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Beware the Strangest Idol of All – A Reflection on How Even Works of Charity Cannot Eclipse Obedience to Christ

May 25, 2015

052515There is a passage in the gospels that breaks conventions and cuts to the core of what has come to be called the “Social Gospel.”  Before looking at the passage we need to define “Social Gospel.” The phrase “Social Gospel” emerged in the Protestant denominations but has also come to be used in Catholic circles as well. The Social Gospel is an intellectual movement that was most prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement applied Christian ethics to societal problems, especially injustice, inequality, alcoholism, crime, racial tension, poverty, child labor, labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war.  Basically stated, if faith was to be real it must address these issues and be relevant to those who suffer these maladies.

So far, all true. But then comes this very troubling gospel passage. It breaks the conventional wisdom that the service of the poor is the first priority of the Church. It obnoxiously states that there is something more important than serving the poor. To be sure, serving the poor is essential, but this gospel says that something else is even more important. How can this be so? Who said such a thing? And that brings us to the text:

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”  (Matt 26:6-14)

The other gospels contain this account as well (Mark 1 and John 12). John attributes the objection only to Judas and reckons that it is on account of his greed. Mark and Matthew attribute the objection to all the disciples present. Even more interesting, all three gospels link this to Judas’ decision to hand Jesus over. It obviously shocked the disciples—especially Judas—to hear Jesus speak this way.

There is simply no other way to describe this gospel than “earthshaking.” The reader surely expects Jesus to agree that extravagance toward Him should be jettisoned in favor of serving the poor. Had He not said that judgment would be based on what we did for the “least of my brethren” (cf Matt 25:41ff)? Why does Jesus not rebuke the extravagance and demand the perfume be sold and the money given to the poor? It is a shocking gospel, an earthshaking declaration: “The poor you shall always have.”  But there it is, glaring at us like some sort of unexpected visitor.

What is the Lord saying? Many things to be sure, but let me suggest this essential teaching: Nothing, absolutely nothing, not even the service of the poor, takes precedence over the worship, honor, and obedience due to God. Nothing. If the service of the poor takes precedence over this, then it becomes an idol—an idol in sheep’s clothing—but an idol nonetheless.

A seminary professor of mine, now deceased, told me many years ago, “Beware the poverty of Judas.” What does this mean? Fundamentally it means that the care of the poor can sometimes be used in an attempt to water down Christian doctrine and the priority of worship. The Social Gospel, if we are not careful, can demand that we compromise Christian dogma and the priority of proclaiming the gospel.

Let me be clear, the Social Gospel is not wrong per se. But like anything else, it can be used by the world and the evil one to draw us into compromise and to the suppression of the truth. The reasons for this suppression are always presented as having a good effect, but in the end we are asked to suppress the truth in some way. Thus the Social Gospel is hijacked; it is used to compel us to suppress the truth of the gospel and to not mention Jesus.

Perhaps some examples will help. Let me state at the outset that I am supplying generic examples here. Although they are based on real-world examples, I am not mentioning names and places because it is not the purpose of this blog to engage in personal attacks of other people’s struggles to uphold the gospel. I cannot and will not supply specifics. This is about you and me, not merely other people. It is easy for us to condemn others for their faults and fail to look at ourselves. Hence I offer these examples in humility, realizing that I also struggle.

  1. A large diocese in the United States is offered the opportunity to serve drug addicts. The price of admission is that the diocese coordinate a “needle exchange program,” which helps addicts shoot up without contracting AIDS. The government funding is substantial and may enable treatment programs for poor addicts, which may lead to their sobriety. The only downside to such a program is that some other addicts may be enabled in their self-destructive behavior and encouraged by the clean needles to shoot up. Church teaching does not permit us to do wrong even if good may possibly come from it. Nevertheless, the diocese accepts the money, handing out clean needles to addicts, but using the money to serve others. The poor are being served! Shouldn’t we look the other way? Is serving the poor an absolute good or do we owe God obedience first? What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even poor drug addicts? Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  2. A bishop from a moderately large diocese is confronted with the fact that he has not rebuked the local senator for his votes to fund abortion for the poor using federal money. The bishop responds, “But he is with us on important social legislation and we cannot afford to alienate him.” The senator in  question does surely support substantial funding of programs that the Church supports, programs such as housing for the poor, aid to families with dependent children, drug treatment programs, affordable housing initiatives, etc. The senator is a great advocate for these issues that the Church supports. The only problem is that he thinks it’s OK to fund the killing of babies in their mother’s womb. The bishop reasons that it is not good to alienate this senator, who “is with us on so many issues.” He fails to rebuke the Catholic senator and urge him to repent. “The Church would lose too much; the price is too high. We would not be able to serve the poor as well without his support. The senator might not vote for the bills that fund programs we support. We need to compromise here; the poor are depending on us. Surely Jesus will understand.” And thus Church teaching yields to the need to serve the poor. Surely it is good to serve the poor. But at what price? What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even the poor?  Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  3. In several large cities, Catholic Charities runs adoption programs. Lately, city and state governments have begun to demand that Catholic Charities treat “gay” couples on the same basis as heterosexual couples. In order to receive government funds that help Catholic Charities carry on its work of service to poor children looking for a stable family, Catholic Charities will have to agree to set aside Church and Scriptural doctrine that homosexual unions are not only less-than-ideal for children, but sinful as well. If Catholic Charities wants to continue to serve these poor children at all, it must deny the teachings of Christ and His Church. Is this too high a price to pay in order to be able to serve the poor? What do you think? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  4. Many Catholic hospitals receive government funds to treat the poor. But lately the government is demanding, in certain jurisdictions, that Catholic hospitals dispense contraceptives, provide abortion referrals, and cooperate in euthanasia. Remember now, the poor are served with these monies. Should the hospital compromise and take the money? Should it say that these are OK, thus enabling it to continue serving the poor? What is more important, the poor or Jesus and what He teaches? What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even the poor who come to hospitals for service? Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?
  5. Catholic Charities is offered the possibility of getting a large amount of money to serve the homeless. But there is a requirement that Jesus never be mentioned. Catholic Charities must remove all crucifixes, Bibles, and any references to Catholic teaching. Now remember, the poor will be served with this money! It’s a lot of  money to walk away from! What do you think? Is Jesus more important than even the homeless? Or is He less important? Remember, you have to choose! You can’t just say, “I think both are important.” The government is demanding that you choose. Will it be Jesus and what He teaches or will it be the poor at the price of compromising the gospel? What will it be?

