's never been tried." - Gilbert Keith Chesterton

A meditation on the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador:

"The poor have shown the church the true way to go. A church that does not join the poor, in order to speak out from the side of the poor against the injustices committed against them, is not the true church of Jesus Christ."

"The church's social teaching tells everyone that the Christian religion does not have a merely horizontal meaning, or a merely spiritualized meaning that overlooks the wretchedness that surrounds it. It is a looking at god, and from God at one's neighbor as a brother or sister, and an awareness that "whatever you did to one of these, you did to me."

"We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed tonight with nothing to eat..."

"We wish to shake our baptized people out of habits that threaten to make them practically baptized pagans, idolaters of their money and power. What sort of baptized persons are these? Those who want to bear the mark of the Spirit and the fire that Christ baptizes with must take the risk of renouncing everything and seeking only God's reign and his justice."

In the sixteenth chapter of Luke, verses 19-31, Jesus provides His listeners with a parable:

"There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.' He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.' But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"

Do we imagine, as a people who profess to be Christian, that this parable was intended only for others? Do we live as baptized pagans hording everything we can while telling others how sinful they are? Are we idolaters of money and power? If so, can we honestly expect to escape the fate of the rich man in Jesus' parable?


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your talk "Chained by Abundance" Paul. It is a profound truth that some demons can only be driven out through prayer and fasting. When will the pro-life crowd acknowledge this fact and put it into practice? Jesus began His ministry with 40 days of fasting, the absolute limit before the body begins to feed on itself.

Prayer and fasting together are an extremely powerful weapon. And when we chastise the body we grow in holiness while identifying more with others needs. In other words, we become less selfish.

Say hello to the folks in Mason, New Hampshire when you get the chance will you?

Anonymous said...

Our witness as Christians is impeded by selfishness and the desire for power over others. I agree with you Ashley that there is a direct connection between fasting and renunciation of the things of this world and powerful witness. If all we do is "talk the talk" without putting our faith into action, we will never be effective evangelizers.

Ellen Wironken said...

Before Pope Benedict XVI came to America, Kathy Saile had this to say:

Pope Benedict XVI clearly puts care for the poor at the heart of the Catholic Church. In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), he said three things make the Church the Church: Proclaiming the Gospel, celebrating the Sacraments and caring for the poor. This love of the poor is an essential and defining activity of the Church. Benedict declares, “Love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind is as essential to her [the Church] as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The church cannot neglect the service of charity anymore than she can neglect the sacraments and the word” (#22).

This emphatic call is an extension of the great commandment to love our neighbor. In fact, Pope Benedict insists: “Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: In the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God.” And, our neighbor is anyone who needs our help and whom we can help (#15). In this encyclical, the pope states that today loving our neighbor has global dimensions since we see and respond to people’s struggles and needs almost instantaneously .(#30).

Pope Benedict XVI expressed in Deus Caritas Est that this duty to love the poor should be expressed in generous responses to immediate and specific needs. The Holy Father also points out that “[C]harity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as social charity” (#29). Benedict said: “The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet, at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice” (#29). The Church contributes to the search for justice through offering her moral principles “through rational argument and…the spiritual energy without which justice… cannot prevail and proper” (#28).

Pope Benedict comes to a Catholic Church in the United States that takes seriously the challenge of practicing charity and seeking justice– and acts on it everyday and in countless ways. Most of this is carried out in individual acts never noticed or counted. This call is lived out in Catholic Charities across our nation, in health care for the poor in 700 Catholic hospitals, and in the empowering work of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Last year, CCHD provided $12 million to help low-income families lift themselves out of poverty. We shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, care for the sick, and welcome the stranger every day. Catholic Charities USA has launched an impressive Campaign to End Poverty. Catholic Relief Services is in 100 countries serving the poorest people on earth in our name.

The Church brings together moral principles taught by the Pope, our everyday experience, our structures, our leaders and many people to stand with the poor and work for greater charity and justice in our nation and around the world. The bishops’ conference advocates for poor children, families and low-wage workers in economic policy; the federal budget; climate change legislation; affordable housing legislation; HIV/AIDS relief; and, the Farm bill. We believe how the “least of these” are treated is a moral measure of our society.

During his visit, the Holy Father will likely remind us, as Jesus did, that our judgment depends on what we do for the hungry, the thirsty, those in prison, the least of these (Mt. 25). He will remind us that charity and social charity are at the heart of what it means to be follower of Jesus Christ in our time. The Holy Father’s Journey of Hope will bring hope for the poor and hope for the rest of us who accept his call to place care for the poor at the center of our lives."

Kathy Saile is the Director of the USCCB Office of Domestic Social Development

Anonymous said...

Sadly, too many Catholics find the Corporal Works of Mercy to be "boring," or at least not as "glamorous" as defending doctrine.

Lord when did we see you hungry and neglected to feed you?.....Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.

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