Summary: We cannot love God if we refuse to work for the betterment and evangelization of the poor.
Thursday after Epiphany 2015
Joy of the Gospel
St. John’s letter is pretty stark today: “If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Our love for our brothers and sisters–our fellow human beings, each an image and likeness of God–derives from our love for the Trinity. Logically, if God loves all human beings, and wants all to be saved and in union with Him, then we ought to love them as well. Otherwise we are lying about our love for God, and we are calling Him a liar as well.
But there is another way to respond–maliciously–to St. John’s admonition. All we have to do is refuse to see our brother. Then our not loving him is simply a consequence of our ignorance. That is the most cynical and anti-Christian response possible. But the Holy Father believes it is something that is widespread today. Listen to his letter:
‘We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
‘In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
‘One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.
‘While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.’
Now remember that the Pope is speaking to the whole world, not just to the United States. But he is speaking to us. I hear on the radio several commentators who “defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace.” The income gap is real, and both the U.S. government and the marketplace have a role in widening that gap. Each of us must pray for wisdom and understand that our duty to the poor is not just one of charity. It is not just that the poor have little opportunity to move into the middle class. Let’s look for ways to really help them.