In the end, we are left with these questions:

  1. How far do we go in serving the poor?
  2. The service of the poor and addressing the issues they face are essential works of the Church, but do they trump worship and doctrine?
  3. Should Church teaching bend to the demands of the government in order to serve the poor?
  4. What does Jesus mean in the gospel above when He teaches that anointing Him is more important than serving the poor?
  5. What is the Church’s truest priority? Is it the truth of the gospel or is it serving the poor?
  6. What if these two things are in conflict? Which is chosen over the other?
  7. Given the gospel above, what would Jesus have us choose as our first priority?
  8. When large amounts of money are made available to the Church to serve the poor, but at the price of compromising or hiding the truth of gospel, what should the Church should do?
  9. Why?

The Social Gospel is essential. It cannot merely be set aside. But the Social Gospel cannot eclipse the Full Gospel. A part, even if essential, cannot demand full resources and full obedience—not at the expense of the whole or the more important!

Money and resources to serve the poor are essential, but they are still money and it remains stunningly true that we cannot serve both God and money. In the end, even serving the poor can become a kind of idol to which God has to yield. It is the strangest idol of all, for it comes in very soft sheep’s clothing, the finest wool!  But if God and His Revealed truth must yield to it, it is an idol—the strangest idol of all.

 While I do not agree with everything in this video from a few years back, it presents well the temptations that Catholic Charities faces:

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Comments (58)

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  1. John says:

    From what I gather Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco is getting so much pushback for enforcing Catholic standards in his school system due to prior bishops not towing the line and giving in, so to speak. The upshot is that a group of so called influential Catholics have written the Vatican asking them to fire him. The bishop appears to have an an impressive clerical record and doubt that the Holy See would even entertain such a notion. Nevertheless, this is an example of what happens when the church relaxes it’s standards and gives in to the secular culture.

    • Steve Brown says:

      John, agree completely, except with your next to last sentence. Although I surely can’t read the hearts & minds of Pope Francis and bishops in the Vatican, I can imagine them thinking, how can Bishop Cordileone have the audacity to enforce Catholic standards, when he knows full well that “we” are trying to eliminate those same standards. How dare he! He needs to be taught a lesson, now let’s brainstorm how.

      • Judy says:

        You are scaring me. Totally, believable.

        • Shar says:

          Time will tell, specifically when the Vatican responds to the letter and I sincerely hope not the way of Judas..

  2. Bee bee says:

    Jesus had some very hard sayings, one of them being, if your hand sins against you, cut it off. If your eye sins against you, pluck in out. Better to go into the Kingdom of heaven without a hand, or an eye, than into Gehenna whole.

    If monies contributed allow the Church to serve God while serving the poor, wonderful. But if strings become attached, if a compromise is demanded, that in order to serve the poor you must go against a moral precept, I think the answer is obvious. You have to let the ministry go.

    You have to cut off your hand. You have to pluck out your eye.

    In those cases, it is not the Church who is changing the rules. It is the ones who are contributing who are changing. What good is serving the poor while you deny something else God has said? To me, that’s pointless. I believe it’s better to let the service go, than commit the sin, even if it entails multiple millions of dollars: that’s how seriously I take God’s law and directives. If refusing to conform to the new rules destroys a ministry, well, it is a sort of white martyrdom. The fault lies with the contributor of the money, not with the receiving organization.

    I used to volunteer at a wonderful organization run by a religious order that served the elderly poor, many who lived alone and with hardly anything to their name. It was such a beautiful ministry, so full of love and brought such joy and hope to the people we served.

    But the grants that provided the funds for the service required changes the religious order running it decided they just couldn’t comply with (and I don’t know what these were – perhaps no mention of God or Jesus?) In any case, the religious left, but the organization continued under the leadership of some very competent secular people. Nevertheless, the organization became somewhat cold and sterile. It didn’t bring much joy. It didn’t bring much hope. Everyone was nice, but it just turned into a handout organization, without love. And what those elderly people needed was love. Eventually it just went out of existence.

