Magazine article Commonweal

The Secret Infidel

Magazine article Commonweal

The Secret Infidel

Article excerpt

Forming a Christian conscience means exposing it to the hard sayings of Jesus, which call for a self-emptying commitment to the "whole law": love of God and love of all other human beings. Jesus used as an example of this love a widow who gave her last two coins to support the temple. He didn't call his disciples' attention to this woman just so that they would admire her; he was making a point about the wealthy people who also contributed to the temple but whose contributions came from their excess.

Jesus couched this lesson in terms of the very poor and the very rich. Most people, falling into neither category, take no risk by assenting to Jesus' words: "They have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had." Yet those who are materially secure and comfortable but not wealthy might respond differently if they looked at these words from another angle. Jesus didn't just disapprove of the fact that the wealthy gave less than they could have. He also pointed out that the poor woman gave everything she had, and he approved. If Jesus thought it was reasonable for that woman to give away all she had, then he expected the rest of us to act with a similar generosity.

Bishops and priests who continue the ministry of Jesus should teach that same lesson. The parish is a place to arouse consciences, inspire conversion, prompt action. It is a place to address issues in the community outside the church. The parish is not a sanctuary designed to offer uncritical self-assurance--"God, I thank you that I am not like other men." Too many people turn from the comforts of the liturgy back to the pursuit of their private comfort and security, without regard to how their pursuit affects others. They are conditioned by a culture that regards luxury as the best measure of a successful life.

Our political and economic system concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a small minority and so guarantees the existence of a permanent underclass, whose members live without stable employment, decent housing, and proper education and health care. Programs administered by governments and nongovernmental organizations purport to address the problems of poverty. An affluent Christian may believe such programs free him from any personal responsibility for the poor. This is an illusion. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, "What the fight against poverty really needs are men and women who live in a profoundly fraternal way and are able to accompany individuals, families, and communities on journeys of authentic human development."

The church is remiss if it does not preach on Sunday what the church has been saying in its formal documents since Pope Leo XIII. …

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