Thursday, December 27, 2007

I Love Bad People

For many years, I have wanted to design bumper stickers. I have now found a site that permits me to do just that. Here is my first offering (available at the Dormition Store):


If you love only the good, what thanks are to you? Everyone loves the good. But love even bad people and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the sons of God; for He is kind even to the evil. (c.f. Luke 6: 27 - 35).

24 comments:

John R.P. Russell said...

My sister has pointed out that, as much as she loves bad people, she doesn't want them talking to her. This is a good point.

Perhaps, if you decide to adorn your bumper with this sticker, you should also arm yourself. Just a thought.

M LO said...

David and I have talked about something similar to what your sister brought up. David is willing to pick up hitchhikers and and speak to down and out types on the street. However, he has determined that he does not want me doing the same.

Oh, and I've always wanted to make my own bumper stickers. Pretty cool stuff.

Charles Curtis said...

Interesting how you guys reflexively associate the words "bad people" with bums and hitchhikers, or people that you don't want to talk to..

For I think Christ has warned us that no one is good except God alone. See Luke 18:19.

We may despite our illusions be amongst the most guilty of people, despite our piety and our middle class rectitude.

Indeed, the very worst people may in fact be the ones we regard as most respectable. Those we, in our ignorance and sin, most admire and even imitate.

Maybe a few of those bums we are so wary of are great saints. I think of the mendicants and hermits of yore. Some of their brothers may ( we can only pray) yet be amongst us today.

lone_striker said...

Oh, and John, where is the site you are using to make your stickers? If you don't mind sharing your trade secret, that is?

Charles Curtis

John R.P. Russell said...

Mr. Curtis,

Thank you for the humbling reminder.

The site I use to make stickers is linked to in this post.

M LO said...

Actually, I don't automatically associate hitchhikers and bums with bad people. In fact, to me, the only thing they have in common is that I don't want to talk to them.

And while no one can be sure about the bums who live on my street and in my town, I am willing to judge from the rude comments they make to me and their signs that read "I'm not going to lie. I'll buy beer" that they are not some long lost Franciscan or Dominican order, and they have a long road to sainthood, as do I. As romantic as it sounds, not all down and outs are saints.

However, I am a bad person, I am many thousands of dollars in debt, and have a vehicle that puts me in constant danger of becoming a hitchhiker. I'll not take offence of no one speaks to me.

lone_striker said...

M Lo, I wouldn't necessarily expect you to talk to them, if you felt it was imprudent (and I'm not saying it's not.)

My point is that you probably (as a woman) would be in as much physical danger (and at perhaps far far more spiritual risk, but let that aside) at most college frat parties, as you would be if you went out tonight and talked to a dozen bums downtown (even on New Year's Eve).

Indeed, in the statistical sense I would not be surprised if a woman regularly talking to bums in public during the day would be in roughly as much risk of being raped as a male growing up in a Catholic parish these last forty years.

Not to be brutal about it, and I hope that idea doesn't offend, but I have a gut feeling it may in a very real way be true, if perhaps impossible to definitively demonstrate.

Christ said something about the relative spiritual danger of being a pharisee and a prostitute, didn't he?

I sense that principle applies here. In any case, if I saw a bum holding a sign saying "I'm not going to lie, I'll buy beer." I'd congratulate him on his candor and very likely buy us both one. I mean, really, there are far worse sins than drunkenness, and being human with drunks (or anyone else) is far more vital than judging them for their sin.

We are not to judge, remember. Discern yes. To name the spirits, yet never judge. Even (even especially) satan deserves that much respect.

In any case, I've met a mendicant "bum." His name is Brother Francis, and he has lived (and I now this indubitably, having been around him quite a while, and having his past behavior atteastede to by many people) by the original 13th century rule of St. Francis for the last 20 years. That means he has not touched money in that entire time.

Something to think about as we struggle under the usurer's thrall.

Better a bum than a banker any day, I say. Much more interesting and sympathetic drinking partners, for sure. And believe me, I know of what I speak, in spades.

