All posts tagged: poverty

Invisible Icons: Are Our Children Seeing Jesus?

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25: 37-40). As a parent, I want my children to always know and see Jesus. Jesus’s account of the Last Judgement tells us that if we want to see Jesus, then he is hidden in our cities and doubly hidden at that. The story about the Last Judgement in Matthew 25 is an indication not so much of what is to come for us, but the story of Jesus for you and I, and our children, at this very moment. Jesus is approaching us daily in our relationships with others. Jesus seeking us in our relationships with others is a very communitarian …

The Exodus and Apocalypse All in One Human Flow

What does a world look like in which there are now 258 million migrants and refugees, representing 3.4% of the global population, or, one in every 300 people? To gain some kind of mental image, let’s begin with the extraordinary new documentary film from Ai Weiwei, Human Flow, filmed in 23 countries and 40 refugee camps. This film is sweeping, immersive, and artful at moments, drawing us in with its use of high-altitude drone cameras looking down at a beautiful cobalt Mediterranean, across which a boat overflowing with orange life preservers gradually pulls into harbor at the island of Lesbos. As the director Ai Weiwei helps the passengers unload, he speaks with a young man from Iraq, a country that now has 4 million displaced people, internally and externally. An Greek aid worker comments to the director that in a single recent week (during the period of the film’s shooting, 2015-2016), some 56,000 refugees arrived in Greece, with another 5,000 drowned en route. The film moves on to Iraq, with another high-altitude shot, this one …

Epiphany: It’s Foolish to Pretend It’s Easy to Remember the Poor

As so often happens when I look Christ in the eye, at first I didn’t realize it. In fact, I was rather disgruntled. My twelve year-old brother had enrolled our family in the local Salvation Army Christmas Assistance Program, wherein we would bring gifts to a family on the other side of town. Although it is a lovely program and I was glad to see my brother take initiative, serious doubts vexed me. What difference does it make if we meet this family once; wouldn’t it be better if we established a long term relationship with them? Wasn’t it offensive that we were condescending from our comfortable economic position to gawk at their poverty; wouldn’t it be better if we accompanied them in their poverty by voluntarily sharing in it? Finally, weren’t we aiding and abetting the commercialization of Christmas, teaching this family our own exhausting materialism; wouldn’t it be better if we gave spiritual gifts rather than material ones? When we arrived in South Omaha to deliver the gifts, I brought my questions and …

What is the Catholic Worker Movement?

1. What is the Catholic Worker? What is its charism? The Catholic Worker is a lay movement that was started by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the 1930’s in New York City. Dorothy was an anarchist journalist and a labor activist, and Peter was a working-class, itinerant philosopher. They met in the winter of 1932 and by May Day of the following year had put out the first issue of The Catholic Worker, a newspaper that addressed questions of labor, poverty, and nonviolence through the lenses of what we now think of as the Catholic social tradition. From there, they opened the first “house of hospitality,” welcoming the many people made homeless by the Depression in for a cup of coffee, a meal, and a place to stay. They developed a three-point program of houses of hospitality, round-table discussions, and “agronomic universities,” or farming communes where people could learn to grow their own food. Inspired by their example, other laypeople opened houses of hospitality or moved to farms in or near other cities. Today, …

Disability Debunks the Late Modern Myth of Radical Autonomy

Ontological poverty is a fancy term for a basic reality: every finite being, including each one of us, is a creature. We do not independently possess the “means” to begin to exist or to continue in existence. We are constantly and utterly dependent on God’s creating and conserving power to sustain us.  This is the most fundamental truth about us, the first truth professed in our creed.  I’d like to argue today that it is also the lens through which our response to all forms of poverty must be viewed. In light of this truth, the “poor” can never be the simply “other”—we are all poor. And poverty itself is not something to be eradicated: it is our existential condition—we cannot eradicate it without eradicating ourselves.[1] This insight is lost once people buy into late modern assumptions about our ability to overcome the limitations inherent to our state as finite beings. Under the influence of what Jacques Maritain calls “demiurgic imperialism,” we lose any sense of the givenness of the world or ourselves and fall …

What is the Community of Sant’Egidio?

1. What is Sant’Egidio? What is its charism? I often think that the Sant’Egidio Community is best understood through its founding, precisely because its founding was not really a founding. Nobody decided to create an organization, a rule, a structure. No, in Rome in 1968, at a time of great social ferment, a group of Catholic high school students began to gather together as friends in order to pray and to seek out and befriend the poorest of the poor. They did this regularly, grew in their ranks, and today you have a community of friends numbering tens of thousands and spanning nations and continents. This community has borne remarkable fruit, including friendship with the elderly and advocacy for the poor around the world, opposition to the death penalty, the combatting of AIDS in Africa, the mediation of numerous peace agreements in Africa and Latin America, and numerous other projects and causes. These “works,” though, all grow out of the community’s basic charisms of prayer, communicating the gospel, and friendship with the poor. Friendship comes …

The Cure for a Throwaway Culture

Fr. Julián Carrón, leader of the Communion and Liberation movement, has a familiar refrain when asked about the Holy Father, “If you don’t think Pope Francis is the cure, you don’t grasp the disease.” The disease, already well-advanced in the developed West, is the “throwaway culture.” Francis describes those of us who have it as slaves to mentality “in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable. This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive.” The inherent, irreducible value of inefficient human beings who are a net burden is ignored or even actively rejected by a throwaway culture which finds such value inconvenient. Francis obviously has direct killing as a primary concern here, but is also worried about the structural violence present in how we order ourselves. Francis insists that a commandment like Thou Shalt Not Kill applies very clearly to our “economy of exclusion.” In the Pope’s view, this economy “kills.” And the kind of exclusion with which Francis …

A God Passionately Interested in Human Beings

Deus Caritas Est is in my opinion one of the greatest encyclicals ever written. It is both foundational and regulative for all of Benedict XVI’s encyclicals. This is no less true of Caritas in Veritate than it is of Spe Salvi.* If one had to summarize Deus Caritas Est, one would have to say at least the following. The God of Christian faith is the God witnessed to by Scripture and definitively disclosed in the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. This is God as the God of Love. This is the God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies, and who mysteriously desires fellowship with us. In line with the Gospel of John, in terms of Love this is God of pure agape, that is, the God of purely disinterested love. God does not make a profit in and through his relations to the world and human being. Certainly, God does not become more God in and through relations that he establishes with the world and with us as the Idealists would imagine. At the …

A Crisis of Eucharist: Will Our Children Stay Catholic?

My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while you say to the poor man, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? . . . Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court . . . If you really fulfill the royal law, according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. But if you show …

“You can eat with us”: On Poverty and Community

Twenty years ago, I asked Paul, the tall, burly, blunt, and opinionated leader of the Catholic soup kitchen, if I could take my youth group to serve dinner. “Nope!” he barked. Startled, I squeaked out, “Um, why?” “I used to do exit interviews of high school kids after serving, and one kid said what all the other kids thought: ‘It’s good to serve someone I’m better than.’ You can eat with us. Your kids can come down, a couple at a time.” Paul, in his blunt way, echoed the eloquence of St. Vincent de Paul: You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting masters you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust …