instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A thought in progress

Against the Grain raises the topic of the "preferential option for the poor" -- or, as the blessed Pope John Paul II seemed to prefer, the "preferential love for the poor" -- which continues over at Mirror of Justice.

Now, I am not at all a close student of this subject. My own preferential option is for me, and I claim no virtue, insight, or private revelation regarding preferences for the poor.

However, when I do stroll past a discussion of the "preferential option," more often than not it appears to be couched in economic terms. And not just economics, but partisan economics. As in, "Those people say they support a preferential option for the poor, but their policies leave the poor worse off than before."

If poverty is an economic problem to be solved, then it's not my problem; I can barely handle my own economic problems, much less help others with theirs. If it's an economic debate, it's not my debate.

And if it's an economic problem or debate, it's not really the Church's problem or debate, in any particular way. All the Church would have to do is remind everyone of the basic moral principles, then let the economists and policy makers go to town.

But I don't think that's what the Church says. I don't think she regards poverty as a problem to be solved so much as a sorrow to be joined in.

I haven't figured out how to put this without leaving myself open to charges of self-serving quietism or romanticising poverty. And if someone can solve the problem of poverty by making all poor people wealthy enough, he by all moral means should go ahead and do it.

But the Gospel is not an economic development plan. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or of drinking. Those of us who can speak of "the poor" rather than "we poor" must be in communion with those who can't, to share the life of the Spirit with them. Not in a patronizing way, assuring them they'll be just fine once they're dead; but in the way Christians were once known for loving each other.

If we speak of Catholic Social Teaching and do not speak of Christ, of His presence in our gathering with the whole Church, we aren't speaking of Catholic Social Teaching.