Today we are joined by John Medaille, a retired professor from the University of Dallas and the author of The Vocation of Business, and Toward a Truly Free Market, as well as many other writings in periodicals from Res Publica to the Remnant. We talk about Distributism and the economic issues facing Distributist economic theory, government, labor and many other issues which delve deeper into Distributism than the normal reflections on Chesterton.
Originally published 30 November 2010
“The Poor, the poor!” This is almost a common mantra that we hear today from our Bishops. For that matter from all the social elites. Whenever a new Church is built, there is some idiot to say “shouldn’t this money be used for the poor?” Although I watched with great amusement as this was turned on Mahoney’s head when he built his monstrosity in LA.
Clamoring about the poor in such a way, especially about legitimate things such as building, or the dignity of the vestments, vessels and furnishings in a place where Holy Mass is offered, is frankly as old as Judas, who complained that the ointments with which Mary Magdalene anointed him might have been sold and given to the poor.
What drove this home for me was one time when I went to confession to a priest who regularly says the Novus Ordo. My confession had absolutely nothing to do with stinginess or lack of charity to my fellow man, but nevertheless he piped in with “don’t worry about that, but do remember that tomorrow is World Charity outreach Sunday, so examine your attitude to the poor and pray for Catholic Charities.” I’m not even sure what event he was really referring to, but nevertheless this was ridiculous. Firstly, this priest has no idea that I used to go to different cities to do homeless outreach, that on passing beggars if I’m not involved in some obligation I will actually buy them food and that my prayers generally consist of prayers for the impoverished. He has no way to know that of course, which is why he shouldn’t be making these kinds of admonitions. Perhaps remember to pray for Catholic charities might have been fine. Then there is of course a giant poster for the Campaign for Human development, which if you got all the priests of all the parishes in this country, I doubt you could find more than 10 who know of a parishoner, or just someone locally, who needed money and received it from the Campaign for Human Development, because in truth they give the money to cronies or to someone to fund abortion.
So now I’m being asked to re-examine my attitude toward the poor, who myself am well below the poverty line I might add, yet the Bishops meet twice a year in fancy hotels at a huge cost to bicker about the word “gibbet” or “consubstantial”, and then tell us to donate for the poor. Then they advocate garnering money for the poor, and take up a second collection (when they could free up millions of dollars by holding their meetings in Washington D.C. at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception or rent out some college campus during their vacations). This is not to say the Bishops should take up no money from the faithful for the relief of poverty.
Yet the poverty Gospel is completely empty. The philosophy is to get more money and throw it at the problem (much like a government program). This, as experience has proven has done nothing for the poor spiritually let alone in society. At the end of the day you have just put a bucket under a leaking pipe without fixing the leak.
If the Bishops and priests were really concerned about poverty and the souls of the homeless, they would take a completely different and revolutionary approach. Help the poor.
If a man is homeless and he wants to get back on his feet, he cannot just walk into a place and get a job if he wants. Why? He walks in, if he’s able to get a resume printed at the library at all, it is going to show long gaps in employment. He will have difficulty showering, but even if he can manage that his clothes will be somewhat tattered and unpresentable. He can point to no place where he lives, and then the cat is out of the bag. He will not get hired.
Or someone who is very poor and has no or few job skills. He cannot afford to go back to college or to some kind of vocational training that can help him. But here comes Catholic charities “Here is some food for you.” And of course it is a week’s supply of macaroni and cheese, which has a nutritional value of about zero. You might have solved some hunger pains, but you still haven’t helped the poor.
If the Bishops actually meant help the poor rather than “give us more money so we can give it to the democrats and lobby to save the snow owls, or anything else non-controversial, they could set up a vocational center designed to get people off the street. It would just run on a few basic rules, no girlfriends, no drugs, and committing crimes will cause you to be kicked out. Then it can set upon vocational training in a trade, computers, etc. and when these people apply for jobs they can put down “I live here”, they can come in clean and presentable. Moreover those who run the center could work out business arrangements with local employers. Mass could be offered, and with various encouragements it could give the poor something to look forward to, not to mention something they truly need. This is exactly what Bl. Pope Pius IX did for poor homeless boys in central Italy when he was a priest, using his family fortune to set it up. Boys who were trained there were later held to be some of the best craftsmen in Italy, many taught by the holy Pope themselves!
This is just one of dozens of possibilities that are so innovative the status quo will not even look at them because of course, they cost money and bring in none (i.e. a real sacrifice) and they might solve something and take away an appeal. Such initiatives as these will not “solve” poverty, but they will provide opportunities for the poor, especially the homeless.