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“The possibility I am creating for myself is the possibility of being
compassionate.” When I spoke these words, I had in mind Claudine, a refugee from
Rwanda, and her six-year-old daughter, Regine. They are the second family our parish
helped through our Refugee Assistance Committee and Catholic Charities Refugee
Service. Claudine certainly made us more aware of the plight of refugees. This is not to
say that our parishioners were not aware of refugees. How could we be unaware of them
if we give only a cursory glance at world events? But were we prepared to be involved in
their lives? Were we willing to be involved?
In this paper I examine the relationships between people who need and people
who tend to their needs. My observation is that between the two a great chasm exists that
allows us to be comfortable in our charity without being challenged to work for justice. Is
this how we are to be? As evidenced in the writings and actions of Pope John Paul,
Dorothy Day and other committed Christians, the answer is simply no. There is a greater
chasm still between people in need and people who do not tend to their needs or may not
even be aware of their needs. More callously, some in this latter group may not even care
about the needs of the least in our society. My purpose is not to browbeat others into
action, but to analyze how we can establish friendships with people in need as a result of
lives that are lived justly. To do this, however, there must be some moral argument that
persuades people to seek such a relationship. I will look at some of the sources upon
which we rely – Church teaching, as outlined in The Code of Canon Law, The Catechism
of the Catholic Church, papal and episcopal letters, Scripture, Catholic moral theology,
and arguments that rely upon sources that are not exclusively Catholic.
1
I begin with those situations in which people find themselves that makes them
people in need, or as Matthew calls them, ‘the least.’ ‘The least’ may be the working
poor, as narrated by Barbara Ehrenreich, or the homeless, as told by Kim Hopper, or
those victimized by poverty in our own nation or another, as told by Jonathan Kozol and
Paul Farmer, or resettled refugees, as told by those who live among us. How did the
Church of Matthew love and serve ‘the least’ among them? What appeal can I make to
Americans today by turning not only to religious sources, but also secular ones?
In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich takes on the life of individuals who
work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. As a waitress, hotel maid, house
cleaner, nursing home aide and Wal-Mart salesperson, she discovers what many people
know, that the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts, and
that one job is not enough to make ends meet. She writes:
“When I watch TV over my dinner at night, I see a world in which
almost everyone makes $15 an hour or more, and I’m not thinking of the
anchor folks. The sitcoms and dramas are about fashion designers or
schoolteachers or lawyers, so it’s easy for a fast-food worker or nurse’s
aide to conclude that she is an anomaly – the only one, or almost the only
one, who hasn’t been invited to the party. And in a sense she would be
right: the poor have disappeared from the culture at large, from its political
rhetoric and intellectual endeavors as well as from its daily entertainment.
Even religion seems to have little to say about the plight of the poor, if that
tent revival was a fair sample. The moneylenders have finally gotten Jesus
out of the temple.”1
The poor have disappeared from the culture at large, and culture prefers it that
way. Over the past few years, the City of Pittsburgh Police conducted sweeps of the
homeless and citations of people who distribute food and blankets.2
Others have deemed
outreach to the homeless as misguided and sought to make drop-in centers to feed or
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house the homeless more difficult.3
On a larger scale anthropologist Kim Hopper, writing
on homelessness in New York, states that the shock of meeting poverty on the street is
both edifying and disingenuous.
“It is edifying because people who have lived with the convenience
of not seeing can prove quick studies when they confront it in the flesh. …
It is disingenuous because, plainly, the poverty had always been there for
the seeing. It was not the case that some previously unknown, long
festering ‘underclass’ had emerged. What was new was that poverty had
become an unavoidable fact of everyday life. Culture could no longer
shield it from sight: in order to turn a blind eye to suffering these days one
had to cultivate the habit of not seeing. This takes time, and it isn’t simple
or painless.”4
Similarly, Kozol, in Savage Inequalities, speaks of how influential people showed
little inclination to address the issue of ongoing segregation in our nation’s schools. Many
saw segregation “as ‘a past injustice’ that had been sufficiently addressed. Others took it
as an unresolved injustice that no longer held sufficient national attention to be worth
contesting.”5
Yet, in poverty-stricken East St. Louis, Illinois, a predominantly African-
American city, crumbling infrastructures of the school buildings drive up the per pupil
cost far beyond what other districts spend. Here, “critics willfully ignore the health
conditions and the psychological disarray of children growing up in burnt-out housing,
playing on contaminated land, and walking past acres of smoldering garbage on their way
to school.”6
In Pathologies of Power, Farmer writes of health and human rights as
“understood from the point of view of the poor.”7
Because “what happens to poor people
is never divorced from the actions of the powerful,”8
we must understand that the
conditions of their lives are the result of structural violence. Such violence is overcome
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not simply by charity, but by “working for social justice, working with poor people as
they struggle to change their situations.”9
Writing about different, but similar sets of people, Ehrenreich, Hopper, Kozol and
Farmer are onto something. Life would be easier if the ‘the least’ would disappear from
sight. But they will not. They are and have been with us even before Jesus said, “You
always have the poor with you.”10
How then do we live with ‘the least,’ not as a problem
to be solved, but as a people to be cherished?
