This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Social Order and Its Affects Today

My usual focus here in this blog is on theological issues, but at times a theological understanding of current events requires an address, and today that is what I want to talk about.

Last Sunday, Fr. John Poole, our parish priest at St. Phillip's in Pinellas Park, FL, gave a homily during the morning Mass that sort of inspired what I have to say now.  In essence, he said that although it is good to help the homeless, hungry, etc., at the same time we should not make their problems our problems.  This is a valid point, and although his homily elaborated a lot more on this idea - mainly that not all of us are called to slop soup at soup kitchens or man homeless shelters - it got me thinking about some things concerning the way the Church has done ministry.  What I am about to say is probably going to sound blasphemous to some people, and it may even get me into a little bit of trouble, but you know something, it has to be said.  So, for those who would get upset about it, let me say this to you - read your Bibles a little more carefully and get over yourselves.  Enough said, so let us begin shall we??

In recent years, especially as Barb and I have faced some challenges ourselves, I have been forced to read what the Bible says about the widows and orphans as well as other related material a little more carefully, and what I have found out was both refreshing and also required a little bit of retooling my own thinking in some areas.   There are, naturally, a lot of verses in Scripture about helping others and being there to support the needs of others who may need us, and no one will dispute that fact I would not think.   However, with the influx of "hippie theology" into a lot of our liturgical churches (not to mention some Pentecostal/charismatic circles) something was lost along the way.  For one thing, I have noticed in recent years that many mainstream churches - especially those of a more liberal persuasion - tend to emphasize a lot about the "social gospel," and although noble, it isn't quite what the Bible meant.  When one really takes the time to study the so-called "service passages" in Scripture, and sees them in proper context, the ones we are called to serve are those of our faith community!!!  What that means is we need to uplift each other as a congregation, and provide a sort of support network for our brethren that we sit in the pews and worship with each Sunday.  Problem with a lot of social programs in churches today is that they are hypocritical:  many churches fail to even get to know their membership much less understand what their needs are, and while these churches are building all the homeless shelters and soup kitchens, they unfortunately ignore the needs of families in their own parishes - they like getting that money from those families every week but don't like to help them.  A case in point happened to us a few years back.  When the housing crash happened in early 2006, I was a mortgage/title professional who lost my job due to the market, and due to the type of contract arrangement I had with my employer, I was unfortunately not eligible for any type of benefits or anything like that, and it really hit us hard that year.  In addition to job loss and income reduction, it just seemed as if everything came on us at once - one of our cats needed emergency vet care, our car died completely on us, and bills piled up fast.  It took us the better of 18 months to recover from all that, and during that time we were without a car.  Now, at the time all this happened, Barb and I attended a Maronite Catholic parish which was pastored by a Roman-rite priest, and as a Roman-rite priest he was more an administrator than a spiritual leader, and although a nice guy basically he was sort of callous to our needs at the time.  We, of course due to not having a vehicle, could not get to church, which posed a dilemma.   For those who have a cursory knowledge of sacramental theology, the Eucharist is central, and the Church mandates that it be taken as often as possible.  Herein lie the problem - our priest, the bureaucratic administrator, took little interest in our situation, no church member would give us a ride to church or even expressed concern about our well-being, and unlike in the old days when a priest would bring Eucharist to you if you were unable to attend church, our priest didn't even make the effort.  His attitude though, to be fair, is unfortunately typical of many mainstream Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy these days, and ironically this particular priest was a big supporter of the local Saint Vincent de Paul Center too!!  It was indeed a revelation of how some clergy love to get those tithe envelopes but then treat you as if you don't exist if you face something where the help of a spiritual leader would come in handy.  I was frankly disillusioned by the whole mess, and upon that happening, we decided as a family it would serve our interests better to be part of a more conservative independent Catholic group instead of choosing to remain part of the RCC.  And, it is a decision I still stand by this day; since making it, I have noticed a huge difference in the attitudes of clergy, as many independent Catholic and Anglican clergy have a human element in their ministry that more  correctly expresses Christ's Holy Spirit to the parishioners they serve.  Now that I have related this personal experience, let's talk now about the issue.

The verses dealing with widows, etc., in the Scriptures are not dealing with just any widows; they are widows who were part of the local Church at that time.  The Apostles as a matter of fact stressed quite eloquently that those of the household of faith are to be, as St Paul writes in Romans 12:4-5, "members unto one another," meaning the Body has to concern itself with the health and wellbeing of all its members.  If in the process there are outsiders who come seeking help, then we do so with discernment - we don't throw money at them, nor do we merely give them a bandaid for a situation that requires major surgery, but we use God-given wisdom and common sense to direct them to some place where they can receive what they are seeking.  Also, this by no means communicates that the stranger is not welcomed in the household of faith either, for Christ died for all and therefore all deserve the opportunity to hear about Him.  However, first and foremost we need to take care of our own - a healthy body is more effective at being a witness in a sick world than is an unhealthy body, so we need to make sure the Body is healthy in all its parts.  If pastors and church people would have more concern for those of their own house - most clergy these days in the mainstream churches are basically spiritual "deadbeat dads" and only care about their own prestige and pocketbooks - then we could have more cohesion I believe as the Body of Christ, and thus present a more effective witness to the world around us.  So, priests and pastors, I challenge you today - before you go off on any grandiose schemes of building soup kitchens and flophouses, why don't you talk to your own people God has charged you with shepherding first??  Get to know them, be a servant to them, find out their needs and situations, and only then will you truly be doing the work God has called you to do.  That being said, I now will conclude and sit back, waiting for some misguided person to write me saying "how dare you attack our homeless ministry!"  Again, I reassure you - no attacks intended, but rather just a call to get our priorities straight as a church.  Thank you and God bless.