Charles

A Simple Sinner said...

Hmmmmm... The gang over at Per Christum has to get in on this bumper-sticker racket. Seems like pure gold.

dave said...

lone_striker:

There are sins worse than drunkeness, and one of them is knowingly to encourage the sins of another. It is cowardice to congratulate a bum for his "honesty" and buy him booze. It takes more courage to say to the bum that he is in the wrong--as it takes courage to correct anyone, including a banker who is in the wrong.

Better a bum than a banker? Why do you think this? Poverty is an evil except in the situations where it has been chosen for some spiritual purpose. Bankers perform a useful function in our society, just as farmers do. Bums may be doing the best that they can in their circumstances, and you are right that it is not our place to judge their intentions, but that does not change the fact that most of them are living very selfish lives.

And I don't see where you get off judging all bankers when you are so defensive about others judging bums--which they have not done in the way that you have accused them, by the way.

dave said...

lone_striker:

There are sins worse than drunkeness, and one of them is knowingly to encourage the sins of another. It is cowardice to congratulate a bum for his "honesty" and buy him booze. It takes more courage to say to the bum that he is in the wrong--as it takes courage to correct anyone, including a banker who is in the wrong.

Better a bum than a banker? Why do you think this? Poverty is an evil except in the situations where it has been chosen for some spiritual purpose. Bankers perform a useful function in our society, just as farmers do. Bums may be doing the best that they can in their circumstances, and you are right that it is not our place to judge their intentions, but that does not change the fact that most of them are living very selfish lives.

And I don't see where you get off judging all bankers when you are so defensive about others judging bums--which they have not done in the way that you have accused them, by the way.

lone_striker said...

Dave, thanks for the criticism.

First, I'm not "judging" either bankers or bums as individuals. What I'm trying to say here is that I think materialism is a far greater spiritual danger to us individually and societally than drunkenness is.

And that through my social interactions with both groups that I find bums to be on the whole somewhat more sympathetic companionship than a bunch of business & accounting majors.

Even when drunk.

Personal preferance, I suppose.

Our culture (American society) is awash in greed and avarice. Prosperity blinds us. We have this common narrative that the wealth we have is ours, that "I" "earned" it. When it fact, the wealth is a common product, created by God and amassed and refined though the efforts of many.

The wealth that each of us personally has is more due to our collaboration in this common project (our willingness to "responsibly" abide by societal norms, our membership in the tribe) than it is our own personal effort. The richer you are, the more this is true.

The plutocrat would have you believe his or her wealth is the product of his or her own genius at decision making or discipline in management. This is not essentially (indeed it is only very peripherally) so. No, the wealth of the rich (that to say is our wealth) is due to relationship, having the proper credentials and position in the group. The cultural authority of the university, the boardroom, the stock exchange, the legislature, the country club. Relationships forged and maintained in these & like places have vast cultural power. Other people bow before that power. And work according to it's whim.

People like bums and migrant or third world sweatshop workers are disenfranchised in this sense.

Now, many bums make what we bourgeois might consider irresponsible decisions. And so many believe they deserve their lot. Maybe so. Maybe so. But
it's also true that many - if not most - of these people suffer from
weaknesses like mental illness other serious intrinsic incapacities that prevent them from functioning in our economy. From maintaining the relationships (which is all a job or even stock is, my friend, a relationship) that provide wealth.

These people - the poor - are therefore a challenge to us. Not one so easily dismissed. The question - and it is a rhetorical one - is "are you your brother's keeper?"

The illusion that contracts and interest rates govern our relationship is a satanic one. One that often keeps us from love. From the sacrifice love entails.

And just so you know, buying a beer for a bum (whose problem may be bipolar disorder not alcoholism, just for example, but leave that aside) is not a sin.

Charles Curtis

lone_striker said...

Dave, thanks for the criticism.

First, I'm not "judging" either bankers or bums as individuals. What I'm trying to say here is that I think materialism is a far greater spiritual danger to us individually and societally than drunkenness is.

