Confronted on a daily basis by the plight of the world's poor courtesy the new Vatican emphasis, those in power in their eagerness to help the poor have, I think, forgotten the other poor of the Church, the poor in spirit, the poor who are starved of doctrine, of beauty, of quiet, of certitude. It allows us to wonder: is there any pity left among Churchmen for these poor?
Who are these Poor? There are at least two kinds of poor, material and spiritual. We shall attempt to briefly discuss both.
Our hearts compel us to help poor people, those living at poverty level or slightly above, and our hearts have been so compelling us to do so since God placed the first human beings on the earth. Empathy comes naturally to most people, unless one is either a sociopath or one consumed by greed, so for centuries there have been poor people who have been helped by others. In the Ages of Faith, aka the Middle Ages, the Church provided this help and was always helped by the rich who donated sums to the monks and the nuns so that the poor were provided with food, shelter and medical care. These sacrifices of the more "well off" were looked upon as just that: sacrifices. And they knew that these works of charity would be remembered by God when the time came for their final judgment. [A good example of the near-perfect economy of the Middle Ages can be read at this link: http://theeye-witness.blogspot.com/2011/09/economics-and-cathedrals.html Be sure to click on the linked pdf]
With the destruction of the monasteries during the Reformation much if not all of that was swept away and men started to think only of themselves, much more so than ever before. The poor became poorer because they no longer had the monastic institutions to help them in their needs. Following that, the rich became richer, since they no longer had to bother giving alms to monasteries that were not there anymore. The poor were left to fend for themselves in many cases. Of course many monastic lands were confiscated and given to favored families by the King, so that even those few left who had been helping the poor were swept away by this grand theft. It is past dispute that this was the origin of the great landed families of England, become rich on the stolen property of the Church and on the indifference to the poor whose life line was cut off by the Reformation. [One wonders if the Holy Father will mention this utter devastation of the poor in England and Germany brought about by the Reformation, the same Reformation he seems to be willing to celebrate come this Halloween.]
Since the Reformation the poor in some lands had a great struggle simply to stay alive. This whole sad story has been well told by such writers as D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, Christopher Hollis and the great Hilaire Belloc among others.
In the present day it is no longer the Church but the government, the taxpayer, who most provides for the poor, and some - I say, some - of these poor are provided for very, very well, at least in America. But of that, more later. [This is not to diminish the good efforts of some parishes who really help those in dire straits. But the whole balance has shifted, away from the love of Mother Church which provides for the helpless, one of Her historical roles, to the rather cold, unloving arms of the government.]
In all the currently fashionable talk of "the poor" which the pontificate of Francis has brought about our perceptions about who is poor and how they are poor have been somewhat confused and disjointed. True, there are many peoples in the world living in definite poverty, begging on the streets. Not on the Church radar screens is another kind of penury. How, for example, does one support a family in America with only a part time job, the only type of work now available for thousands upon thousands of Americans? It is also true - and some readers may be uncomfortable with this - that much of this poverty has been brought about by Capitalism, the mirror image of Communism. Before the reader writes me off as a crank or a unredeemable liberal (or, God forbid, a Marxist) please be aware that the Church has taught neither Socialism nor Capitalism but instead the program centering upon the Social Kingship of Christ, a program that most present day free market exponents would find appalling since it posits an order of things in conformity with God's desires for mankind, which desires take precedence over those of, say, Monsanto.
But the discussion here is not about those living in abject economic poverty but of those living in spiritual poverty and it is those people the Church has been ignoring for many, many decades. When Popes like Paul, John Paul and Francis and others speak of "the poor" we are tempted to ask, "Which poor?" Further, "Which poverty? Economic or spiritual?"
Those who are uncomfortable with hearing criticisms of Popes or who suffer from the malady known as "papolatry" may wish to stop reading here. If this discussion is to continue, if it is even to make sense, it will be necessary to confront some of the more worrying remarks of some of the current pontificates.
There are many Catholics who are deeply disturbed about many of the remarks and actions of the current Pope. This writer is one of them. One day, Francis says something relatively Catholic; the next day he says something which is incoherent, or worse. Some of his words have done great damage, untold damage which will haunt the Catholic Church for decades, maybe centuries. The words of his have been ably dissected by numerous sources and it is not my wish to rehash them here. What I propose to do is to wonder aloud why he seems so deeply worried by those suffering economic poverty but has little to say about those who are destitute when it comes to their knowledge and practice of the Catholic Faith. Must it be one or the other? Can we not care for them both?
Do you wish to know just how ignorant Catholics are of their faith? Simply peruse the comments sections of many a blog or website. Attend almost any typical New Mass. We have at least four generations of Catholics who have no idea whatsoever what the Catholic Church is, let alone what She teaches teaches. And the blame for that must be laid squarely upon the place where the buck stops: the Papacy. This does not absolve everyday Catholics from their duties of prayer and living their lives in accordance with that rather stern recent reminders given to us from Heaven. Some argue that our negligence brings on much of this grief. Some would say our behavior brings all of it upon us. Because of our own Catholic negligence we often get the kind of Popes we deserve. If the caliber of Popes who have occupied the throne since the late 1950s is anything to go by we must indeed be getting worse as Catholics. All too true, unfortunately, but....
