Friday, September 09, 2005

"If We Forget The Poor, We'll Go to Hell."

In 2004, Archbishop Chaput of Denver told a crowd of 5000 at a Mass in Colorado to repeat after him: "If we forget the poor, we’ll go to hell."

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as news footage on the disaster began airing on television, and pictures of hysterical, dying, Americans were being beamed into homes across the planet, my sister called me up and reminded me of Chaput's homily. "We're seeing it right now," she said, meaning hell.

In America, we've forgotten the poor. Actually to say we have forgotten them implies that we had some regard for them in the first place. The truth is we have ignored them to death. This has become apparent in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There's a lot of folks across the blogosphere asking why this is so. Why don't we love the poor, as we are commanded to do?

I think asking why over and over is fine as far as that goes, but to limit ourselves to mere navel gazing would be a tragedy. The fact is, our Lord and Savior has commanded, not suggested, not hinted, but commanded, as clearly as can be, for us to love the poor. Imagine if Christians started living the Beatitudes. What if we became as organized and unflinching about poverty as we are about abortion? What if we started picketing sweatshops (or companies that do business with them) the way we picket abortion mills. What if our bishops started teaching their sheep that we can not in good conscience vote for politicians whose votes do not conform to Catholic teaching on social justice? What if bishops were to begin banning public figures from speaking at Catholic institutions who promote or support policies that hurt the poor? And why don't we Catholics demand that our leaders do exactly that? After all, that is what people who were committed to the Beatitudes would do.

If every Catholic in the United States would make a conscious effort to live out Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount, we could learn to love the poor. We would love the poor in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our counties, and in our nation and maybe even the world. That alone would change everything. (Look at the way individuals have stepped forward on their own to give Gulf Coast survivors food, a place, to live, etc.) If every Catholic in America lived the Beatitudes, we would not tolerate politicians who gave lip service to being "compassionate". We would rise up against them the way we rose up last year against a Catholic presidential contender who gave lip service to being "personally pro-life."

We can love the poor. All we have to do is follow Jesus. All we have to do is be Christian. It's what we are commanded to do.