And that through my social interactions with both groups that I find bums to be on the whole somewhat more sympathetic companionship than a bunch of business & accounting majors.

Even when drunk.

Personal preferance, I suppose.

Our culture (American society) is awash in greed and avarice. Prosperity blinds us. We have this common narrative that the wealth we have is ours, that "I" "earned" it. When it fact, the wealth is a common product, created by God and amassed and refined though the efforts of many.

The wealth that each of us personally has is more due to our collaboration in this common project (our willingness to "responsibly" abide by societal norms, our membership in the tribe) than it is our own personal effort. The richer you are, the more this is true.

The plutocrat would have you believe his or her wealth is the product of his or her own genius at decision making or discipline in management. This is not essentially (indeed it is only very peripherally) so. No, the wealth of the rich (that to say is our wealth) is due to relationship, having the proper credentials and position in the group. The cultural authority of the university, the boardroom, the stock exchange, the legislature, the country club. Relationships forged and maintained in these & like places have vast cultural power. Other people bow before that power. And work according to it's whim.

People like bums and migrant or third world sweatshop workers are disenfranchised in this sense.

Now, many bums make what we bourgeois might consider irresponsible decisions. And so many believe they deserve their lot. Maybe so. Maybe so. But
it's also true that many - if not most - of these people suffer from
weaknesses like mental illness other serious intrinsic incapacities that prevent them from functioning in our economy. From maintaining the relationships (which is all a job or even stock is, my friend, a relationship) that provide wealth.

These people - the poor - are therefore a challenge to us. Not one so easily dismissed. The question - and it is a rhetorical one - is "are you your brother's keeper?"

The illusion that contracts and interest rates govern our relationship is a satanic one. One that often keeps us from love. From the sacrifice love entails.

And just so you know, buying a beer for a bum (whose problem may be bipolar disorder not alcoholism, just for example, but leave that aside) is not a sin.

Charles Curtis

dave said...

Charles,

There's a lot of truth in what you say. Wealth is often not distributed according to merit, and even if it were, such distribution would not be just. Capitalism is inherently unjust, but so is any economic system--proper use of wealth comes from individuals, not from markets.

Still, the disconnect between work and money can be exaggerated. I know very well from experience that I can always make more money by working harder, or by choosing an occupation that I consider less pleasant. I could, for example, become a banker, which is not really a fun job for anyone.

Or I could eschew the hardship of work and responsibility and become a bum. For me it would be a choice and a sin (because I have more than myself to think about), and so it is for many who run out on their families and decide not to work anymore. Those who enter the situation because of mental illness cannot be blamed, but the same can be said for those who murder or rape because of mental illness.

I am sympathetic to your objections against capitalism, because it does tend to turn people into commodities. But on a day-to-day basis no one makes me feel more like a commodity to be exploited than the pan-handlers who confront me on the street. They greet me with duplicitous smiles, offer to shake my hand as if to befriend me, but it becomes clear very quickly that their only interest in me is whatever change I might give them.

And this is one of the reasons I think it is wrong to give a bum a beer. Even if he is not an alcoholic, by giving him booze you encourage him to continue begging and so continue looking at people as exploitable. I cannot imagine this is good for anyone. We are obligated to help the needy so that they can survive and hopefully learn to stand on their own feet, but handing out beer is not a very good way to go about it.

Indeed, bankers are in a very good position to help out the needy, and this is one of the best arguments I can think of for becoming a banker. Or a doctor, or a lawyer, or any other highly paid occupation. It is one thing to criticize the wealthy--quite another to undertake the hard work it takes to become wealthy and then share that wealth freely with others who need it.

It's interesting that you prefer the company of beggars to bankers. I guess it depends on the individuals. The people I know who have become bankers have mainly been interesting people, but the beggars I've known have been dull and unintelligent. In my opinion, it would take far more virtue to care about them than the bankers.

lone_striker said...

