Summary: The council fathers get specific about how we can help the poor.

Monday of 1st Week in Lent 2013

Gaudium et Spes

You Shall Love Your Neighbor

One of the great heresies of modern time is a subtle one based on the notion of sola fide or “faith alone.” That was Martin Luther’s great mistake, of course. The only place in the NT where we read about having faith alone is in the Letter of St. James, where the saint tells us that faith alone will not save us–that faith without good works is a lie. In modern times that has turned into the notion that to be saved, all we need to do is accept Jesus Christ as our “personal savior,” and by His grace we will go to heaven. It is true that nothing we do can earn our way into heaven–only by incorporation into Christ can we be fit for the kingdom of God. But the same grace that saves us also inspires us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and prisoners, and to do all the other corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Faith and good works like almsgiving are the two lungs that bring the Holy Spirit into our lives and make us into the images of Jesus and Mary.

The Council Fathers, in Gaudium et Spes, talk about our solidarity with the poor and afflicted in the very first sentence. “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.” After laying down some general principles of social action, they allude to this Gospel reading, where Jesus outlines what those who inherit the kingdom have done, and to another famous parable by stressing “reverence for man; everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all His life and the means necessary to living it with dignity,(8) so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.” (Art 27)

They tell us–and things are worse now than they were in the sixties, that technological advancement and materialism are making things good for the rich and bad for the poor: “Indeed today's progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else. For the methods of investigation which these sciences use can be wrongly considered as the supreme rule of seeking the whole truth. By virtue of their methods these sciences cannot penetrate to the intimate notion of things. Indeed the danger is present that man, confiding too much in the discoveries of today, may think that he is sufficient unto himself and no longer seek the higher things.” Physics cannot trump metaphysics, but it certainly continues to try. Christopher Hitchens spent decades trying to convince human beings that there is no God, nothing after this life, but I can say without fear of contradiction that in December of 2011, he learned the truth about whether man is sufficient unto himself. Death is the great equalizer of wealth and personal opinion.

Those of us who have some wealth and power have the greater burden. The Council is blunt: “Many people, especially in economically advanced areas, seem, as it were, to be ruled by economics, so that almost their entire personal and social life is permeated with a certain economic way of thinking. . .At the very time when the development of economic life could mitigate social inequalities (provided that it be guided and coordinated in a reasonable and human way), it is often made to embitter them; or, in some places, it even results in a decline of the social status of the underprivileged and in contempt for the poor. While an immense number of people still lack the absolute necessities of life, some, even in less advanced areas, live in luxury or squander wealth. Extravagance and wretchedness exist side by side. While a few enjoy very great power of choice, the majority are deprived of almost all possibility of acting on their own initiative and responsibility, and often subsist in living and working conditions unworthy of the human person.” (Art 63)

We are not yet in the position of Mexico, where anyone with wealth sends relatives to the U.S. so they can take chemistry from me, or attend a private school. But gated communities continue to sprout up here in San Antonio, and powerful politicians in Washington continue to keep their kids out of public schools because of the social, economic and academic impoverishment of those communities. Even those who express love and compassion for the poor don’t want to mingle with them. Instead, they throw money at them, buying their votes but not really helping them out of their poverty cycle. We are still a long way from loving our neighbor as ourselves.

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