    The question really is, how far will we go? Do we REALLY believe God? Does God need our service to the poor? Are these good works in service to Him, inspired by Him, or are they our own ideas of good we are building? You are right, it is a very subtle temptation.

    Hard choices? Yes. But they are tests of faith. God comes first.

  3. Fatdog1957 says:

    This was an excellent post, Msgr. Pope.

    In consideration of “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” – Mark 8:36 (NAB). (or, as other translations say, “to lose his soul”), it puts things in perspective. The social gospel that provides for help in this life (for the good of the body – food, clothing, shelter, etc) logically must be secondary to the salvation of souls for all eternity, or what good does the social gospel do at all?

    At the end of all four gospels, they all point to the spreading the faith for the salvation of souls, with the great commission being: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 (NAB).

  4. edraCRUZ says:

    Hopefully this Mr Catania is not Catholic because if he is, he does not have the backbone to uphold his faith. If he is not, well he is true to his nature and his nature is plain usurpation of whatever earthly authority he has against the tenets and teachings of the Church. Lately, there are voices that are coming out of this disordered relationships wanting to be heard and those are from the innocent children thrusted into such abnormal relationships. Let us hear them and by GOD, we will know how they suffer. JESUS, HIMSELF said, ‘But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.’ Must we obey GOD or obey man? We must stand our ground and perish out of this world or follow this world and fall out of HIS Grace. YHWH MEKADDISHKEM!

  5. Steve Brown says:

    Msgr., this is a great post in light of the vote in Ireland. I’m sure you know which side I will come down on. God, Jesus, and the Gospel are always first and right. For the Church to be the religion that Christ founded, we can not compromise. Tomorrow, we should take our ball and go home. The Catholic Church should refuse all government funds. (Federal, State, & local) Period. If we also lose our tax exempt status, yea. Then, and only then, there will be no thought in any priest or bishops mind of losing funding if they preach the truth. (I know, except their own parishioners) If the last 6 & 1/2 years of govt. threats have not taught us this, I don’t know what can. You must know that who they are threatening is Christ.

    Answering your 5 examples above: 1. No “needle exchange program.” 2. Senator should be rebuked for his votes for abortion. 3. Yes, it’s too high a price. 4. No compromise = Jesus is more important. 5. Jesus is more important, refuse the money.

    How can you, Steve? Jobs, jobs, and more jobs. I know. But we are talking about the one true Church & it’s founder. We do what we can with internally generated alms and we preach the Gospel. Thank you, Msgr.

  6. Jean Dunne to says:

    This is what happens when you accept money or any kind of help from Governments whose agendas are not from God. The history of this agenda goes back to the sixties at least. In education, health, and anything else the Catholic Churches accepted monies for. The Honey Trap of Satan.

  7. Frank says:

    Another out-of-the-park hit, Monsignor. The social gospel is overly stressed nowadays because it deflects from examining the root rot within ourselves. It’s always easier to look at the sins of the world than those within ourselves. The Corporal Works of Mercy should go hand in hand with the Spiritual Works but the Spiritual Works are always more important. Man does not live by bread alone but by every word from the mouth of God.

  8. John says:

    I know little about Catholic Charities other than they receive 65% of their funding from the government. So, the organization puts itself into a precarious quid pro quo situation with it’s main benefactor. In other words, they in certain situations have to dance to the tune that is being sung by the government, so to speak. The question becomes is it just charity or Catholic charity? Some of the examples you give in your post are not by definition Catholic.

    • ANNE says:

      The Apostolic letter – ” ON the SERVICE of CHARITY ” – went into effect Dec 10, 2012.
      It can be found on the Vatican web site.
      It is enforced by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum – when the Council receives documented complaints that a Bishop has not handled appropriately.

      Article 9 § 3. ” It is the duty of the diocesan Bishop and the respective parish priests to see that in this area the faithful are not led into error or misunderstanding;
      hence they are to prevent publicity being given through parish or diocesan structures to initiatives which, while presenting themselves as charitable, propose choices or methods at odds with the Church’s teaching. ”

      Article 10§ 3. ” In particular, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that charitable agencies dependent upon him do not receive financial support from groups or institutions
      that pursue ends contrary to Church’s teaching.
      Similarly, lest scandal be given to the faithful, the diocesan Bishop is to ensure that these charitable agencies do not accept contributions for initiatives whose ends, or the means used to pursue them, are not in conformity with the Church’s teaching. ”
      _____________________________________________

  9. Maria says:

    The church needs to extricate herself from the government sugar daddy. Perhaps that is what Pope Benedict meant by a smaller, poorer church. Our services may become smaller. They may become poorer. But by golly they’ll be Catholic!

  10. jbg says:

    The poor’s souls need to be fed just as much as their stomachs maybe even more as Cardinal Sarah said…..

    http://www.catholicnewsagency….

    “It’s very important to express that the hunger we are suffering today is not having God in our life, in our society,” the cardinal said Nov. 7. He explained that Benedict XVI’s encyclical insists that charity is the way we express our faith. Although giving food is necessary, “the main food is God.”

  11. Phyllis says:

    Thank you Msgr. You speak for us who have been marginalized in the public square. I am old enough to remember when the promise accompanying Federal Aid to Education was “no strings attached”. Catholic Church in the U. S. has been blind or slow to learn about public funding. As someone stated already, a honey trap.

