Monday, January 27, 2003


Last night at Mass, the prayers of the faithful included this one: "For the government, that it will find new ways of sheltering the homeless and feeding the hungry, we pray to the Lord."

Now, since you already know I'm politically conservative, you can assume I'm not going to like a prayer like that. But you may not know why, especially if you are politically liberal.

Jesus did not tell us "Make sure Caesar feeds the hungry!" He said, "Feed the hungry!" He said "Clothe the naked!" "Comfort the afflicted!" In fact (and this is the thing that will make you want to argue with me) he did not say "Solve the problem of poverty." He said "Care for those in front of you." I am not one of those people who flings "there will be poor always" around as an excuse to do nothing, however often that caricature is used to attack my position. In fact, I rather think "there will be poor always" is an argument in favor of doing more, because there cannot be enough done to eliminate poverty.

Instead, I find that prayers like the one from last night are offensive. They absolve the parish from responsibility for the poor, by shifting it to "the government." And they set us on the quixotic quest for the elimination of poverty instead of the concrete plan of helping the beggar outside the church doors. "There will be poor always" means there will always be someone who needs our help--MY help; Your help; not "the government's" help. As in everything else we are called to do, we can never fully succeed in this life, but we will be measured by how little we let the knowledge of our inadequacy cause us despair.

"Love of humanity" is the great evil of our time. It allows us to do all sorts of terrible things to specific people with specific dignity in the name of "all people." "How can I measure the value of this solitary creature in front of me against the good of untold billions of others?" 40 million babies are dead because of the love of humanity. 20 million citizens of the Soviet Union died for the "progress of man." The "Great Society" condemned most of a generation of black Americans to ever worse living conditions. Before long, it will be nearly impossible to go to a doctor's office without being offered--or even being given without explanation--a treatment derived from a person murdered to cure cancer, diabetes, paralysis, Parkinson's, and so on.

When we pray for an impersonal thing--"the government"--to do what we are called to do, we are diminished. We lazily surrender a piece of our humanness in favority of humanity at large. "No greater love hath man than this: to lay down his life for an ideal" apears nowhere in the Bible, and it would be an abomination if it did. It is only when we get to "his friends" that everything the Gospel means to teach us makes sense: we are to find the individuals around us, deal with them as individuals, and do what we can for the particular people within reach, even unto death. Nothing else signifies.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home