In a recent address to a United Nations gathering in Rome, Pope Francis called for governments to work for an ethical redistribution of wealth, so as to help the poor
and marginalized of the world to rise out of oppressive and degrading poverty. The pontiff called on governments to redistribute wealth to the poor and curb what he called the "economy of exclusion" in the world. Present at the meeting was U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of major U.N. agencies.
Pope Francis, who is the first leader of the Catholic Church to come from Latin America, asked the United Nations to promote a "worldwide ethical mobilization" of solidarity with the poor. A more equal form of economic progress can be had, said Pope Francis, through "the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society."
In reflecting on his words, I could not help but to recall what happened in Zimbabwe when the colonial era of that land ended. With the best of intentions, the government
of that nation initiated a land redistribution program, whereby much of the farm land owned by the former colonial rulers of that region was taken away from its colonial owners and parceled off to the poor. It was a great move to empower those who had suffered the burden of poverty for decades. But the results were devastating.
Whereas, up to that time, that region was a major exporter of food, it quickly was ravaged by famine. The leaders apparently overlooked the fact that land could only be productive if the proper agricultural technology was applied to its cultivation and care. Sadly, many of the new landowners were ignorant of the technology required for the proper cultivation and care of the crops, and so a major crop failure plagued that nation. And, to compound the problem, many of the former landowners, with the technical skills to help correct this problem, had been forced to emigrate from the new nation to seek jobs elsewhere.
In reflecting on the Holy Father's concern for the poor, I cannot help but to wonder whether the ongoing oppressive bullying by the Culture of Desecration and Death has caused even the Vatican to cower. Before going any further, I must note here that I am referring here to the Vatican City State, not to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, I must note that such a declaration by the Sovereign of the Vatican City State seems to be depriving the world of a great opportunity to be caught up into a whole new spiritual way of thinking. Specifically, by embracing the secularist concept of wealth, which is defined merely in terms of material assets, the pope missed an opportunity to promote more deeply the New Evangelization.
The New Evangelization proclaims that the blessings of God are abundant and multidimensional. And the many dimensions of these blessings are also complementary. I am reminded of a story about a very holy bishop. At a Mass, he made a very important point. He first spoke to the poor in his congregation. "You poor brothers and sisters should thank God for your rich brothers and sisters, for, through them, God is delivering you from the demon of hunger that lurks at your door." He then spoke to the wealthy members of the congregation. "And you rich brothers and sisters should thank God for your poor brothers and sisters, for, through them, God is delivering you from the demon of greed that lurks at your door."
Sadly, over the centuries, the redistribution of wealth philosophy has tended to deepen alienation, rather than promote reconciliation. The poor are seen as alienated from the rich. The rich feel that they must be alienated from their wealth in order to help the poor. And both are left wondering, "Is this all there is to the Gospel of Jesus?".
We need to rediscover that true Christian charity necessarily requires true and incarnate fellowship with each other in Christ. That is why Jesus does not merely tell us to help the poor, but to enter into actual table fellowship with them. It seems that only by such fellowship will we be able to find deliverance from the degenerative compulsions required to serve the unholy trinity of comfort, convenience and complacency. Instead, we can discover the liberating joy offered by allowing ourselves to hunger and thirst for that righteousness, which is offered to us through a deepening fellowship in the sanctifying and sacrificial love of Christ crucified.
Christ Himself promises that those gracious and generous enough to hunger and thirst for such righteousness will be satisfied in ways beyond comprehension. They will thus come to appreciate more deeply the fact that authentic righteousness is not to be measured by the redistribution of wealth, but rather by the ongoing investment of self into the mystery and ministry of Jesus Christ. For apart from Him, we can do nothing.
A number of years ago, I was struck by the profound wisdom spoken by St. Vincent de Paul. He was asked by someone when the ministries he initiated would come to full fruition. His simple reply was,"When the poor can forgive us for giving them bread." This saint wisely recognized that ministry of giving bread could even be counterproductive. It could even degrade the sacred dignity of both the one giving and the one receiving. But, as Jesus Himself shows us at each Mass, the true bread required for the realization of our shared dignity and the fruition of our ministry is the gift of self - even as each of us continues to struggle, by God's grace, to be delivered from our own sins and character defects.
The Gospel of Jesus thus proclaims that the sacred reconciling dynamic of His sanctifying graciousness is more authentic, transcendent and transformative than all the alienating power of sin and class envy. And so it is that any effort to impose a change in economic structures - without first offering humanity the opportunity to repent, to be reconciled and to be regenerated together in the gracious love of God - would impose an even deeper degree of injustice on humanity. By treating people merely as consumers of material resources, rather than as the unique, sacred and sanctifying gifts they truly are, we could end up abandoning them to the dehumanizing and demonic dynamics of despondency,
depression and despair.
Jesus came that we might have life to the full. To deny humanity access to this life would indeed be the greatest social injustice with devastating consequences both here and hereafter. Keenly aware of this, Francis of Assisi offered the world Jesus, pure and simple. Now, under the leadership of Pope Francis, we need to go and do likewise. May God, in His gracious and compassionate mercy, inspire all of us to invest ourselves into sanctifying our shared humanity in all its dimensions with the
wisdom and love proclaimed by Jesus Himself, when He laid down His life, so that we could have life to the full.
Spero columnist Rev. Thomas Collins is a Catholic priest in the service of the people of Virginia.