I am following, in the usual fashion (half terrified of the next bomb, half bored of the usual platitudes) Francis travel to Korea, where he is tirelessly promoting Francis and making clear he is not there to promote Christianity.
One issue in particular stroke me as odd, even for the man.
One day he laments that poverty is rising, whilst the rich get even richer. I do not know whence he has the figures and if he is every worried by facts, but this is what he said.
The day after he is on record with saying that poverty is a treasure.
Now: I was always told that poverty can certain help one to develop humility and avoid hell through that avenue. I am perfectly fine with that, and I think this corresponds to traditional Catholic thinking. But traditional Catholic thinking has also always been based on the serene acceptance that the poor will always be with us, that being poor is in itself no stairway to heaven, and that in the same way as poverty helps the poor to develop humility, wealth allows the wealthy to nourish their poverty in spirit, and to grow in charity. What counts is the humility, the poverty in spirit, the love of God. The arrogant poor, or the resentful poor, or the entitled poor, is certainly not on his way to anywhere for being poor; actually he runs the risk, if he allows his resentment to destroy charity, of being both poor and damned. Conversely, the rich who is poor in spirit and uses his wealth wisely is, in fact, well on his way to avoiding hell.
If this is correct – and I believe it is – we are in front of another example of Francis’ thinking: confused and resentful at the same time.
On the one hand, he never misses an occasion to bash the rich (the ones who are not his buddies, that is; his buddies can be very rich or even have private jets and it will be receiving, video-ing and high-fiving all round), showing that at the core of his social thinking is a resentment for the un-befriended wealthy that would do him honour in Moscow circa 1921, but not among Christians.
On the other hand, he seem to embrace a kind of sanctification of poverty at the same time as he condemns it. It does not make sense. The Church seeks to alleviate poverty, which means that poverty in itself – I mean here involuntary and not willingly embraced: the poverty of the poor and destitute, not the poverty of the monks and hermits – is not seen as anywhere near good. Which Francis also says, with one corner of his mouth. The other, as so often, disagrees.
Poverty that makes one suffer can’t be good in itself, but God can use everything to lead one to Him, even bad events and negative situations. Disease is the same. War, famine or bereavements too. But what Francis does is in my eyes nothing else than an attempt of sanctification of the poor – which is, as I get it, the underlying message, and the message he wants amplified by the press: “look how good you are: rejoice, because you are poor and therefore Christ’s favourites”) that is in the end nothing more than a bashing of the rich (“be afraid, because you are rich; unless you are buddies of mine, that is”) with the excuse of the poor.I never heard him say that those Countries who are at war have found a great collective treasure, either.
I never thought it a coincidence that among the beatitudes, poverty has the qualification ” in spirit”. The meek are blessed qua meek. The peacemakers are blessed qua peacemakers. The poor are, emphatically, not blessed qua (financially) poor. They are blessed only if, and because, they are humble. As are the rich, and those in between.
It seems to me that Francis has his gaze always firmly fixed on this earth, and that on this earth he has long-nourished resentments he now can freely vent, sure in the knowledge an army of sycophants will praise him for whatever he says from both corners of his mouth.
Even if they contradict each other.
Another very interesting blog post from Father Ray Blake concerning, among other things, a poorer Church.
Whilst this is not the only interesting point Father makes, I would like here to write some reflections on this issue.
It seems to me that particularly after V II poverty has been vastly overrated, if not almost deified. Reading about the Church of the past I never got the impression that the Church feels the need to be poor, or that there be any particular grace in being poor. True, God's providence works with everything, and poverty can be an excellent way to grow in holiness; but in others, poverty will lead to degradation or outright revolt against God, so again there is no indication poverty is a blessing in itself.
