Saturday, February 13, 2010

Value of Poverty #2

Value #2: A Sparing/Sharing Lifestyle

This chapter (7) is actually more about the "sharing" part of it. More discussion on "sparing" comes in chapter 10 and 11, and in Chapter 11: Necessities and Superfluities there is even an examen to help one discern. Chapter 11 also contains a statement of the basic definition of the sharing/sparing lifestyle:

I will live sparingly so that I may share with my needy sisters and brothers.
Remember that values as he defines them are principles by which you organize your life according to what is most important, and that "poverty" in itself is not a value -- it is a "clearing-out" of excess that hopefully leaves room for better things to grow. In this case, living sparingly allows almsgiving and gives you extra resources to alleviate the needs of your neighbors. John Chrysostom said:

,,,, if you have used your wealth for purposes of philanthropy, the thing becomes to you a foundation of good; but if for rapine and grasping and insolence, you have turned the use of it to the direct opposite; but for this wealth is not chargeable, but he who has used his wealth for insolence. So also we may say of poverty: if you have borne it nobly by giving thanks to the Master, what has been done becomes to you a cause and ground for receiving crowns; but if on account of this thou blaspheme your Creator, and accuse Him for His providence, you have again used the thing to an evil purpose. But just as in that case it is not wealth that is responsible for the avarice, but the person who has made a bad use of wealth, so also here we are not to lay the blame of the blasphemy on poverty, but on him who did not choose to bear the thing in a sober spirit. ...... Let us not therefore accuse riches, nor revile poverty absolutely, but those who do not will to use these virtuously; for the things themselves lie in the middle.
He says, however, that a poor person is generally better able to make use of the "divine medicine" of the faith than a rich person because

the rich man, possessed beforehand by many thoughts, having the pride and puffed-up temper belonging to wealthiness; living with carelessness and lazy ease as companions, receives the medicine of the hearing of the Scriptures not with much attention, nor with much earnestness; but the poor man, far removed from delicate living and gluttony and indolence; spending all his time in handicraft and honest labours; and gathering hence much love of wisdom for the soul; becomes thereby more attentive and free from slackness, and is wont to give his mind with more accurate care to all that is said: whence also, inasmuch as the price he has paid is higher, the benefit which he departs having reaped is greater

There seem to be a few elements involved in sharing:

  1. God
  2. Myself
  3. What I have -- the things themselves (or their material worth).
  4. The people around me.
The ideas associated with these elements:

  • God gave me everything I have.
  • What I have isn't "mine" in the sense that I can do whatever I feel like with it.
  • All people are entitled to a dignified existence, and because of destitution many people aren't in possession of that.
  • All people are our "brothers and sisters".
  • Those who have a surplus are obligated to share with those who don't have enough.
In support of that last point, Father Dubay quotes Scriptures:

In Luke 3, when people ask John the Baptist what they are to do in light of the coming of the kingdom, he says:
"The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
In 2 Corinthians 8, St Paul gives quite detailed examples:

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And I am giving counsel in this matter, for it is appropriate for you who began not only to act but to act willingly last year: complete it now, so that your eager willingness may be matched by your completion of it out of what you have. For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have; not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality. As it is written: "Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less."
James 2 says:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the dayand one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
And 1 John 3 says:
The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.

Father Dubay also cites Gaudium et Spes:

(69)God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should be in abundance for all in like manner..... the right of having a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one's family belongs to everyone. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this opinion, teaching that men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods.(10) If one is in extreme necessity, he has the right to procure for himself what he needs out of the riches of others.(11)

Since there are so many people prostrate with hunger in the world, this sacred council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the aphorism of the Fathers, "Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him,"(12) and really to share and employ their earthly goods, according to the ability of each, especially by supporting individuals or peoples with the aid by which they may be able to help and develop themselves.

(88)....the greater part of the world is still suffering from so much poverty that it is as if Christ Himself were crying out in these poor to beg the charity of the disciples. Do not let men, then, be scandalized because some countries with a majority of citizens who are counted as Christians have an abundance of wealth, whereas others are deprived of the necessities of life and are tormented with hunger, disease, and every kind of misery. The spirit of poverty and charity are the glory and witness of the Church of Christ.

And Populorum Progressio:

23. "He who has the goods of this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (21) Everyone knows that the Fathers of the Church laid down the duty of the rich toward the poor in no uncertain terms. As St. Ambrose put it: "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich." (22) These words indicate that the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional.

No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life. In short, "as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good." When "private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another," it is for the public authorities "to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups." (23)

If you're still reading after all those quotes, you can see that the encyclicals echo the New Testament on this.

This has been an exceptionally boring post, I am sure. It is a lot to ask readers to wade through a whole bunch of quotes. And the idea of sharing wealth has become cliched. If it hadn't been before, it probably would be now after the Olympic airing of We are the World 25.

Father Dubay notes this: Everyone agrees, hardly anyone lives it.

To me it seems like one, just one reason this is true is because in the political order it often gets distorted. The encyclicals (and Father Dubay) point out that saying that the poor have rights to basic necessities DOESN'T mean that this is more important than caring for their souls. A lot of people trying to take money away from other people for supposedly charitable reasons -- whether it be government agencies, or televangelists, or whatever -- are lining their own pockets in the process. It is like Judas reprimanding Mary (in John 12) for wasting money on anointing Jesus because he was himself stealing from the group till.

Still, just because the idea of sharing can be abused doesn't mean it isn't a genuine obligation.

By chance, or maybe not, today's Mass gospel reading was on Luke 6:

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.
We are heading into Lent next week and this is a good reminder.

Since this post is already irremediably sagging with the weight of many quotes, I am going to add that I also recently read this from Matthew 25:

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

This brings us back to the truth that the Lord suffered poverty and death for our sake, His people are our brothers and sisters and if we share with them it is as if we did it for Him. There are a lot of folk stories about the king going through the streets in disguise to see how well his laws are actually being lived, not just hearing people's professions of what they are doing. It goes back to the idea that what you really believe, you will be living. Father Dubay says that how we spend our excess money shows very clearly who we value primarily.

1 comment:

  1. What a wealth of rabbit trails to follow in this post.
    I'm making my way through your blog to try to work out how you have put all the amazing wisdom you post, into your homeschooling, catholic lifestyle. I am struggling with the nuts and bolts of what it all looks like right now, in my situation in life. I've just ordered the dubay book - thanks for writing so much on it.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!