On our duty to the poor

Author: Gary Brady
Issue: 24 – April 2008

On our duty to the poor
Read again the title of this article. On our duty to the poor.
How much these six words grate on our teeth. Our duty to the poor, as Fr Webber reminds us, seems to be always an idea, a nice thought; but doesn�t Our Lord tell us in the Gospel that salvation hinges on the works of mercy? Catholics have lost the ways of the Gospel. We talk nice, pious ideas, and sometimes the rigours of doctrine and practices of Christ, but in the end we seem to be trapped by our bourgeois way of life. No-one can remove us from our comfort and pleasant life, not even the fires of hell. This softness has permeated the world and the Church, which only makes one sick and sad, for no-one will do anything to ruffle the feathers of the status quo. The world talks about making poverty history, and the Church speaks about �chawity� and yet the poor – the ambassadors of God – are abandoned, and we, as Catholics, stand all the day idle in our warm, cosy, mediocre, small lives.

The late great Cardinal Bacci tells us that; The description of the Last judgement in the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew�s Gospel would shock many people if they were to read it. The principles in accordance with which Christ will pronounce sentence are inescapably clear. Did you feed and clothe the poor for My sake, He will ask, because you recognised Me in them? If you have done so, you will certainly be saved. If you have neglected to do so, you will be condemned for all eternity. Christ does not ask about anything else, because everything else is subordinate to the precept of charity. Where there is charity, everything else follows. Where charity is lacking there is nothing else, because Christianity is synonymous with charity. Charity, says St. Paul, is the bond of perfection. (Col. 3:14)

Has there ever been a period since before Christ when people were so driven by material cravings? Yet many have never been more flush with cash, but happy? Bishop Sheen once said that an overemphasis on temporal security is a compensation for loss of the sense of eternal security. When the soul becomes poor through the loss of its wealth, which is virtue, its owner seeks luxury and riches to atone for his inner nakedness. The richer the soul, the less store it sets on the material. It is not poverty that makes men quarrelsome and unhappy, as the Communists claim; it is an over fondness for the things that money buys. Poor monks are usually friendlier and far happier than millionaires. And it is also an error to say that, if economic conditions were good, there would be no proponents of Communism. Those who make this statement forget that: (i) Poor economic conditions are only an occasion for embracing Communism, not a cause; in some instances, economic trials are, instead, an occasion for renewed spiritual living. (2) Economic conditions were excellent in the Garden of Eden, but the first �Red� got in and made a shambles of it. (3) What makes an unstable society is not the fact that people do not have enough but that they always want more. There is no limit to man�s demands, once the earth is made the be all and end all of living; soon they are willing to use every means available to possess as much of it as they can win. The real cause of such unbounded lust for what is often called �security� is fear of the eternal void within. Never before in history was the Gospel warning about God and Mammon as clearly fulfilled as today for the soul that has lost its God must worship Mammon.

How much do we take such words to heart? Once again Fr Webber shocks us into reality �All too often one hears complaints from many that, �the destitute, the poor, the tramp get what they deserve� or �I�m not my brother�s keeper� or �God helps those who help themselves�. These are often the words of fellow Catholics, and their own words prove their ignorance and, God forbid, their malice. Remember what kind of people followed Our Lord. They were lepers, tramps, harlots – anyone and everyone except the sophisticated Scribes and Pharisees, who �knew their religion,� and they knew it not to recognise the promised Messiahs. Remember it was Cain who said to God, �Am I my brother�s keeper?� God said to him, �What have you done?� Abel�s blood cries to Heaven. Do we, by not looking after our neighbour, deaden their souls for eternity? Who in the world ever deserves anything good? The answer is no-one! We have all sinned and offended the infinite majesty of God, and if it were not for His mercy we all, without exception, would be condemned to the fires of Hell. Let us bite our tongues before we say such things or think them likewise.�

Fr James Doran, a highly eloquent Traditionalist Priest from Geneva tells us �But some complain that to take the Gospel so literally would mean drastically changing ones lives, but the Church teaches that Catholics must think radically different from those who live non-Catholic lives. Why would you expect non-Catholics to live by principles that are Catholic? That a Catholic should be living a life that is more or less identical with the non-Catholics who live down the street would be anathema to people like Peter Maurin. It would simply be a sign that one had not assimilated the teaching of the Gospel. The Gospel principles that we live by are transcendent and are completely different from those notions of pagan prudence and worldly wisdom.�

We are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ consequently our actions can affect other parts of the Body. St John Chrysostom describes it thus if a thorn gets in to the sole of the foot, the whole body feels it and is solicitous for it: the back bends, the hand reach down to draw it out, the head is lowered, and the eyes watch very carefully and anxiously. The good we do will affect the others members of Christ�s mystical Body. It is clear that our faith is not simply personal and private, but exactly the contrary: both communal and public. The way of salvation brought by Our Lord is for all without exception, and yet, as Catholics, what do we often do with this pearl of great price but hide it?!

We must also never forget that to quote Pius XII, : �The poor in their turn are in many ways benefactors.� For charity always rebounds to the benefit of the one that does it. In truth, the best way to do good to ourselves is to do good to others. The benefactor is always the first to benefit. From the book of Tobias we read Tobias giving his son this advice: �Give alms out of thy substance, and turn not away thy face from any poor person; and it shall come to pass that the face of the Lord shall not be turned from thee.� [Tob. 4: 7]. Our Lord said: �Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.� [Matt. 5: 7]. Wherefore Manzoni is right when he puts these words in the mouth of Lucia: �God forgives many things for an act of mercy.� [The Betrothed, 21].

Charity does indeed hide a multitude of sins. In the superb book �The Brothers Karmazov by Dostoevsky, he gives the following �parable�…

Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; �She once pulled up an onion in her garden,� said he, �and gave it to a beggar woman.� And God answered: �You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.� The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. �Come,� said he, �catch hold and I�ll pull you out.� he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. �I�m to be pulled out, not you. It�s my onion, not yours.� As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.

The story of the onion is a �parable� on God�s generosity of grace – God�s forgiveness of, and love for, someone who has sinned, in spite of their deserving little. The wicked woman in the lake only does one good thing in her life, yet she is offered eternal bliss for that one thing. It is only the woman�s own selfishness which prevents her from claiming her heavenly reward.

True Catholic charity should be the complete opposite of the new philanthropy where big business men, football stars and politicians sing from the rooftops of their deeds in helping those �less fortunate�. Our Lord said �Therefore, when thou dost an alms-deed sound not a trumpet before thee . . . let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth. ..and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will repay thee.� [Matt. 6:2-4]. Our love and our kindness are all the more meritorious in the sight of God the less they are deserved and acknowledged by men. Cardinal Bacci tells us that �Our almsgiving should not be dictated simply by natural feelings of compassion, however, nor by mere philanthropy. It should be pre-eminently a religious act, springing from supernatural motives. Because we see the person of Christ in the poor man, we should love and help him as we should our Divine Redeemer, of Whose Mystical Body he is a suffering member (..) A proud man may also be liberal in giving away money in order to draw attention to himself. But this is not Christian almsgiving, which is never the product of self-love but of the love of God. Let us be more generous in giving, therefore, but let us always give from the supernatural motive of Christian charity.

Some falsely argue that almsgiving is useless and degrading. It is useless, it has been said, because the implementation of social justice should be sufficient to provide for the needs of everybody; and it is degrading, it has been held, because it places the poor man in a position of inferiority to the rich man, and makes him beg for that which is really his right.

Cardinal Bacci replies to such thinking thus: This is a false line of reasoning. Social justice can and should do a great deal to achieve a more equal distribution of wealth among men. But social justice cannot do everything (..) It cannot be said that almsgiving is degrading because it makes the receiver inferior to the giver. This may be so if alms are given from motives of mere philanthropy. But when almsgiving is accompanied by charity and understanding and the donor sees in the poor man the person of Jesus Christ, there is no difference of status between the two individuals. They are brothers who wish to love and help one another, since both are members of the mystical Body of Christ. In this case it is more blessed to give than to receive. Christian almsgiving is the fulfilment of an obligation and is a source of merit for the giver. As for the receiver, not only are his wants relieved, but he is the means by which his wealthier brother can acquire merit and fulfil his obligations.

How different is such thinking when compared to the modern concept of charity! We must love God for Himself, but we must love our neighbour not for himself, but for the love of God: that is, because God commands it, because in every man there is the image of God, because every Christian is a son of God and our brother. These claims to our love are present in all men, even in those who in themselves are not at all deserving of our love. As GK Chesterton said �Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.� – Heretics, 1905

Consequently, we must take a personal responsibility and make a difference to those around us becoming a go-giver and not a go-getter by practising the Works of Mercy and making a personal sacrifice in response to Our Lord�s words in St Matthew Ch 25 � Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in; or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king, answering, shall say to them: Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

Father P. Marco Sales observes in his comments on the Gospel�the poor in spirit are �Not only those who, following the counsel of the Saviour, freely strip themselves of everything in order to follow Him, but also the poor in fact who bear their poverty with patience, and all those whose hearts are not set on riches and pomp, and who do not make their happiness consist in piling up wealth:�

If we are not called directly to take care of the ambassadors of God but have been gifted with family life then we must form our children to think always on the line of the works of mercy, living for the world to come. We should not pursue careers, �How many people wear themselves out in pursuit of promotion within the advertising agency, the insurance company or the banking corporation without ever a thought of the afterlife?� What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul? Who thinks of that any more? As Catholics we must; for we are meant to bring the Gospel to the world. If the Catholic community keeps this ever before their mind then they can count on success, eternal success, but in the meantime must find their consolation of being crucified to the world and a spectacle to men, which will truly bring society the possibility of redemption and men who are blessed because their hearts will be resting in Almighty God.

One simple way in which we can all begin to give our time to those in need is by visiting those elderly neighbours we have. Often their lives are often extremely lonely and yet a simple regular visit by ourselves could make a huge difference to an otherwise miserable existence.

Those who wish to give alms to organisations which look after the poor, the homeless and unfortunate may wish to take the following into consideration. In Ireland; The Regina Coeli Hostel, Morning Star Avenue, North Brunswick St, Dublin 7. (looking after the homeless) Cenacolo The Community in Knock can be contacted on 094 93 88286 or on 086-3412047. (curing drug/drink addiction). Mother and Child 60A Capel Street Dublin 1. (defending the unborn). In England, readers may consider donating to the League of the Kingship of Christ, 14 Coppin St, Deal, Kent, CT14 6JL England (Soup kitchens etc for the homeless).


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