Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Scandal of Poverty in a World of Plenty

In a splendid and deeply challenging article in America Magazine, Bishop Robert McElroy draws upon the Holy Father's call to a mass cultural conversion. Pope Francis, McElroy notes, has exposed "three false cultures that materialism has created in our world:

  1. The Culture of Comfort - we think only of ourselves
  2. The Culture of Waste - we seize the gifts of creation, exhaust what we have seized, and then discard them
  3. The Culture of Indifference - we have become insensitive to the suffering of others. 
The culture of materialism has worked toward the creation of the Anti-Kingdom of God. Rather than being gathered into a New Jerusalem ruled by God, those of us who are able prefer to worship at the altar of capitalism: we are, as a society, an idolatrous people. Gathered around the graven image of wealth and prestige, we become what Pope Benedict XVI lamented in Caritatis in Veritate: a globalized society of neighbors but not sisters and brothers. 

Bishop McElroy prophetically calls for us to rethink and work toward a transformation of the Catholic Church's contribution to political discourse. We need, first, to prioritize the issue of poverty; second, to focus on both intrinsic evil and structural sin; and, third, to recover and more holistically apply the virtue of prudence. 

The article, clear and accessible, raises a number of issues that should give readers pause. Primary among them, at least to my mind, is the claim that in 2002 the richest nations of the world pledged to give 0.7% of their annual GDP toward the alleviation of poverty. The United States has reneged on this promise and gives 0.2%. Our inability to follow through on a pledge has made possible millions of death from malnutrition and disease. 

If your response is, "Well, our country needs to look after our own first!" allow me to say: Welcome to the culture of indifference the Holy Father decries. This is the cry of the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 who steps over the dying Lazarus, not giving a damn for his needs, concerning himself only with his need to step over "a neighbor" in order to stock up on cases of fine wine. 

This is one of those must-read articles if only to get a broader sense of issues facing our Church, our nation, and our world. It rightly puts into perspective how our wrangling over medical device taxes pales in comparison to the plight of so many. Each day, the ground of the earth is soaked in the blood of the poor and the oppressed; bodies of water greedily devour the bodies of migrants hopeful for a new life; deserts dry out the bodies of those who seek asylum in other countries. When asked, "Who is responsible for the blood of our brothers and sisters?" will we keep throwing up our hands, crying out "Nobody!"? 

Or will we look down and see how, underneath all of the things we hold, streaks of blood stain our palms? 

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