  12. Richard Connell says:

    I told my sister, a Quaker, that that passage you quote, where the woman pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, is the biblical justification for building cathedrals. I don’t know what effect that had on her or what Catholics other than myself think of that interpretation.
    ……………
    In the passage on the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4), Jesus let’s the widow give everything she had to live on, though in Acts the early Church helps each other.
    ………………………………
    “I answer that, A man who is under sentence of one excommunication, can be excommunicated again, either by a repetition of the same excommunication, for his greater confusion, so that he may renounce sin, or for some other cause. And then there are as many principal excommunications, as there are causes for his being excommunicated.”–Summa Theologica > Supplement > Question 22>Article 6.

    I get the impression that there are some Catholic politicians who could be publicly excommunicated both several times for the same public sin and several times for different public sins.

    That reminds me: I recently read Thomas’ description of a solemn penance:

    “On the first day of Lent, these penitents clothed in sackcloth, with bare feet, their faces to the ground, and their hair shorn away, accompanied by their priests, present themselves to the bishop of the city at the door of the church. Having brought them into the church the bishop with all his clergy recites the seven penitential psalms, and then imposes his hand on them, sprinkles them with holy water, puts ashes on their heads, covers their shoulders with a hairshirt, and sorrowfully announces to them that as Adam was expelled from paradise, so are they expelled from the church. He then orders the ministers to put them out of the church, and the clergy follow reciting the responsory: ‘In the sweat of thy brow,’ etc. Every year on the day of our Lord’s Supper they are brought back into the church by their priests, and there shall they be until the octave day of Easter, without however being admitted to Communion or to the kiss of peace. This shall be done every year as long as entrance into the church is forbidden them. The final reconciliation is reserved to the bishop, who alone can impose solemn penance” [Cap. lxiv, dist. 50]. — Summa Theologica > Supplement > Question 28>Article 3.

    A solemn penance might have saved a lot of us some time, and some of these politicians might enjoy the public part of a solemn penance and because of the public part be willing to go through it.
    …………………………………
    Thanks for sharing that video and for this post.

  13. C Beltz says:

    Two things stand out for me in this point.

    First, as respects the woman and the oil, it occurs to me she was giving the Lord her first fruits. This is an edict from God that goes back to the beginning, to Genesis. It was, after all the reason Cain killed Abel. Cain did not give his first fruits, while Abel did. God was more pleased with Abel’s sacrafice and that made Cain jealous.

    Secondly, in every instance you mentioned regarding choosing the poor or God, it screams of a question of faith. In each of these cases, does the diocese/organization have the faith in God to say no to the devil’s money? We must never forget how the devil tries to seduce us with what we want. We want to help the poor, to do Gods work. Here comes Satan with a sack of gold coins to do just that, but one day he may need a small favor…

    Wasn’t that the plot of Rumpelstiltskin?

    We must remember that God is generous beyond anything we can imagine. He will ensure we can provide for the poor. We just need to trust in Him and not our own mediocre sensibilities.

    • C Beltz says:

      And quite frankly, what if we did say no to the money? Sure it would mean fewer are served in the short term, but is it a stretch to think it would spark a social agenda change across all platforms? People would no longer have the ability to ignore the poor because the Church they love to hate no longer does their bidding for them. People would see a renewed strength in the Church that could spark a new evangilization…

      All because we stopped sleeping with the devil.

      Well, that’s one possibility anyway…

  14. ANNE says:

    When in doubt – go back to the Bible.
    Jesus never told us to tolerate sin, condone sin, or to commit sin in helping those in need.
    He never told us to form a partnership with the Government.

    • ANNE says:

      CCC: ” 1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins
      committed by others when we cooperate in them:
      – by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
      – by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
      – by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
      – by protecting evil-doers. “

  15. Magdalene says:

    When I worked in a retail pharmacy, most employees would willingly sell needles. I would only sell to those for legitimate and proved reasons. I would not sell to addicts.

    I worked for some years in a soup kitchen run by Catholics and headed by a modern ‘nun’. We were not allowed to have Crucifixes, etc. because of govt. funds.

    There was a quote recently from the Vatican about ‘kneeling to the poor’. And also a high archbishop who basically said that if you are serving the poor then you do not have to go to Mass. These things DO make an idol of the ‘poor’.

    Many Catholic agencies such as CRS compromise with the world and while doing ‘good’ on one hand, aid intrinsic evils on the other.

    I am so tired of so many in the Church compromising with the evils and immoralities in the world…sin, in other words. Some call it ‘tolerance’, some call it ‘love’, but it is NOT the Truth and truth and error cannot co-exist. One cannot say bravo to sodomy for example and still hold himself to be a keeper of the Truth.

    The faithful are confused. What will change next in this era? Is Jesus the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow or can we have a synod on that?

  16. Reuben Scicluna says:

    “Doing good” is fraught with danger. If it is in any way divorced from Jesus it defeats its own purpose. As Jesus Himself has said on several occasions “God’s will be done”. One of the special things about ‘Jesus the human’ was that His will (as a human) was in perfect unity with God’s will. When we do good because “it’s what ought to be done” and not because “God wants it that way” we drive the wedge, between God’s will and our own, deeper. No good can come out of our will alone.

