Wednesday, January 9, 2013

With two wings and one heart, the Church flies

January is Poverty Awareness Month. To help raise awareness among Catholics of poverty and its underlying issues, USCCB has updated its website,, and launched a Spanish counterpart, Our blog is also running a series of posts by guest bloggers reflecting on poverty in our country and the world today. Today’s post is by Monsignor Charles Pope.

As a priest and blogger, one of my greater sorrows is the experience of the great divide that exists in the two “wings” of the Church. In one wing are those who engage the great moral struggles of our day related to abortion, the proper biblical understanding of human sexuality, marriage and family, and questions related to euthanasia. In the other wing, those who engage the great social and moral issues related to poverty, economic justice, solidarity, unity and mutual respect.

The Church needs both wings to fly, to be credible, biblical and authentic. I live for the day when those passionate in either wing will come to esteem the work of the other, grateful that some engage in caring for the poor, so others can engage in protecting the unborn, that some are engaging the life issues, so others can engage the critical needs of the poor, the imprisoned, the marginalized and those isolated by poverty, mental health, disability, and other struggles. When both wings work together, the church soars.

Both wings, both battles are essential. They are really one battle for human dignity. The Church has an obligation to proclaim the Good News and Kingdom of God in all aspects. We must, as St. Paul says, “proclaim the whole counsel of God.”  And thus we need each other, we need the two wings.
More than ever the poor, the needy, the unborn, our families, our youth and all who are vulnerable in any way need and deserve our Catholic unity, need the whole counsel of God. We cannot allow politics and ideology to go on dividing us and turning us against one another.

Poverty involves complexity, and reasonable men and women differ on the most effective solutions. But here too, the poor need our unity, not our squabbling. Catholic solutions admit of diversity and transcend political categories. We need more willingness in the “wings” to surrender our cynicism and accept that we all want the same thing: that the Kingdom of God be advanced.

I have spent my nearly 25 years as a priest in African American parishes and many of my parishioners would be clear advocates of vigorous government involvement as a solution to poverty. Many can personally attest that it was largely the federal government that served to protect their rights and provide them opportunities for economic advancement in the last 60 years.

I also serve the Traditional Latin Mass community, which tends (along with many who read my blog), to be troubled by what they see as excessive federal involvement in solutions to poverty. They point to the decline in the family structure in poorer black and minority sectors and to the impersonal nature of government that robs the poor of dignity and responsibility and creates a growing “permanent underclass.”

Both insights are important, and a truly Catholic solution will seek to weave together broad-based solidarity with the poor that includes public, private and ecclesial partnerships.

Subsidiarity does not mean there is no government or federal involvement. But it does encourage us to craft solutions that engage the local level vigorously and involve the poor directly in solutions. It also insists on a growing sense of personal responsibility that the poor must have in their own advancement, and that we are all to have in the care of the poor persons we personally know.  

The Church needs two wings to fly. The poor and vulnerable need our unity and are gravely harmed by our divisions and squabbling. Two wings: life and family, love for the poor and hunger for justice. Two wings to fly, but one heart that unites the love of God and neighbor.


Howard said...

"Mutual respect"? I think you have in mind loving our neighbors as ourselves, combined with a large dose of humility. If so, I wholeheartedly agree. One has to be careful, though, not to give the implication that "all ideas are equally worthy of respect". This is not what you said and not, I think, what you meant, but it is how many today would read the phrase "mutual respect".

RobKPhD said...

I think the problem is deeper than the outward struggle. The focus on which justice issues misses the real question on who is the Church, and what is our relationship to her. Is she a changeable institution or is she more than that. I offer that those who are seeking to change society and institutions see the Church herself as an institution. I think those who see her as the bride of Christ, and embrace her rather than seeking to change her, tend to focus on more personal issues. They may be very pro-life, but they are also "anti-poverty" when it comes to being charitable.

The Herbeck Family said...