So we would appear to have a two-prong fight on our hands now. The first prong involves our own selves; the second involves reminding our Popes and Bishops of their duties towards their flock. It is because these Churchmen have neglected their duties that we are in the state we are in at the present time.
I will therefore respectfully remind the Holy Father, and those Bishops who cower before the corrupt of the world, that a greater emphasis must be placed upon those whose poverty is religious.
Why should our Bishops emphasize spiritual poverty over economic poverty? Let us answer that by looking at the United States though I suspect similar scenarios can be found in all parts of the once-Christian world.
Let us be blunt: in America the poor are rather well cared for. Where I live the following is typical: mother goes grocery shopping with the money she can scrape up from hers or her husband's part-time job. She chooses carefully what she can afford. Meat is always at a premium so that means ground beef mostly, or chicken or a cheap pork cut, all on sale. Or lots and lots of peanut butter. She goes to check out with the cashier and in front of her - again, forgive my bluntness - is often a massively overweight welfare "Drone" with hundreds of dollars worth of the choicest cuts of meat, along with mountains of junk food, which she blithely "pays" for with welfare funds taken from the taxpayers, the same taxpayers like the woman behind her with the sale-priced ground beef. These same welfare folks have half their energy bills paid for, half their rent, all their medical/hospital expenses covered and, as often as not, drive away from the store in a late model car (or SUV, which seems to be the latest fad of the welfare class). In their homes they have 60" TVs and all the latest cell phones [I know, my job took me into many such homes.]. That this is a charity gone mad and a grave injustice is obvious. The poor woman with little money scrapes to get by while the "official poor" woman in front of her at the checkout lives like a Queen. It is not my intention to be cruel to this well-supplied welfare class. But it is what it is, and there are many reasons why it is what it is. Our Churchmen need to recognize the fact that right now the poor in America at least are not like the poor in Afghanistan. They need to make careful distinctions. Of course the Church must help, as She always has, the deserving poor. That is not at issue here. The Church does, has done it and there is no need to forget the other types of poverty when discussing the economic plight of the poor,.and that perhaps recognizing that their material welfare is not universally urgent could concentrate instead on their religious, dare I say dogmatic, nourishment.
Yes, the poor in America live rather well. Far better than those who work nothing litle jobs as their sole source of income. If the Pope would distinguish between these "poor" of any major US city and the poor of, say, Honduras who eke out a living as best they can from whatever the tourists may offer, well and good. But I am fairly certain he would not in this age of hysterical hypersensitivity be inclined to separate these two kinds of poor people. I will commend this Pope and other Popes who have rightly pointed out how gigantic multinational corporations have kept many of their fellow citizens in poverty and utter hopelessness. I wish to Heaven he would name some of them, like Cargill, Monsanto, ADM, United Fruit (for whom the USA went to war once.*), etc. But, again, political correctness would probably preclude him getting too specific. At least he is pointing out these kinds of injustices. Strangely, however, the injustice of not being taught the Faith properly rarely if ever emerges from his mouth.
Negligence like this is not the sole fault of only modernist Churchmen. I hate to say this but it is a sad fact that even Mother Theresa rarely emphasized the necessity of the Faith in her dealings with the poor of India, allowing many of them to perish in their paganism. This writer once discussed this aspect of her with the late Malcom Muggeridge, who knew her well and admired her greatly, and he confirmed that that was indeed true.
When it comes to the moral and spiritual neglect of so many Bishops, Pope Francis offers either silence or, worse, praise. These who are killing the souls of men seem less important to some Popes than those who kill the body. If the Popes keep up in this vein they will have the healthiest and best-fed Catholics on earth falling into Hell when they die.
As much as we do to help those less fortunate than us, an act of charity that is the very stuff of Catholicism, a greater emphasis could be placed in helping those who are starved for the Truth. I realize than men of good will debate which is more important now. I submit that due to the crisis the Church is in the spiritual must be the priority. We internet scribblers can do our best here but that is no replacement for what Popes and Bishops can and simply must do. This writer has been a bit hesitant to get too testy with his words about the Pope. I have been far less hesitant when it comes to Episcopal footpads like the unspeakable Timothy Dolan, for example. Prelates Like Dolan are really quite beneath contempt and will remain so until they begin to realize what their job is. True, Popes John Paul II, Paul VI and others did great damage by their refusal to confront the world with the teachings of the Church but too many Bishops use that as a cover for doing nothing to protect their flocks. Some of the statements of Pope Francis have been shocking and have also provided excellent cover for the likes of Schonborn, Cupich and others like them. Many are worried that Francis will never begin to realize the gravity of the crisis and will die leaving the Church is an even worse state of chaos than it is now. And they shudder to think who will follow him.
Mercy for the poor is essential; but it must be for both kinds of poor, or it is not mercy at all.
Holy Father, the soul is more important than the body. Perhaps you could offer some of that mercy to those undernourished suffering in the soul. I don''t know what more I can say to you.
* From Major General Smedley Buler, USMC: "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."