Is This What Christ Died For?

Is This What Christ Died For? April 4, 2012

The Catholic Church teaches the preferential option for the poor. This is a basic principle moral principle which comes out of Holy Scripture. Those who are powerless, those who have nothing of their own, must be defended and promoted. Their rights and concerns need prophetic protection. This is true for the unborn but it is not just true for them. The rights and protections are to be put in place for all, to be established for all. When engaging the needs of the people, those who are powerless, those who are without wealth or resources of their own, should not be given more burdens than those who have money and wealth. When there is a focus on what should or should not be given to the poor without a reflection on the rich and making the same demands, the same expectations of them, something is indeed wrong. When the rich buy things on the “free market,” all the associations with evil are somehow forgotten, but when people seek to give the poor something they need, somehow they are told they can’t because of some remote evil. No expectation is made so that the rich must abide by the regulations they put on those programs aimed to help the poor – they will complain about the programs, about the evils in them, all the while engaging those same evils in the choices they make. They really want to use a good to excuse a greater good – and that, of course, is how sin abounds. They want to be “free,” to live by the law of money, without reflecting upon the structures of evil contained in the system they promote. Again, they will only look at such evils when focusing on others but never for themselves. This is exactly the opposite as to how it should be; if anyone is capable of overcoming the systematic structures of evil, of dealing with the hassles in disassociating from evil, it is those who have power, those who have money. It is almost as if their insistence is all aimed at keeping the poor poor and there really is no interest in the discussion of evil except at how they can put stops from the distribution of goods as justice demands. Again, this is how evil works, using a good to justify injustice.

It does no good in saying something is an evil when you only make demands on the poor. Where are all the demands upon the rich to live by the conscience of the Church? Have they been told they must give up health insurance if the company they get it from also supports evil? Have they been told to share in the burdens, in the fears, of the poor, to show that their conscience objection is one which they live out themselves? Have the rich been told that alms without love is meaningless? Have they been told true charity is love, not how much money you give out? “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1Cor. 13:3 RSV). To confuse giving away of money with charity (though it can be a work of charity) is to show why so many are confused about justice, saying if a state makes for justice, charity is lost. They are not concerned about charity, they are concerned about money, about their own money, and about how they can keep what they have with only the excess which goes beyond what they need for extravagant luxury being given as “alms” with a pretense of charity. It is not love if it does not seek the betterment of the situation itself.

Those who have power and authority, those who have the ability to change things for the better but work against it- often at the pretense of some lesser good – can be blamed, at least in part, for the injustice around them. This is especially true for bishops. Yes, they must be respected and honored due to the ecclesiastical order and the sacramental grace given to them; it is the office which is to be respected. But the person with such an office has a grave responsibility to meet the needs of the people, to look to the injustice around them and to encourage (if that is all they can do) change for the better. They can be prophets for change. They must, of course, focus on those who have power and authority, not on those who are powerless and poor. When they make demands on the poor which are not being put on the rich, something is wrong. This is exactly the kind of thing which gets prophetic responses from the saints. When we read of the failings of bishops, we hear how they have given in to the path of luxury, to the path of the rich, living the high life while ignoring the poor. They cannot understand the burdens of the poor because they have separated themselves from them; they live among the rich and live like them. This is exactly what causes many saints disgust, and leads them to say something against bishops; we can find this again and again in their declarations, such as this one given by St. Anthony of Padua in his exposition on Palm Sunday:

Oh! would that clergy and religious would receive, and like meek animals carry, such a king, such a rider! Then they might be worthy to enter with him the Jerusalem above. But they are sons of Belial (‘without the yoke’) who, as Jeremiah says:

have walked after vanity and are become vain;
and have not said, Where is the Lord? [Jer. 2.6]

They have broken the yoke and burst their bonds and said, ‘We will not serve.’ Therefore the Lord says to them in Zechariah, I will destroy the chariot out of Ephrem and the horse out of Jerusalem; and the bow for war shall be broken. A chariot runs on four wheels, and it stands for the wealth of the clergy, which consists in these four things: extensive possessions, multiplicity of offices and emoluments, sumptuous food and luxurious clothing. The Lord will destroy the chariot, and cast its rider into the sea of hell [cf. Ex. 15.1]: and he will destroy the horse, the foaming and unbridled pride of religious who, under a cloak of religion and a pretense of piety, think themselves great. [1]

Because the bishops themselves seek after the power, the authority, the luxury of the rich for themselves, they fail to see and appreciate the burdens they put on the poor. They are not with the poor. They think the poor can do as they do. But the poor can’t. The rich can. But the rich want to be rich, not poor, they want every access to money and its accumulation. The rich help the bishops, so the bishops don’t express, as they should, the demands expected on the rich. It might cause problems. If the poor suffer, if the poor are given burdens, if the poor get upset and stop giving to the bishops, the bishops won’t feel it – but they will feel it if the rich do this. So many bishops, caught up in the riches given to them, just think like the rest of the rich and ignore the plight of society. They use a good for the sake of an evil. If they started making demands of the rich, of making them give up all the benefits they have which are objected to when the poor are given them, we might see a change in society. But as long as the bishops don’t do anything like this, the rich will use the bishops, the bishops will gain luxury, and the poor will suffer. What a sad situation, what a sad world we live in.

Is this what Christ died for?


[1] St. Anthony of Padua, Sermons For Sundays and Festivals. Volume I. trans. Paul Spilsbury (Padua: Edizioni Messaggero Padova, 2007), 220.

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