Dave:

Two years ago I was in Cairo for a year. Many people fail to appreciate a major aspect of hard core (notice I did not say radical or Islamicist, or extremist Islam, I simply mean mainstream staunch orthodox Islam) is that the issue of usury is still very much a live one. Many serious Muslims will neither lend nor borrow with interest. There is a massive parallel non-interest based economy out there, in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

I don't know if you have ever been to the slums of Cairo, but they make places like Tijuana or the barrios of Cd. Mexico look nearly prosperous. This element of Islam, its message economic and social egalitarianism (so often scorned by the elite, but lived in a very real way by the greater mass of Muslims), and its anti-capitalist essence should be of serious concern to us.

Because if the speculative bubble breaks, and we run into another depression or serious recession - as one of my Keynesian/Marxist economics profs back in the 90's predicted we will (and I thought he was on crack then, but now I see I was the one high on Smith Walras, Marshall & Freidman).. And the current economic trends make all too possible.. Then the appeal of Islam might wax.. As our supposed invincible materialistic hyper power wanes.

Capitalism without capital or a significant middle class is doomed. That may be in our near future.

We could be in for interesting times.

The spiritual will out the material every time. Even if that spiritual power is satanic. And satan is feeding our greed. He is winning, because we are too avaricious to resist him.

And If the bubble breaks a lot of bourgeois and perhaps a few bankers are themselves going to end up bums. Despite all their "hard work" and "responsible use of credit" (yeah. being in hoc to your gills, and then on the street. responsible. now that's priceless.**)

I keep reading "conservatives" say that the government is not supposed to be in the business of charity. Then I come to places like this, frequented by "orthodox" Catholics & Christians, and I all too often hear excuses for why we shouldn't give alms to beggars.

Honestly, Dave, it pisses me off. When- God forbid - we are ever on the street in January ourselves, or when we face the Judge Himself, what the heck are you going to say?

Lazarus was irresponsible, and annoying, and I didn't like him? He was a dipsomaniac, so he didn't deserve a kind word, or my material help?

Excuse me for being brutal, but please. Come on.

** By the by, did you know that those banker friends of yours have approved over three Trillion dollars of currently unused revolving credit, and are adding billions more every year? Think about that. If the mierda hits the fan, and people tap those lines.. We’re all going to be financially sodomized. (And I choose that word in very un- facetiously.)

Just be ready. Just in case.

That's one of many things I despise bankers for. Their greed makes them irresponsible. And their irresponsibility is a danger (material and spiritual) to us all.

But enough.

Charles

John R.P. Russell said...

To quotemyself:

"If you take a Christian's coat, he's obliged to let you have it – just like that – not only his coat, but his shirt as well – because he isn't to have attachments to the things of this world, neither to his coat nor to his money(cf. Lk 6:29). He's not supposed to care. Indifference and dispassion are to characterize a Christian's economic behavior."

When someone asks me for something, if I have it and can spare it without harming my family, I believe I should hand it over. Without hesitation or judgment.

The best response to a duplicitous smile is a sincere smile. The best response to false offer of friendship is a true offer.

My mother spoke often of the "benefit of the doubt" and "taking people at their word." If it is possible that someone is telling the truth, not even likely, but merely possible that the smelly dude really does want to use the money for some good, then I feel obligated by my conscience to believe him. And to give whatever I have to give - which isn't really mine anyway.

Once, a gentleman of the road (as my father would have called him) told me that if I didn't give him some money to buy a certain medicinal drug he needed he would be dead in two hours. I took him at his word and told him that I would call an ambulance immediately because emergency services are obligated by law to treat you regardless of whether you have any money. He simply walked away.

lone_striker said...

Hear, hear, John. Well said.

dave said...

If we are to give whatever we do not need to anyone who asks for it, then the only reason any of us still possesses anything beyond the poverty line is because we avoid the people who would do the asking. Is the man who lives and walks on poor inner-streets somehow more obligated to his fellow man because he will be asked for money more often? The city dweller's coat will be taken far more often than the suburbanites. There is a problem here.