Clearly, Catholics are to promote social justice and assist the poor. Canon 222§2
of The Code of Canon Law reads: “[The Christian faithful] are also obliged to promote
social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own
resources.”11
The commentary on this canon reminds us: “Individuals must first work at
the eradication of the causes of evil and of social injustice so that the works of charity
truly reflect the Lord’s command to love God and one’s neighbor.”12
It cites John Paul
II’s Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, which reminds us that “This ‘option for the poor’ cannot
remain on the abstract level but must be translated at all levels into concrete actions until
it decisively attains a series of reforms”13
Human dignity demands as much from those
who believe.
Canon law, like other Church documents, relies primarily on Scripture and earlier
Church teaching. (Although I will cite several other teachings, I would like to say here
that an appeal to people in our society must go beyond Catholic teaching, even beyond
the Word of God, though it can be clearly rooted in that Word.) Scattered throughout The
Catechism of the Catholic Church are citations of Scripture and Church teaching that
remind us of Jesus’ identification with the poor and hungry, and thus encourage
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commitment to the works of mercy. In Part Three, Life in Christ, one finds an article on
the virtues,14
including a paragraph on justice.15
Social justice is taken up in Article
Three.16
Respect for the human person and the duty of loving neighbor even if he or she
is different are taught. The duty of rich nations to seek the means so that other nations
may develop is tied to solidarity, justice and charity; and this vocation is laid squarely on
the lay faithful.17
That section entitled Love for the Poor, like the rest of the Catechism,
relies heavily on Church teaching, Scripture, personalism and natural law.18
But while the
Catechism offers clear teaching, effectively it falls short. I doubt that the Catechism itself
can be faulted for failing to accomplish the teachings of Jesus and the works of charity.
Perhaps a reason for its ineffectiveness is our own choice to ignore this teaching, hoping
that it, like ‘the least,’ would disappear. Nonetheless, the teaching is present.
Nor can the popes or the bishops of the Catholic Church be entirely faulted for
trying to relay this teaching to the world, however, only since Leo XIII wrote Rerum
Novarum have popes addressed the social conditions of our world. Pius XI’s
Quadragesimo Anno, John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra and Pacem et Terris, Paul VI’s
Populorum Progressio, and John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis
and Centesimus Annus are referred to in other Church documents, and had some
influence in the world, but unfortunately, many refer to the social teaching of the Church
as our best-kept secret.19
Why have these writings and the U.S. Bishops Pastoral Letter on the Economy,
Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, had so little
influence in the way we live? The American Jesuit theologian and sociologist, John
Coleman believes that we must first come to grips with the dominant creed of our
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country, for that defines the terms. The values Americans hold high are individualism,
consumerism, technology and an egalitarian democracy dictated to all of us by the host
culture that holds political prominence.20
Add to that, “a greater proportion of Americans
[who] are religiously illiterate,”21
and try to successfully create a counter-culture.
Offering some insight as to why the Pastoral was not as effective as the bishops
wanted it to be, Richard Mouw says that “Catholics have embraced an economic
spirituality that is not far removed from that which typifies much of evangelicalism,
[which lauds a] … sense of self-reliance, the ‘Protestant’ work ethic, and the celebration
of entrepreneurship.”22
Catholics, like most Americans, have bought into the idea that
laziness – a legitimate cause – is the sole reason for poverty. “People who think in this
reductionist manner need to be challenged by the larger perspective on these matters than
the Bible presents.”23
Mouw contends that though there are two approaches to economics
in our society – “God did not want poverty to occur, [so] we should all look at our
patterns of economic activity to see how we can correct this sinful condition; [and] …
God did not intend poverty, [so] we should not feel guilty if, as a result of our labors, we
are enjoying the blessings associated with material abundance”24
– we must ecumenically
and pastorally wrestle with both in order to develop an effective economic spirituality.
Arnold Wolf suggests that some bishops believed that there was something wrong
with Ronald Reagan’s America, and desired to be as vocal about the economy as the
Church has been about sexual mores. From the Jewish perspective, “the Roman Catholic
Church … has learned to live comfortably with political and economic structures that are
far from [perfect].”25
The bishops surrendered seeing the situation from God’s
perspective for the sake of persuading others through an adapted and modified rhetoric.
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In other words, the Pastoral lacks the forceful language necessary to make our society sit
up and listen.
