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Shining Light on Our Obligation to the Poor

But perhaps such a failure is not entirely its fault; perhaps it has forgotten what such an embrace would look like.

In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, when Christ recounts the parable of the sheep and the goats, there is one corporal good conspicuously absent from His list of rebukes: money. When those on His left are banished to the eternal fire, it is because they did not feed the hungry, give drink to the parched, shelter and clothe the homeless and naked, or visit the sick and captive; their final dismissal is not because they failed to make suitable monetary donations to those in need. They are sent forth from Heaven for what they did not do, not for what they did not give.

While it is certainly possible to give money to the poor in a loving and charitable way, there is a certain sterility and "safeness" provided by the very act of giving that is appealing to many of us, and (if we are honest with ourselves) not entirely helpful. Ever-present is the danger that we will find ourselves paying the beneficiary of our largess for our own peace of mind, anxiously hoping for him to take our money (and his troublesome poverty) and depart, leaving our safe and satisfying indifference intact.

But feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked and providing shelter for the homeless? That is a different kind of charity altogether—one that requires us to recognize the recipient of our actions in all his humanity, all his suffering, and all his dignity.

There is a wonderful wisdom in the way God calls us to reach out to our fellow humans; it is deeply personal, engaging, and profoundly humane. There is no surer path to sanctity than one that so clearly embraces the call to live for others: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

A budget impasse that forces us to embrace the poor as people rather than as problems might not be such a bad thing after all.

8/18/2011 4:00:00 AM