But in truth there is always someone willing to take your coat if you don't avoid him. So if we are obligated to give away all our wealth that someone would ask for, and which we do not need, then Christians should never be seen at restaurants, for example--unless they work there--because there will always be someone who would like your excess wealth.

No one has the right to criticize my decision not to give change to beggars who still possesses anything in excess of his needs. Computers are luxury goods. Am I the only one on this forum who must go to the library to use one? Fresh produce, especially organic, is a luxury. How much do you spend on groceries for yourself. I try to live on $3 a day for food--$6 for my wife and me. We drive a $600, 18-year-old truck. I still buy things that I do not need, such as an occasional book and a weekly trip to Chipotle, but I would not be afraid to compare my daily spending to anyone who self-righteously calls me before the judgment seat for being too materialistic.

I am tired of hearing people criticize the greed, materialism, and injustice of our society, when those same people enjoy the luxury of, say, taking year-long trips to Cairo. There are undoubtedly evil bankers, but a lot more justice will be accomplished by sharing one's own wealth than by spitting at them. And I still say that one could do great good by becoming a moral banker and sharing his high income with others. But being a banker is no fun and requires a lot of time and responsibility, while criticizing the rich is easy and feels good.

And what if our economy falls into a depression, Charles? If you hadn't absorbed this materialistic attitude that you vituperate so broadly, you wouldn't be so worried about it.

And did I ever say that a bum did not deserve a kind word or material help? Far from it--but giving a man money while he pan-handles is not really the best way to help or befriend him.

Do you think you're the only one who has ever befriended a poor person? Just because I prefer the companionship of the clean and educated does not mean I have never spent time with the unwashed and ignorant. You have no idea where I come from. I admire the honesty of George Orwell, who admitted feeling physically ill in the presence of the poor, and did not allow his socialism to make him rose-color the truth.

I used to think that I should give every beggar the benefit of the doubt and so gave out a few dollars a week. But if I were really giving them the benefit of the doubt I would be giving much more. And now I also believe that I am obligated to pay off all my debt before I give any kind of alms in earnest, because debt makes us a slave and a slave has no business handing out extra money.

When one is out of debt and has surplus income, he has a great obligation to others, but handing out money on the street indiscriminately is not really a responsible way to help people. And it's also not responsible or even moral to let people steal your coat.

lone_striker said...

Honestly Dave, I do have a bad conscience about what I have. About my own reliance on wealth before grace. About using my talents to provide more for myself and my own, when I have seen those slums.

I see being gratuitously generous - in my case, for me - as a necessary response to God's & others' generosity to me. Others can do as they like, and I recognize that my giving a few bucks to someone who asks for my help is nothing compared to the widow's mite. And that even discussing this ethic publically opens me - justifiably - to the charge of hypocrisy. And probably lessens its value before God. May God have mercy on me, because I need it.

Anyhow, I am not calling you before the judgment seat, Dave. I'm only saying that we may want to rationalize charity less, and give more. That maybe seeing Lazarus in the next pan handler may be wiser than assuming he's a con artist or drunk who will spend any money given to him on booze. I mean, maybe he is, maybe he will. But what is it to you, really?

Do what you would do to you if you were him. It's an individual thing. What is just? What is merciful? What does he need? It may be to be ignored. That may be what he needs. Maybe he needs a coat or a meal. Maybe he could use a beer and a friendly ear to listen to him. Or a ride somewhere. I don't know. Maybe he needs a good kick in the pants & a night in the drunk tank. Or a lifetime of psychiatric care, or perhaps prison.. It's difficult, discerning such things. God help us.

Choose to be with whom you like Dave. And Bankers unusually smell better than bums, that is true. Mother Theresa used to make herself kiss the running sores of the bums & Dalits she took in. To mortify just the impulse of disgust you are talking about.

Anyway, I'm most emphatically not saying I'm better than you. I'm very likely much more guilty than you. I can't judge myself, let alone you, and I'm only trying to respond to my own conscience here.

I am afraid for myself, that I may not have much to show for myself in the ways that really matter. I am afraid for my country, because I think we've fallen into a great sea of immorality. That our greed and lust and pride have caused us to do many evil things. That evil, I fear, has already begun to redound upon us.