  17. Sean says:

    Monsignor, excellent post. Here in Germany we are forced to pay a church tax which is then used to fund birth control programs in the 3rd world. If we object we ard told by the rotten hirrarchy here to pay up or no Catholic burial for you. Wicked times here, sadly. Barely 10% of German Catholics go to Mass.

  18. Mike F says:

    This is why Catholic colleges and universities have become unrecognizable as Catholic. Get the government out of our Catholic education system.

  19. mdepie says:

    Wow, amazing post to which other than strongly agree, I need to make two comments.

    First one should always remember that simply asserting one is advocating for the poor does not mean one actually “cares” about them. In terms of politicians their are a group of politicians who couch what they would like to do in terms of “helping the poor”. Yes…. but of course…… it is always to help the poor. As the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out the poor serve as useful mascots for such politicians. I am from a small town in Northeast Pennsylvania where such politicians have governed for a very long time… there are many poor people there, and there were many poor people in 1965 as well. Not much as changed in spite of the ministrations of such politicians. One can argue if the reason for this is that the politicians are incompetent and their policies flawed, or alternatively the politicians are deceitful and the policies aimed are things other than alleviating poverty. What one can not argue at all is that the policies have substantially improved the plight of the poor. One can say the same thing about any number of large cities under the governance of such politicians. I would simply ask folks (including those in the Church who are sympathetic to such political leaders) to ask how have the poor in places like Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia or Washington DC fared? If all of the folks who “cared” about the poor actually primarily wanted to alleviate poverty, why have the overall results been so limited?

    Second one might also bother to speak to the poor themselves and not simply treat them as domesticated animals one might “take care” of. When I was young I heard a lot of talk about the poor, but few of the people who wanted to so help the poor showed up among the poor, maybe a quick speech at election time. Some poor people might tell you that their greatest concerns are not necessarily that they do not have enough material “stuff”. Particularly in the United States we do not commonly have the kind of grinding poverty observed in third world nations ( We have some of this of course, but one need only compare the kind of shanty towns that exist in South America or Haiti to most of what entails being poor here in the United States and we can see, for the most part being “poor” has a different meaning here.) In any case over the years as a physician I have had the privilege of taking care of many people who have been “poor”. The major concerns I have heard from them, were more around the horrible social poverty they lived in. The pains of a grandparent whose grandson lie dying of AIDS related to drug abuse, or the fear of an elderly man that he would be beat up at his doorstep by young thugs who were looking to rob and steal. Such a society has been made possible by just the very rejection of Christian morality ( including sexual morality) and the resultant destruction of families that many of the enemies of the Church who claim to be all for helping the poor,in fact promote.
    I agree that God comes first before even helping the poor. I would also note that it may be that we are being deluded into supporting those who do not care all that much about the poor in any case, and whose agenda is really very different.

  20. Joe says:

    Thank you, Thank You Msgr. Too often our bishops think going with Social Gospel is the right way. This is destroying our church. They need reminded to read and study your article.

  21. Fredi D'Alessio says:

    Dear Monsignor, Pope,

    This is such an important post and as one who resides within the Archdiocese of San Francisco, I fully understand your compelling arguments. Some years ago my archdiocese hosted a “Point 7 Now” conference. The goal of the Point 7 campaign is to increase US foreign aid to .7% of GNP in support of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Having attended a portion of the conference, I felt the need to do some research, after which I felt duty bound to write some comments about the MDGs and Jeffery Sachs. I received a personal thank-you from Cardinal William Keeler (former Chair for the Committee on Pro-Life Activities) for my comments which had been published in my archdiocese’s newspaper with the title ‘The Millennium Development Goals and the Critical Next Step for the Catholic Church’ (http://wp.me/pjdPl-kk). In stark contrast to the thank-you note I received from Cardinal Keeler, I was denigrated by a then San Francisco monsignor (now a bishop) for my honest exposé.

    May I please repost your reflection?

    Thank you,
    Fredi D’Alessio

  22. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    Pope Francis appointed two archbishops recently, Cupich and McElroy, despite the fact that both of them were on the public record—McElroy in a famous article in “America” mag–advocating the mortal sin of giving Communion to pro-abortion politicians. Of course, refraining from this mortal sin would no doubt anger pro-abortion politicians. What this means is that each Sacred Host given to a pro-abortion politician really should have a price tag attached, since each Host is purchased with taxpayers’ dollars.

    Cardinal Burke demonstrated with excruciating scholarly thoroughness years ago that giving Communion to pro-abortion public figures is always grave matter. http://tinyurl.com/canon915

  23. Liam Ronan says:

    Excellent explanation, Monsignor. Thank you. I recall the Gospel account of the paralytic man lowered through the roof by his friends, clearly in anticipation that their friend would be healed of his infirmity, and what does Jesus do? He forgives the man’s sins! Jesus’ Mercy does not move Him to heal the man’s broken body, but to heal the man’s broken soul:

    “And now they came to bring a palsied man to him, four of them carrying him at once; and found they could not bring him close to, because of the multitude. So they stripped the tiles from the roof over the place where Jesus was, and made an opening; then they let down the bed on which the palsied man lay.
    And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the palsied man, Son, thy sins are forgiven.
    But there were some of the scribes sitting there, who reasoned in their minds, Why does he speak so? He is talking blasphemously. Who can forgive sins but God, and God only?
    Jesus knew at once, in his spirit, of these secret thoughts of theirs, and said to them, Why do you reason thus in your minds? Which command is more lightly given, to say to the palsied man, Thy sins are forgiven, or to say, Rise up, take thy bed with thee, and walk? And now, to convince you that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins while he is on earth (here he spoke to the palsied man): I tell thee, rise up, take thy bed with thee, and go home.
    And he rose up at once, and took his bed, and went out in full sight of them; so that all were astonished and gave praise to God; they said, We never saw the like.” Mark 2:3-12

  24. R Miller says:

    Telling, in John we have Mary anointing Jesus and the first thing Judas points out is it’s monetary value. Judas is the type that puts a price on everything. They come to your house and they rate your silverware and dishes furniture and tv set. He was in charge of the purse, i can picture him being indignant and saying how far that would have gone if only it had been used properly. Judas not only betrayed Jesus but i think he acted as a rival to Jesus, oh it was good for you but we could have fed a poor person for a month. Judas did not see the true treasure, we think we know what has value, gold a Rembrant painting houses property, but we are so blind. Peter said gold and silver have i none, but. Our Lord tells us to build treasure in heaven where moth nor rusts will eat at it. Bill Gates is rich any one would shake his hand, but will cross the street rather than have to deal with the deformed and the destitute. This is what our idea of riches does to us, it causes us to judge between men. The poor you will always have with you because you will be judged on how you treated the poor. This is how Jesus does it He makes helping the poor become a blessing to you. You should bless the poor because they are your low hanging fruit. And Jesus always comes first

  25. Jeff B says:

    Great post 🙂 But don’t forget the elephant in the room. The government is redistributing wealth (a.k.a., property). This is a form of theft that breeds envy and sloth. And Catholic Charities and the CCHD are helping the government pass out stolen funds. If you assist in the redistribution of this property, then you are guilty of a grave sin. If you vote to take money from some and give the money to others, then you are guilty of a grave sin.

    Who is this party of theft? And why is it that the party of theft is also the party of death? Jesus says, “So by their fruits you will know them.” [Matthew 7:20]

    So ask yourself these questions: Why do we have to continuously battle to keep God in our public life? Why is abortion still legal after 40+ years? Why is the hormonal contraceptive pill still legal despite it being listed as a group 1 carcinogenic? Why do so many Catholic couples believe it is o.k. to use it? Why do we still have no-fault divorce laws? Why are Christian businesses penalized for their beliefs? Why is the definition of marriage under attack? Why do our public schools teach our children abstinence plus sex ed? Why does our society allow embryonic stem cell research? IVF? euthanasia? public access to pornography? Why are 5 generations of families trapped on the government plantation of entitlement programs? Why are we allowing our government to run up a debt of >$17 trillion? All of these issues involve intrinsic evils that lead people to the broad road of destruction. [Matthew 7:13]

    So why have the leaders of His Church failed to properly prioritize these issues and form the consciences of the laity? Why do they support the theft? Every generations sees more and more intrinsic evils piled on our society. These fruits are straight from the pit. This is truly the work of the enemy.

    Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy. Amen.

    • Ender's Shadow says:

      “The government is redistributing wealth (a.k.a., property).”

      Really?
      Income taxes and capital gains taxes are the government’s way of charging for the facilities that enable your income to be earned. And certainly the magisterium offers little grounds for resisting taxes.

      Inheritance tax may be regarded as such. However given the existence of the jubilee principle in the Torah, it’s hard to take too much exception to it.

      • Jeff B says:

        The magisterium says that we must comply with tax law. I did not question nor say anything about that. What I said was that if you vote to take money from some and give the money to others, then you are guilty of a grave sin. The two actions are completely different. Also, it is incorrect to extend biblical text intended for individual actions to those of a government.

  26. winnie says:

    i was searching and was recommended to sign up for the course CPE facilitated by a nun in a Catholic hospital. In the form i state my reason for wanting to attend the course as “to find God” i was advised to change because though it is a Catholic hospital, it is operating in the secular space and for the sake of harmony living, the mention of God / Jesus is disrespectful to some. The 3 months that i persevered was like hell and of course i failed the course.

    In another example, our Minister Mentor (now deceased), wanted to learn Christian meditation but publicly declared he did not believe in God. Perhaps he did because he chose Maranatha over “o-mi-tho-fo” (which is a buddhist chant) but because of his public office, Jesus has to hide.

  27. Intellect says:

    It is high time that the Bishops of the United States of America stand-up and be counted. The government is harassing the Catholic Entities. Example: David Cantanina saying that it would be offensive to the homosexual tax payer in DC if the Catholic Charities won’t place the children for adoption into a same-sex pseudo marriage house. The Bishops should just close all of the Catholic Charities, Schools, Hospitals and let the government provide and pay for everybody. The Bishops should just concentrate on teaching the Gospel. It is clear that the culture of America is lost due to the Democrat Diabolical Party’s Platform of Abortion on demand (up-to and including the 9th month) Also, the desecration of marriage is on the Democrat Platform . The Bishop’s soul is in peril if he goes along with the government’s agenda. Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Reid forced the so-called “Healthcare’ Bill which is straight from Hell. The One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church does not need to be controlled or told how to service the poor , or educate its members, nor how to give healthcare service to human-beings. The church has been around a lot longer than this diabolical government that is currently in power.