Padre Pio did not treat his rich followers differently than the poor ones, nor did he consider them second-class followers. In all ages, pious people have used their riches to give us the massive monuments to Christianity that we find all over the Christian world. Even today, in many countries, an awful amount of the expenses of the Church is actually paid by the rich (I wish I remembered where I read here in the UK donations from wealthy individuals make 40% of the total income). Whilst everything can be a vehicle of God's grace, and God may use poverty and financial misfortune as a medicinal remedy, or even as a special sign of affection for those He loves – and whom He will allow to get, through their poverty, nearer to him – I don't think it can be said that poverty is desirable in itself. If it were so, Catholics would not seek to alleviate poverty, but would rather limit themselves to congratulate the poor for the blessing so copiously showered upon them from God; and the more starving, the better.
In fact, we see that the contrary happens: the poor is given the chance to grow in holiness through patience, perseverance in prayer, lack of envy for the rich, gratefulness for their help and useful activity to better his situation if he can; and the rich can grow in charity by helping the poor, using God's grace ad maiorem Dei gloriam, and grow in charity avoiding the sin of pride, loving the poor and the afflicted, and understanding wealth is, like every other grace, given to one so that he makes good use of it.
This is not the narrative I see too often around me, and which rather states the childish equivalence “poor, good” and “rich, bad”. In this I see the sin of envy that causes socialism, communism, and liberation theology, and that this envy is covered under a blanket of supposed pious feelings makes it the more odious.
I make a point of saying a prayer for every obviously rich man I see on the streets of Central London – you see a lot of Ferraris, and the like – in the same way as I pray for every one I see on a wheelchair or with an obvious disability; not because I think that the rich is more in need of prayers than I am, but because it helps me to understand that God's providence works in the rich and the poor alike, and I do not need to be despondent, much less envious, because others have infinitely more earthly goods than I have.
I know, the one or other can take some saint out of context and let him state that rich people go to hell, & Co;, but these generally colourful encouragements to embrace one's condition or use one's wealth properly can never be used to go against the univocal Church teaching on wealth, about which I have written in the past (the search function is your friend).
The mentality that wealth is “bad” unavoidably leads to the other mistake that the Church and Her components must, consequently, be poor. Again, it is not known to me this is the way the Church traditionally saw itself. Rome alone has several thousands churches all telling a different tale. Granted, it can be part of the rules of a religious order that its members be poor, but such rules do not extend to the order itself, nor to parish priests, much less to the Church as institution.
If you ask me, the Church must not only be rich, but she must be splendid. She must have beauty and splendour to honour God, and the financial muscle to intimidate her enemies; her priests and bishops should be always ready to suffer persecution and death for Christ, but they should also live, whenever possible, in a way at least proportionate to the dignity of their office; if they have special powers and responsibilities, their outward appearance, residence, transport and general way of life should reflect their special role.
Modern bishops don't want to live in palaces, but they would also not be able to justify, with their Christian zeal, their living there. Their modesty is the modesty of the mediocre, and their simplicity the somplicity of the philistine who doesn't know beauty, and therefore thinks doing without it is no big deal; it's the modesty of the one who refuses the fine wine, because his horizon does not go beyond Pepsi. Many agree with such bishops, and with the Pepsi mentality.
Of course such people don't understand why the Church should be rich and splendid and powerful: they would want the Church to be as mediocre and little as they are. Of course they want the bishop to drive a Ford Focus and live in an apartment: they would be envious if he had a Mercedes S-Class and lived in a palace. Of course they want the Church to “sell her treasures”: they will never understand their beauty.
There is nothing wrong with a Prince of the Church living in a palace, provided he is a true Prince of the Church. Princes are not called to be poor. But they are called to be true Princes of the Only Church, rather than caricatures of social workers desperate for approval.
Give me a strong Bishop, truly committed to Christ, truly ready to fight the fight. I will, with many others, make some sacrifices so that he can have the palace and the S-Class Mercedes, the cooks and the servants, the glory and the splendour of the Only Church.
