Sunday, May 6, 2018

Who Are the Poor?

What follows is a post originally intended for Lent. Holy Week encroached upon its writing and then I fell very ill for the two weeks after Pascha.

One poor for the Kingdom of Heaven
source: Huffington Post
What is the most haunting, or "challenging" in the modern parlance, passage from the Gospel? The myrrh bearing women coming to an empty tomb at dawn two days after Our Lord's death upon the life giving Cross? Christ's own foretelling of the end of the world, the tribulation of faith, and His own return to pass judgment on the quick and the dead? They call us to attention for our sins and remind us that our deeds and faith will have to measure up to what Christ expects when we meet Him. Do any of them remind us how stringently Christ will judge us, especially we modern Catholics, like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus?

"There's no reason to be poor anymore dude! If you're poor it's all your fault!" exclaimed one excitable fellow during dinner some weeks ago. This crypto-capitalist unfolded the mystery of America's wealth dichotomy, the strange fact that America is the wealthiest and most generous nation the world has ever seen and also one whose Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches mantra could be summarized as "Do it yourself."

"Do it yourself" is an empowering concept that has created considerable wealth and eliminated a great deal of poverty since the Industrial Revolution downsized agrarian life and relocated farmers to cities. "Do it yourself" also assumes quite a great deal. It assumes social mobility, a society that allows anyone to move from his current state, however degraded, to a better one on merit. It assumes the downtrodden are capable and skilled people who can offer something that our consumer-driven, post-industrial, knowledge-based society wants. And above all it assumes that no one needs a second chance, since all opportunity is immanently available.

Is there merit to this logic? Absolutely there is merit. The poor in modern America live in section 8 housing or trailers and collect benefits to use at Walmart or the local corner shop in some crime-infested neighborhood. It may be terrible, but it is not the "leper" society of first century Jerusalem when a mere ailment meant social exile, homelessness, disregard from one's own relatives, and a hungry, lonely death in ritual impurity. Our religious sentiment hopes to assuage genuine poverty in random acts of kindness in encountering a displaced street person, but even they are no longer always what they seem.

There is another sort of poverty that transcends all income levels, that of dis-empowerment, those people who cannot make decisions on their own owing to circumstance. People in this predicament may not live on the street; they may live in a disheveled flat in a bad neighborhood or work away from home for periods of time because their only work prevents them from seeing their families. These poor souls, who cannot make choices with the same levity as most in our post-Industrial, materialist society, are probably the closest we will come to finding traditional poverty.

Poverty, especially of this sort, can be romanticized in literature and devotional writings, not least because for centuries the target audiences for these materials rarely had great means. Dostoevsky almost always has a holy lunatic whose penury frees him or her to embrace a mystical devotion to God. Western spiritual writers seem to think poverty has a merit all its own. This may be true in the case of a devout person, but it cannot be true absolutely. The poverty of dis-empowerment, more than anything, breeds bitterness, resent, quashes dreams, and impinges on one's ability to love others or see beyond the scope of one's own quotidian misery, the latter two being the essence of the Christian life. Far from freeing one of materialistic concerns, this measly state unleashes the worst in our survivalist instincts and when one fails or falls behind, the blame rarely goes to circumstance and almost always to others.

"Blessed are the poor," said Our Lord, but another recounts Him as saying "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Blessed are those who help these poor where ever he finds them. Blessed is he who teaches them to love and to live better. And then will the poor be rich in the kingdom of God.


  1. Western spiritual writers seem to think poverty has a merit all its own.
    and your penultimate paragraph in general, which caused me to reflect on what might be called 'Holy Poverty'. Your 'poverty of disempowerment' is that to which Christians have a clear duty to minister, and enable these poor to choose freely whether to embrace holy poverty.

    I come to the conclusion that holy poverty is that freely chosen and embraced, as bt St.Francis and his followers,

  2. This is very good. Not that it would be perfect, but someone online said, he embraces that which the socialist left might endorse, such as a welfare state, not because Catholicism demands that we take care of the poor. The dissolution of monasteries is the single worst thing on this front, which is why the state needs to help more than Americans tend to admit. Only in the future can we speak of a social net run by the church with the aid of government, which is a balanced way, IMO, in accordance with the Gelasian dyarchy, instead of the other way around.

    1. Matthew, I generally agree with your sentiments but I am slow to agree with the government’s place in all this, not out of principle (I’m not a libertarian). Here in the US government social programs can help low income people who are in transition (immigrants for instance) but for certain groups, like the black community, trillions of dollars borrowed against other people’s future has failed to improve standing and has destroyed the good things in that community (blacks had lower divorce and illegitimacy rates in the ‘50s than whites). If I saw some evidence government aid did good for the poor proportionate to how much we spend on it I’d be more supportive.

      You’re right though, the loss of monasteries and also small religious orders (as once existed in the US and Italy) for the care of the local poor is a great tragedy. Many new traditionalist orders seem to be contemplative by nature, which isn’t wrong for Benedictines, but I cannot help but think a great opportunity for outreach is lost in this insularity.

  3. It assumes the downtrodden are capable and skilled people who can offer something that our consumer-driven, post-industrial, knowledge-based society wants

    The American economy is perverted and despite the claims of men like Mr. George Weigel it does not measure-up to Catholic Social Teaching.

    As to the knowledge-based society, it is one of the dumbest ever and that includes the members of the perfect society, The Catholic Church.

    Even the supposedly well-educated Catholic is woefully unequipped to respond to the change in the Church from Theocentrism to Anthropocentrism .

    The vast majority of Catholics have been ignored and left uneducated, uncatechised, and they are hated by the rich hierarchy in proportion to their desire to worship as did their Father and Grandfather.

    The laity is Lazarus studiously ignored by the rich Hierarchy when they are not being propagandised by the rich into what is essentially a Masonic philosophy.

    Rad Trad, do not neglect the truth that what you have been giving to your loyal readers does not count as a form of Alms for you have been blessing us poor with your wealth of knowledge and insight for what one hopes will amount to about one-tenth of the life of your Blog.

  4. Dobri Dobrev wanted another kind of richness that we cannot see that is why giving up his fortune was not making him feel poor.
    The brotherhood of the enemy, Freemasonry, has stolen many Christian concepts such as caring for the poor and re-presented them in a new wordly way, that all people can be brainwashed and understand. What the devil wants is for the man to stop having faith, stop dedicating his life to a God he cannot see, but lay down horizontally and place worldy values (whether is capitalism or socialism) as the new haven.
    The socialist man of today is not more charitable than the man living in oppressive monarchies before. On the contrary. He constantly checks beggars for what they might do with the money (what if it is something he politically disapproves of?) and condemns begging out of principle because it is a chaotic disruption of the perfectly systemic society he dreams of. What is a beggar who refuses to be an ordained member of the deprived social class he is in so that he be a political pawn and "inspire" millions to "fight against poverty"? Not even the poor is free from being a symbol of what he is and hence a pagan idol. Everyone must be tempted and registered.
    Rich or poor, the socialism invented by the devil tempts us with a pedestal to be on (if you are rich brag about what you give, if you are poor lament professionally) or .. face extinction. Dobri Dobrev spit the devil in his face and enjoyed all his self-imposed temporary poor-dom and dedicated it all to what the devil hates most - Christianity.