I friend loaned me Wrestling with God, a book by Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI. I’m finding it inspiring and challenging. I guess you could say, I’m wrestling with some sections! Chapter four, for example, is on the Gospel mandate to reach out to the poor.
Rolheiser begins with a quote by James Forbes: “Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.” My reaction: “Gulp!” and then, “Who’s gonna write my reference letter?” He describes how the Law of Moses legally obligated the people to give to the poor. A few examples: Every seventh year slaves were to be set free with enough of the master’s goods to live independently; every seventh year all economic debts were cancelled; at all times, landowners were forbidden to reap the corners of their fields, thus leaving these spaces to be reaped by the poor. Says Rolheiser, “We have much to learn from this society.”
Rolheiser believes we are basically generous and charitable people. But, he says, social justice goes beyond individual charitable giving (as good as charitable giving is!) He then summarizes Christian Social Doctrine in 10 points. I’m going to summarize his summary in 6 points.
- All people have equal dignity, equal rights, and equal access to resources and opportunity. “The riches of this world should flow equally and fairly to all.”
- The right to private property and accumulation of wealth is not an absolute one. It must be subordinated to the common good and to the fact that the goods of the earth are intended for all.
- We are obligated morally to come to the aid of those in need.
- The current situation in the world where some individuals and nations have excess while others lack the basic necessities is immoral, against the teachings of Christ, and must be redressed.
- The earth itself has inherent rights. (See Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si!)
- Movement toward the poor is a route to both God and spiritual health.
Lent is a good time to get back to the basics of our Christian (Catholic) faith. That’s one reason I’m reading this book–and devoting this blog to this topic of social justice. As I read this chapter, I asked myself (and I’m asking you!) questions such as these:
Are these tenets too naive and too idealistic? Do they ask too much of us? (Is Jesus asking too much of us? Matthew 25 is tough!)
Where do we see evidence of the church, specific organizations, and real individuals actually living these tenets? Is there any evidence that I am trying to live any of these tenets? What about my family, my religious congregation, and my parish?
When I look at our national and global problems, I’m tempted to throw up my hands in despair and say things like: “But I’m only one person… I’m too old for this now… These problems are too complex… I’m overwhelmed by it all.” What helps you to live your faith amid injustices, our global refugee crisis, critical climate issues, growing violence, divisiveness, the caronavirus, etc. etc.?
Does anything in this reflection stand out for you? I welcome any of your thoughts on this vital topic. Even a sentence or two would be fine.
This video is a simple reading of Mt. 25: 35-40. It is set against pictures of people reaching out to help others in all kinds of ways. I am inspired by the way these individuals are making an investment of their time and themselves in carrying out Jesus’ mandate of service.
Please respond below to the reflection, the video, or to the responses of other readers. As usual, we love hearing from you!