  28. Annette Strachan says:

    Please give Caesar back his money.

  29. Ender's Shadow says:

    Great blog offering a challenge to those who offer a justification for the gospel purely in terms of the present world. As CS Lewis comments – we can become so earthly minded, we are no longer any heavenly use. Interestingly ‘Liberation theologians’ have a propensity to reject the story of the woman’s nard as not being genuinely of Jesus…

    Whilst I agree with the rest of your examples, I’m not convinced about needle EXCHANGE. Given that the addict has a needle, it is better that he has a clean one than an infected one. You are not providing anything he doesn’t have already. I guess the counter argument is that he’s lost the fear of being infected by the needle, which might make him more likely to indulge again. Interesting; I’ve never been challenged on this one before!

    • Dan B says:

      Is it a good idea to have users turn in heroin from the street for heroin of a consistent strength to avoid overdosing? Many people, especially teenagers, start with pain pills, get hooked, develop a tolerance, and then switch to heroin because it is a fraction of the price and widely available. Is it a good idea to just keep giving them pain pills so they don’t move on to heroin? Should we let kids get drunk at a house and let them sleep there so they don’t drink and drive elsewhere? Should we give out condoms to the school kids? Unfortunately, these things already happening, in part, throughout the country. We are merely reinforcing the habit by aiding in the commission of the act.

  30. TLM says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Wow! Cannot thank you enough for this brilliant post!! So very needed at a time such as this in the Church where ‘social justice’ has gone to the extreme and the Gospel of Jesus has been compromised. This post needs to go viral world wide in the Church. Needs to be shouted from the rooftops, because too many of our Bishops are throwing the Gospel aside in order to secure their money for social projects. This dilemma has escalated greatly in the past couple of years with more and more of our clerics compromising the Church’s social teaching in order to keep things ‘status quo’. Even Pope Francis has said that taking care of the poor is the most important thing we as Catholics can do. According to what he said it’s what will secure Heaven for us. If he would just go a little further and say that yes, it is extremely important that we do that, but it cannot be done at the expense of saying NO to God. This clarification would go a long way in helping to correct the imbalance we now have going on so prominently in the Church. Thank you again so much!!! God bless you for your faithfulness!!

  31. Martha Coyne says:

    I have really become curious about all the anti-Government attitudes expressed in recent times, not just in these comments, of course, but everywhere, everyplace-for example, those who justify their military-type gun collection as protection against the “enemy-government” and the religious side who feel a need to protect themselves and their beliefs from the “government”. And the Government–theoretically there to protect the rights of ALL it’s citizens regardless of race or creed–has to struggle along amidst all this animosity from all sides. We (we Catholics) don’t want them interfering with our dogma but we don’t really care if they interfere with another’s citizen’s (tax payers) religious dogma or choice of none–if it seems to contradict ours. We get indignant when we hear that Catholic Charities, for example, will toe the line to use tax payers dollars to meet the needs for them to fulfill what they believe to be their mission. But we gladly accept help from FEMA, our Social Security checks, our Medicare and Medicaid needs for those so covered. I say Hail Mary’s when we take off in an airplane but I thank God also for the controllers and the training and testing the pilots undergo, and I don’t care what their religious beliefs are or that of the tax payers who pay the bills to train and pay them. I’m glad and I Thank God that our governments (tax payers) provide the FDA, interstate highways and food inspectors (granted underfunded), the EMS and the Fire Departments, weather analysts to help protect us from hurricanes and tornadoes–you can name dozens more. Where I live our state legislature has approved state funded (from public school budgets) financial aid grants for children to opt to attend private (including Catholic) schools– tax payer dollars. The religious schools very much approve of that–does that raise questions? The answer should be obvious and as many above comments have already stated: if we and our religious institutions don’t want government (federal, state or local) to tell us how we must use tax-payer dollars — tax payers of all beliefs and non-beliefs– then we shouldn’t take any. That might go a long way to resolving some of these moral issues.

  32. Laurie says:

    Hello Msgr Pope
    Once again you have so aptly articulated a truth that some of us recognize but don’t know how to put it into words. Thanks for bringing this to light.
    Giving to the poor is not the pinnacle of faith, it is a fruit of faith. Love of God with all the heart, mind, and soul comes first. Only then can one truly love neighbor with an authentic love because one has the gift of the wisdom of God (Holy Spirit). The drug injection sites are such a good analogy of our backward thinking and loss of wisdom (the devil’s delight). In Canada the “supervised injection” sites boast of harm reduction. They provide all the health care surrounding the drug use, including professional nurses helping the addicts to inject their illicitly-obtained drugs. In speaking of the benefits of this, the website says that if the drug addict overdoses then the medical professionals are right at hand to help! A supervised drug injection program is akin to coming across a suicidal person with a gun to their head about to pull the trigger. The supposed good Samaritan medical worker comes to their aid, takes the gun away and says,”Let me sterilize this for your first, and then I will help you shoot.” This is a prime example of our “social gospel” that has really nothing to do with authentic charity for the love of God; it is confused and distorted. We are seeing it more and more as the loss of the Spirit of God renders man unintelligible.

  33. Jeanette says:

    While I agree in substance, it seems that carrying this to the extreme (as in anything), it can lead to no action at all and a heart of stone.

