We will be accused, again, of being "fabulously rich," of being in a state of sin because the Church owns so much art and fancy buildings. Again, [how tedious!] we will have to ask, "Who would you like to sell the Sistine Chapel to?" "Which Saudi prince do you think would give us the best price for the Pieta?" And "How long do you think the cash raised would last?" Perhaps we should simply raze Chartres Cathedral to the ground, since such things, while of almost inestimable cultural, social and religious value, don't actually sell very well as cash-generators in the current market.
How are we to help the poor if we have nothing ourselves? We will be forced, again, to remind our accusers that the Catholic Church already does the vast lion's share of practical charitable work of any institution in the world, far outstripping bodies like the UN.
Also, who are "the poor"? We think at first glance that it's a pretty easy question to answer in places like Jakarta, or Buenos Aires. But what about London? What about Toronto? I've met "the poor" in Toronto and I can tell you that what they lack can't be given out of a parish poor fund. What they need can't be supplied out of a food bank. They are inarguably poor, but not because they have no access to material necessities. They are culturally, morally and socially impoverished. They are ignorant and intellectually stunted. They do not read for pleasure or illumination; they have flat screen TVs but no books. They think only in terms of what they can get, not what they can do or contribute. I don't agree with Kathy, who often says, "'The poor' are the rich Jesus warned you about," but her point is well made.
Who are the poor? In what way are they poor? How much of their poverty is self-induced? How much of it is cultural or spiritual poverty? How much of my own material substance is sufficient to qualify my as "caring for the poor"? Can I love and own beautiful things without sin? How can we help people to help themselves? How can I help to enrich a person whose suffering may be moral poverty, or cultural poverty, which seems to be the most common kind in the West? There are materially wealthy people, as Mother Theresa liked to point out, who are so spiritually impoverished as to be worthy only of the most abject pity. Whose souls are stunted and enslaved by their wealth. How do we approach "poverty" in a society that regards not owning a new car a devastating deprivation?
The problem with the pope talking about "a poor Church for the poor" is that it encourages people to entertain some very simplistic ideas. It assumes we know both who these poor are, and that all they require is a bit of cash, preferably from the government. Many years ago I had a conversation with a Jesuit (not the good kind) and an anti-nun. We were at some tawdry little Novusordoist prayer group thing, and were instructed to pray for "the poor". Being me, I put up my hand and asked for specifics. Who, in our insanely wealthy society are "the poor"? And how, specifically, are we to help them? (I was unemployed because of a puzzling and chronic illness at the time and so was amusing myself by torturing stupid people.)
I was told about the people on welfare, what a rotten time they had. I suggested that perhaps they would be happier working than receiving such dubious aid from faceless, uncaring government officials. I was then told that some could not work. I said that I was currently on disability, does that make me the poor? Did that mean, therefore, that I should be the pray-ee, rather than the pray-er.
My suggestion that, before God, we are all poor, naked and helpless, was greeted by these good Socialists with scorn.
~ * ~
Fr. Blake asks for specifics:
"As for the Church being poorer, I am not sure what that means either.
"Most of our money is in real estate: buildings. Do we sell off the ancient and culturally significant buildings in city centres and the devotional art within them and move to the cheaper suburbs. Certainly we exist as a Church to proclaim Jesus Christ, we not museum keepers. But what about our Catholic schools and hospitals, again we are an NGO supplying education, medical care or any other services, should those be given away to local communities, and the equipment in them, do we just use the cheaper and less advanced, should a Catholic hospital have a highly expensive CATscan or employ expensive staff, where does poverty come here?
"As far as education is concerned, do we as Church stop sending students to the better universities in solidarity with poor and less advantaged, or even stop sending the then to university at all. Education is after all the opener to many doors and to influence and power, should we disdain all that?
"I have known old Jesuits who kept all they had in a small suit case, ready to move to do the will of their superior at a moments notice. Here poverty was an internal thing, a lack of attachment to created things. Is that what Pope Francis means by a "poorer Church", or is it a Church stripped of its artistic heritage. Is it detachment, or is it a cultural desert?"