A Depression may be letting us off easy. The prospect of economic contraction scares me, because I seriously doubt that we have the faith as a people needed to weather it like we did the last one.

Peak oil is coming, due to this our economy will eventually contract. That's indubitable. People still keep building suburban subdivisions (which in 50 years will almost certainly no longer make economic sense) - and those bankers (sorry to keep harping on them) are doing some ugly things. Like greedily loaning money at variable interest to people who cannot (as we see so clearly now) afford it. And then throwing them out of their homes when they do not pay. This behavior is odious in too many ways..

And those slums are still out there.

The call of Christ is not a comfortable one for a rich young man like me, Dave. Excuse me for regaling you with my angst. I am sorry.

lone_striker said...

In the end all we need, and all we have is God. And it is said that God is love. It is also said that what we do unto the least of our brethren we do unto Him. And that all of us are in essence brothers, descended of the same mother..

There are few more despised, few lesser in our culture than bums. In these we are to see ourselves, to see our God. Even if they are evil and undeserving. Because there is no one who is not.

That's it. I stand condemned by these words.

dave said...

I think that we would probably get along if we met. You remind me very much of an old friend who I haven't talked to in a long time. Believe it or not, we argued sometimes.

I agreed with a great deal of what you said just now, but a couple of things stick out as problems. You say that it shouldn't matter to someone how the bum spends his alms. But it's lazy not to consider this. Just as the philanthropist should investigate a charity before giving a million dollars to it, it is our responsibility to be good custodians of what we have been given even in small matters. In the worst case, if I give $10 to an alcoholic who spends the money on booze, then I have used my wealth for evil, and perhaps I could have avoided this if I been more careful. I recognize that if you are going to give money to people on the street that sometimes you will make this kind of mistake--but one's good judgment should not be ignored. Remember, the purpose of alms is to actually help someone else, not just use up surplus cash--otherwise you could just burn it.

I have made the decision not to give out any money at all to panhandlers, but I recognize that sometimes the man or woman would use the money well--and if one is good at recognizing such cases then he may do some good. In my own situation, I think I can do better with my wealth elsewhere. Right now my prime consideration is rescuing my family from debt--later on I may feel that adopting children or giving to charity funds is more useful. I would like to make a lot of money, but I have no interest in a lavish lifestyle--I have realized over the last half-year that I can live very comfortably on very little--well, little by American standards anyway.

I also think you're too worried about an economic collapse. Neither you and I have much control over that, and we're better off just living and maybe saving a bit for the future. Besides, there could be all kinds of positive side effects of a depression. Poverty is an evil, but the country would undoubtedly be improved by many of the effects of higher gas prices, for example--like more public transit and fewer subdivisions.

And yes there is great immorality in our country, in our bankers and our bums (and of course our college students), but I don't think it does anyone any good to worry about it. And people must be held accountable for wrong-doing, but both parties of a transcation can be implicated. Who did the greater wrong, the loan company who didn't do a bankground check on the borrower, or the borrower whose greed caused them to borrow too much money? I can understand that some borrowers were probably ignorant--and maybe that ignorance was not due to sloth--but I also know that if I took out a giant loan and then couldn't repay it, I wouldn't blame the bank.

PS. It seems George Orwell and Mother Theresa have something in common--the impulse to rub their noses in the filth they are ashamed to be disgusted by. I can see the virtue in this impulse, but I do not think I share it.

lone_striker said...

Dave:

We probably would be friends. Thanks for the compliment.

I just read a homily by S. John Chrysostom that hits to the heart of our discussion here:

===

[This excerpt from a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew (Hom. 50, 3-4, PG 58, 508-509) warns against adorning the Church building at the expense of caring for the suffering members of Christ's body, the Church in the truest sense. It is used in the Roman office of readings for Saturday of the 21st week in Ordinary time, with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Jeremiah 7:1-20.]

Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: "You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me." (Mat 25:34ff) What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honor Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honor he desires, not in the honor we think best. Peter thought he was honoring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too. A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry? What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honour? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted?

Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floor and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison. Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbour a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all.

===

Now, I have never heard a homily like this from a Catholic pulpit, myself.

Which I think interesting. We do occasionally hear homilies exhorting us to care for the poor, true. But I'm not sure I've ever heard a radical call to poverty like that of St. Francis or Mother Theresa.

We no longer (as a rule, these last sixty or more years) adorn our churches ostentatiously, for one. So St. John's words would make little sense to most, today. Gild the tabernacle in precious metal? But why? What ever for?

Such is our parsimonious iconoclasm.

The same parsimony is evident in our charity. We (some of us) advocate a corporate, communitarian or socialist response to poverty, which salves our conscience (because "something" is being done for the anonymous needy) while exculpating our consciences in
escaping the claims of the particular Icon of the Living God who approaches on the street asking us for our change.

I'm not saying that particular bum actually needs our change so much as our real interest in him and commitment to him as a person. But we do owe him something. As John says, we may owe him everything we have, in a radical way.

Just a thought.

John R.P. Russell said...

I see no problem with the fact that "the city dweller's coat will be taken far more often than the suburbanites." I do not believe that God calls each person to equal sacrifice. We are where God puts us, if we are following Him.

To say that it's not moral to let people steal your coat is to say that Christ has commanded immorality.

I am no opponent of wealth. I am wealthy. Abraham, the father of faith, was extrordinarily wealthy. But he also shared his wealth to those who came to him. Wealth is a blessing from God. Poverty is an evil. Debt is an evil.

dave said...

Such is the world that if a person was known to give to someone whatever he was asked, that person would quickly give up everything. If anyone lives by this code and does not live in poverty, it is because he conceals his generosity, whether by hiding in the suburbs or otherwise avoiding contact with those who would do the asking.

It is absurd to say that the poorer the neighborhood in which one lives, the greater obligation he has to the poor. This is to say that the poor have a greater moral obligation than the rich, because the rich live among the rich and so avoid those who would steal their coats.

I accept the moral obligation we have to the poor. I accept the hard words of St. John Chrysostom. But whether or not beggars happen to approach us daily has nothing to do with how much alms we ought to give.

And no one is going to steal your coat in our society, but if you don't lock your house they will steal your other belongings, and if you leave your keys in your ignition they will steal your car. and if you leave your bank number handy they will steal all your money. Should we let them? It is the same as letting them steal a coat.

It is too easy to say that we should give to others whatever they ask, and then hide ourselves from those who would do the asking and guard the things we don't want them to take.

lone_striker said...

You know Dave, I think you have a a very good point. One of the main reasons suburbia exists is because the wealthy and middle class fled the inner city poor, and congregate together in clusters of roughly the same tax bracket (how good is your local school? It's as good as the local tax base can afford, and that is based on how high the property values are. People segregate themselves by income, with others of roughly their "own kind" economically, racially, culturally.)

Thus suburbanites are not usually faced with the poverty of the inner city, or of the rural poor like in Appalachia. Those communities are left to fester and in collapse, and the wealthy are no longer forced to interact with "those" people, no longer required to spend their time and resources with them.

Their poverty is thus out of sight out of mind, and suburban consciences are no longer confronted with their need.

I think this is evidence of the collapse of the Faith. Because, as John and St. John say, they are our responsibility. My responsibility. We are eachother's responsibility.

Thinking of wealth, or the material world, as a zero sum game, the way the neo pagans do, is not Christian. If we are generous, we will increase - maybe not materially, but that ought to never be our primary goal anyway. God will not allow his own to perish in their generosity.

If by giving away your coat you believe you would freeze, then keep it. But if you have more than one, and the means to acquire more (as so many of us do) then the gift of that coat will enrich you in the only way that ever finally matters.

Even if the recipient of the coat is a thieving crack addict. It's scandalous, maybe, but I really believe it.

Most Popular Posts this Month

Most Popular Posts of All Time