  34. KooKooChaChoo says:

    Early Christians opened the first “hospital” 100 B.C… before that folks just died at home, or in the streets if no family. Our young Christians knew that conversion comes quickly to the sick who see the Angel of Death in the early hours of dawn, every soul was precious to them. Even back then the church had to deal with the Roman Government, and any government and its rules, but the power of prayer and God always trumps the evil if we remain strong in God. Don’t freak out folks, just pray and spread God’s kindness and love; let God figure the rest out.

    • Ender's Shadow says:

      100 BC? Whoops…

      Interesting claim for 100AD. Reference please – I’m doing an MA in church history so it’s of some interest.

  35. pbecke says:

    Surely, Jesus was making a very practical point, at least in its implications for when he would no longer be with them. This has long been understood. St Basil observed that Christ would be deeply offended if we spent large amounts on decorating the interior of his churches with expensive hangings, and ignored him when we saw him outside the church hungry, cold and in rags, and relegated his needs to those of the church’s decor. We must prioritize assistance to the poor, but not neglect to honour him in other ways, also, as in the case of the expensive and awnings etc.

    It seems clear, however, that in that Gospel incident, Jesus is referring to his historical self, right there and then. He was not long for this life. That many monied people should should latch onto his remark that we would always have the poor with us, as some sort of exculpatory blandishment, would be far from the case.

    Likewise, in Psalm 145, the Psalmist is not advocating a division of labour, when he says:

    ‘It is he (Jacob’s God, as referred to in the previous verse) who keeps faith for ever,
    who is just to those who are oppressed.
    it is he who gives bread to the hungry,
    the Lord who sets prisoners free, …’ etc

    ‘You rob and oppress the poor and I’ll see them right. Don’t you worry.’ On the contrary, it is an implicit acknowledgement that when we are comfortably off, we tend to think the Second Commandment is negotiable, if money is involved – when we would prefer to strain at a gnat, only to swallow a camel; putting a few dollars or pounds in the poor box, while favouring a government that would spend precious little to help the poor, whether ensuring as close to full employment with a living wage, as possible, a nationalised health service and education system, or by direct welfare payments.

  36. Francis Choudhury says:

    Well, crunch time can’t be far off. The US Attorney General has already admitted in the Supreme Court this month that if Church bodies will not endorse gay “marriage” (if approved by the Court) it would be an “issue” putting their tax exemptions could be at stake. Pope Francis wants a poor Church. Soon we’ll have one, even if it’s not in the way or doesn’t come about in the way that he envisioned it.

  37. Nick says:

    For civil marriage, the State of Ohio says that religious priests cannot engage in it without marrying gays. They can only engage in religious marriage, and thus, be exempt from marrying gays via the Establishment Clause.

    • Dan B says:

      Unsure what that means. Would a priest perform a civil but not religious wedding? Would a religious marriage not count as a civil marriage?

  38. Michael Rizzio says:

    Msgr Pope,

    This is a great and important discussion.

    I was just thinking about how if I was a professional artist, which I am not, and a gay couple came in and asked me to paint them in an embrace, I would face civil prosecution under discrimination charges if I refused, no matter how charitably I opted out.

    Let us hope I doesn’t come down to this.

    Meanwhile, please consider starting the discussion on this flag which I what we should have been flying all along as we rally the remnant to stand for what is essentially true and worth dying for. COVENANT is key and so is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, on earth as it is in heaven. If we could raise this flag and explain it to the masses, we could begin the conversation and the public witness.

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Flags_with_rainbows#/media/File:JCLLL.PNG

  39. tom76 says:

    Is it possible that the woman loved Jesus too much? I think Jesus would say, “No.” Are her actions and intentions are an example of how to love Jesus? I think so, meaning I should give Him my best in love and not hold back.

  40. rev. Dan hesko says:

    Excellent article. The message of Christ is charity. The greatest charity of God is the salvation of our souls. The greatest work of the Church is to bring souls to conversion by repentance and faith. The corporal works of charity are necessary for our salvation as they are the evidence if a true and living faith.

  41. Debbie S. says:

    Interesting Judas voice is heard first in the gospel with a rebuke to the Lord on behalf of
    the poor, he will rise above the Lord in their regard, he will be the Lord! for that moment in
    time, knowing better then Wisdom himself on good and evil, me, myself and I will rise above and
    take my place among the Sons of Heaven! After, hearing Jesus answer, he Judas does not come
    back down to earth from his throne but proceeds to glory in his wisdom and betray the Lord. He
    had been playing by his own rules for a long time anyway, this just brought forth the hidden reality. Satan cannot forever keep his mouth shut, he will exalt himself above the Wisdom of God, above the Wisdom of the Church, his voice wants to be obeyed as the One. God’s voice leads us to be his poor, completely his, where he breaks over us his gifts and blessings. We are nothing, have nothing, except the Lord, our treasure we will not give up for any other.

  42. Jim M. says:

    Outstanding reminder! What good does it for a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul!

    We all need to engage in little compromises in our lives. But some things should never be compromised, or offered “for sale”: our Faith, the Word, our character, our values our morality. Those are the bedrock upon which our spirituality is built. Moving even slightly one way or the other, and we find ourselves on a foundation of sand.

  43. Dee says:

    The love of money (and what it can do) is the root of all evil.