Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Why Soup Kitchens Matter

Greg Mockeridge of COOPERATORES VERITATIS discusses the importance of Helters and Soup Kitchen outreaches. He makes a great deal of sense. Consider the following:
While it is true that providing the poor an oppurtunity to be self-sufficient and make their own contribution to the common good is esssential to their well-being as well as to society as a whole, they are, in many cases, in need of assistance before they are able to do so.

Of course, these needs take on several forms because poverty almost never occurs in isolation. It is almost always occurs in conjunction with behavioral (i.e. moral) degradation. Needless to say, discerning and meeting those needs pose some serious challenges. From the outset, the poor are not to be seen primarily as the "poor", as though their being poor is something ontological. They must be seen, first and foremost, as human beings created in the image and likeness of God just as much as everyone else. It is in this light that Blessed Mother Teresa called poverty and other problems as "disguises".
Now, before anyone goes off the handle and starts throwing the socialist lables around, Mr. Mockeridge has something to say:
Political exploitation of the poor is a major reason why this writer opposes extensive government spending on social welfare programs. Here I am in total agreement with Catholic social teaching as expressed by Pope John Paul II of venerable memory. While recognizing that the state can " ...exercise a substitute function, when social sectors or business systems are too weak or are just getting under way, and are not equal to the task at hand." But goes on to say that "[s]uch supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons touching the common good, must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of state intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom." (Centesimus Annus #48) The same encyclical elaborates on the dangers of the so-called welfare or "social assistance" state (as the encylical calls it): "In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of state, the so-called 'Welfare State.'...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. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need. "
Has anyone been tempted not to contribute to Charities when they see at least 30% of their paychecks siphoned off the top in taxes? This is the indidiousness of the Welfare State psychology. Good people that may ordinarily be moved with compassion for the poor in their midst shrug their shoulders. "Hey, I paid my taxes. Let the State handle it. Besides, how do I know they just won't waste any money I give them? And charities? How do I know which one's to trust? Who knows if they really help who they say they're going to help?" We're not excused from exercising our preferential option for the poor by the welfare state. However, the psychology of its existence may impede our efforts to do so.

A vibrant economy offers every one an opportunity to grow economically. For those that have difficulty capitalizing on those opportunities because of abuse, moral degradation, sickness or factors beyond one's control, Apostlates that serve the poor can provide the immediate relief such people need. They can help them recover to the point where they are best able to help themselves. These apostlates allow neighbors to care for neighbor in true compassion, not in the cold calculation that bureacracies make routinely. They are not the enemy of a free market economy. They are the necessary partners of it.

His reflection inspires personal soul-searching. Can't we all do more for those in our midst who need us? Helping through one of these apostlates may be the way we can answer "Yes."