We must do our part to help the poor in our country
Catholic Charities USA has begun a practice of composing a policy position paper on a different social issue each year. This year's paper focuses on poverty.
"Poverty in America: A Threat to the Common Good" launched a yearlong look at the devastating effects of poverty and called for a 50 percent reduction in poverty in the United States in the next 13 years.
The paper rightly identifies poverty as a "violation of our moral and democratic values," and states, "From a Judeo-Christian perspective, poverty means that the covenant with God has been ruptured. Our relationship with God is not in right order, and the injustice of poverty and extreme inequality cries out for change. Among the moral values that should govern our analysis of poverty are the following: human dignity, the common good, human rights, and the option for the poor. The tolerance of widespread poverty in our nation undermines our social contract and weakens our democracy. It violates our basic sense of fairness and equality and it diminishes our legitimacy as a beacon of political values that are admired around the world - freedom, justice, equality, and 'liberty and justice for all" (Poverty In America, Catholic Charities USA, 2006).
Still, there are economists, political pundits and many people of good faith who believe the existence of poverty is necessary as an agent of change. The theory goes that if we continue to help people with social services either through the church or the government they will not learn the necessary self-discipline and take advantage of educational opportunities that are their only real hope of escaping poverty. Stay in school. Get a college degree. Get a job that offers good benefits and poverty won't be an issue for you. Is it really that simple?
What do we know as Catholic people about our response to poverty in our nation? The Catholic Charities USA Poverty Paper reminds us, "In the new Testament, Jesus reveals a new covenant that will bring about a new kingdom. Through his word and actions, through his table fellowship with sinners and outcasts and through his death and resurrection, he proclaims the gift of life and invites all to repentance and conversion. As the early church receives the new gift of life in the Spirit, they are challenged to be a light for the world and salt to the earth. They are called to be a blessing to the nations and disciples committed to the way of Jesus." (Poverty Paper, Catholic Charities USA, 2006) "His table fellowship," the source and symbol for our Eucharistic celebration, mandates our intention toward the least among us.
Reducing poverty by 50 percent in the coming years seems like tilting at windmills. And yet to do otherwise would imply that we accept the status quo. We are comfortable tolerating the continued denial of human dignity, oppression, violation of human rights, and the poor are not blessed and shall not inherit the earth, but rather they shall inherit our distain.
Anne Severes is the archdiocese's director of social justice ministry.