I am so happy to see this blog. Since my conversion almost 2-years ago I have been troubled with this feeling that some are being "left behind" in the midst of the respect life movement. It has been difficult to steer away from this ideology that one work is more or less important than the other but I know that I must. The human dignity has been accosted on seemingly all fronts from the unborn to the elderly and those of every color, creed, and circumstance in-between.
I couldn't agree more that those defending the human dignity on either "wing" need to and should work together. Many aspects of both issues do in fact play a part in the other; poverty with abortion and euthanasia, the most common. And this is something that not many of either works will disagree with.
I pray that while we see the solution, we will truly strive to get there; to focus on the steps to the solution so as to mold our actions to this, not to mold the solution to what we are willing to do.

Unknown said...

Thank you for highlighting the concept of subsidiarity, which is an important element of the Church’s social doctrine. Subsidiarity does not mean that there is no government or federal involvement, but it does mean that any such involvement ought to be as small, as local, and as temporary as possible.

The Church teaches that “[t]he principle of subsidiarity is opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms. ‘By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending’[400]. An absent or insufficient recognition of private initiative—in economic matters also—and the failure to recognize its public function, contribute to the undermining of the principle of subsidiarity, as monopolies do as well.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #187).

Our modern welfare state, which is a pervasive and permanent feature of life for tens of millions of Americans, has led us down the very path that this doctrine warned us about. The traditional charitable obligations of family and community, and the reciprocal obligations of the recipients of charity, have been almost completely supplanted by government entitlements.

As Monsignor Pope noted, economic justice is grounded in the fundamental dignity of each person. There is no dignity in a system which mechanically collects and redistributes money between people who have no reason to acknowledge each other’s existence, much less to personally practice charity and gratitude. At this point in time, it is hard to imagine how we can reclaim the primary role in our society of private community-based institutions, but the USCCB can at least make a start in that direction by insisting on reforms which roll back the reach of the entitlement state, and which encourage the practice of personal responsibility by both givers and takers of aid.

Paul Adomshick said...

I agree that each "wing" downplays the importance of what the other is doing. However, I think that you'll be hard pressed to find anyone on the "right" who is against fighting poverty and helping those in need. It is just that they believe that more government and continuing to add to massive debt, at the expense of future generations, is not the way to accomplish that goal. Conversely, there is a significant faction on the "left" who reject the teachings of the Church on abortion and euthanasia, support gay marriage, priests marrying, and women priests. Rejecting the teachings of the Church is distinctly different than believing that there are different ways of achieving the same goal. I will concede that there are those on the "right" who believe, as I once did, that the death penalty is necessary and appropriate, contrary to the teachings of the Church. However, among the most fervent pro-life Catholics, they are a very small faction.

Dismas said...

I suppose it's difficult to discuss the two wings of one bird without consideration of the third wing; the tail feathers or flight feathers. It's the tail/flight feathers that provide both thrust and lift, that enable the bird to steer. I imagine they could be considered the Magisterium of our Church without which the bird surely can't properly navigate and stay on course.


Once again Monsignor Pope alerts us to contemporary threats to our Faith. The following quote may also be useful,
Gonzalo T. Palacios:
"Rapacity for wealth is not cured by rapacity for power. These things, then, are grave violations of Catholic Social Teaching: To proceed as if the child were the ward of the State; to seize from parents the oversight of their children’s education; to intrude the law into the family circle except when that circle has been broken by serious crime; to enact laws that encourage the dissolution of families; to enact laws that discourage the formation of families; to pretend that the basic definition of the family is the prerogative of individuals or the State; to treat monetary issues solely as between an individual and an individual, or an individual and the State, without regard to the family; to seize property from the family at the decease of its head; to relegate religion to the private sphere, so that the State, or the wealthy, or whatever aggregate may wield power, need not concern themselves with it."
From Pope Leo XIII’s masterly encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891)in Leo XIII Knew Socialism Would Fail Because it was Evil by Anthony Esolen 01-10-2013.

Howard said...

Sorry, Dismas, birds don't get any thrust or much lift from their tails, at least on this planet, and the flight feathers are on the wings. You could maybe make your point by saying that the tail provides balance and some steering, although I think they steer mostly by adjusting their flapping patterns.