The appointment of a practicing Catholic clearly in favour of fiscal sanity for the position of Vice President should the US get a change from the… change will very probably cause a lot of discussions about the so-called “preferential option for the poor”. Let us, therefore, see a bit more in detail what this “preferential option” is, whether it can – once properly intended – teach us something new, whether it represents something in harmony with what the Church has always believed and, most importantly, whether lefties have any right to try to take Catholic social doctrine as hostage to push their own socialist agenda.
A rather clear (not easy to find: post -Vatican II documents are always such a senseless waffle…) definition of the “preferential option for the poor” is, in my eyes, this one:
As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a preferential option for the poor, namely, to create conditions for marginalized voices to be heard, to defend the defenseless, and to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor. The option for the poor does not mean pitting one group against another, but rather, it calls us to strengthen the whole community by assisting those who are most vulnerable.
The “preference” here is not in the conditions themselves (that is: you do not have to give the poor any “preference” because they are poor, which would mean to discriminate against those who aren’t), but in the kind of enhanced attention that a Catholic society must give to the problem of poverty. Similarly, the assistance is not, in itself, assistance through statual, forced redistribution.
Notice that – as so much of the post V-II slogan-producing machine – if intended in this rather sensible way this “preferential option” doesn’t really mean anything new but it sounds good, progressive, flattering, and of easy abuse for those who want to misunderstand it. To sound good and to mean nothing is something the Church post V-II has perfected to a true art, though the stench remains.
If we reflect, we understand that one must be really ignorant (wait! Many leftists are!) in order to to believe that in past Christian societies poverty was not at the centre of public consciousness. In fact, this was so much the case that no one had to starve, even in the total absence of the extremely expensive, wasteful and self-serving social apparatus nowadays so common the leftists think it indispensable for the poor’s survival. If anything, then, the “preferential option” (as just described) was much more spread in former times than it is today, though the Cardinals and Popes of the past did not consider necessary to pander to the masses by letting them understand (because this is what they will understand, and the post V-II clergy know it) that they have some right to be “privileged” on earth because they are poor. In fact, the “poor” are nowadays led to believe – though this is not openly said – that the Beatitudes are not “social” enough, and a more aggressive “preference” is needed (like for example taxing the rich stupid so that the poor’s “preferences” may be financed).
Once again, mind an important point: this is not explicitly said; it is merely the way things are made to sound. How very Vatican II…
Take then the traditional doctrine of wealth as our grand-grandmothers knew it. Of course they were very much concerned about poverty, probably more than we ourselves are (“poverty” in England has a rather abstract significance nowadays); but in the end they believed in solidarity and subsidiarity, rather than expecting that an omnipotent and extremely expensive machine decides and administers how much must be forcibly taken from the ones and given to the others.
If, on the other hand, we were to say that the “preferential option for the poor” would mean something different from what has been explained in the quotation above – something, that is, rather more socialist, or calling in any way whatsoever for the right of the “poor” to take what belongs to the “rich” – the argument would be utterly destroyed by the simple consideration that such a “preferential option” is… nothing to do with what Catholicism has always said: namely, that solidarity born of charity and subsidiarity are the best, most Christian and most efficient way to deal with the (earthly) problem of poverty.
And so we are at the starting point: the slogans about the “preferential option” are either opposed to Catholic teaching, or mean nothing new by still remaining susceptible of wrong interpretation; they are susceptible of wrong interpretation because the Church wants to be popular rather than tell things straight; the “Catholic” way is the only one by which we can keep the slogans in line with the traditional teaching, and therefore Obama fans and other rabid socialists have no right whatsoever to criticise Paul Ryan’s fiscal responsibility as “un-Catholic”.
On the contrary, every step toward the liberation from the marxist re-distribution machine and the return to the traditional approach of solidarity and subsidiarity can only be defined as a Catholic regeneration of a marxist mentality; a mentality nowadays so spread, and so generally accepted (cue the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, with the National Health Service celebrated as a great British achievement rather than a monstrous exercise in socialism) that people must be re-educated to think Catholic in the first place.