This thought is echoed in Timothy Sedgwick’s critique. Employing the image of
Church to society as soul to body, Sedgwick criticizes the Pastoral as failing to push
people to the ideal, leaving them to question the purpose of working for a just society and
a special obligation to the poor.
“To embrace and serve the poor and alien – the hungry and the
thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – is not a
matter of social salvation, of eliminating hunger and, more fundamentally,
the lack of power that marginalizes and alienates individuals from a
broader community, as desirable as such success might be. To serve the
poor and powerless is, rather, to recognize that in them God is encountered
and to acknowledge that they are blessed because they have a privileged
opportunity to know God. This requires careful explanation in order to
avoid the romanticizing notions of poverty.”26
Ironically, the poor in the Scriptures are the blessed.27
The Pastoral disappoints
because it “fails to provide prophetic criticism of itself and, in turn, devotes insufficient
attention to how the church must form its own life in order to nurture and proclaim a
distinctively Christian identity.”28
Since Sedgwick writes from an incarnational and
sacramental perspective, he believes that Catholic individuals and faith communities,
including the clergy of all ranks and the laity, must embrace and live Jesus’ ideals, as did
Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day. The possibility of such a radical lifestyle is not far
removed. “The problem with the pastoral is the inadequacy of its confident and optimistic
understanding of a culture that is related to Christian faith as a means related to ends.”29
Catholics, too, have been critical of the Pastoral. On the one hand, John Langan is
critical because of the affinity of the bishops with liberal academia, while pointing out
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that there is no way to avoid leaning one way or the other. On the other, Anthony
Tambasco believes that the bishops have not gone far enough in their stand for the poor
who, like the Bible itself, have a perceptive insight into the economic and political
problems of justice. The Kingdom of God “provides new possibilities of justice and for
the conquering of poverty now in this world. … [This] option for the poor … means
much more than a pious sentiment of charity toward the unfortunate of society.”30
Admittedly, Tambasco states, the ‘option,’ like the entire Pastoral and the
economy itself, is complex. R. Bruce Douglass asks if “justice means, simply, a concern
for the well-being of the least advantaged. … Indeed, such a society could actually be
judged unjust because of the way in which resulting costs were imposed on the rest of the
population. … [The Pastoral] seems to suggest that we can …continue to maintain a
huge, growth-oriented economy, in which each generation expects to have a greater
standard of living than its predecessor, while at the same time modeling our lives on
images which encourage simplicity, frugality, [and] putting the things of this world in
proper perspective.”31
As one who seeks to tend to the needs of ‘the least,’ I recognize that while the
Pastoral did not go far enough in promoting ‘preferential option for the poor,’ I am also
aware that I live in a society where the dominant belief – espoused by and embraced by
many (Catholics) – is that people are poor not because they were born into or fell into
unfortunate circumstances, but because they are lazy. How then can the Word of God
assist those of us who put faith in the Word better tend to the needs of ‘the least’?
Matthew 25:31-46 helps us better understand how members of his Church not
only lived with ‘the least,’ but also served their needs in the name of Christ. For Matthean
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Christians, ‘the least’ were originally “those poor, wandering Christian missionaries who
depend upon the hospitality of Christians to provide for their needs as they make the
Gospel known to all nations.”32
As time passed, we identified ‘the least’ with Christians
in general and particular groups of people, e.g., Holocaust victims. In order to discover
who they are for us, I asked parishioners to identify ‘the least’ from Matthew’s passage.
Those surveyed identified them as the poor, homeless, infirmed, elderly, anyone and
everyone. Few answered the hungry, thirsty, naked or imprisoned, and no one mentioned
strangers or refugees. Their responses led me to believe that I must raise the community’s
consciousness not only to what ‘the least’ need, but also to who ‘the least’ are so that we
serve their needs. But because the further purpose of this paper is to use it as an
instrument to engage people in ministry to ‘the least,’ let me limit the identification of
‘the least’ to the working poor, the homeless, resettled refugees, and men and women on
disability with relatively little means to make their income last to the next paycheck
without some assistance – people who are, in a word, hungry.
In Matthew, we find a situation similar to ours. The members of Matthew’s
community would “remember that in their own congregation love has grown cold,
lawlessness has gained the upper hand, and there is in their midst hatred and those
‘incidents’ of power-grabbing for which reason Jesus continually needs to sharpen his
message to them concerning humility and service.”33
Members realized that one’s
relationship to Jesus could not be disconnected from one’s relationship to real persons,
members of the community, who represent Jesus. In light of the Lord’s Passion, this
passage reminded members of what could happen to them – homelessness, hunger and
imprisonment. Yet, it struck hope in the hearts of this Christian minority living in
9
Antioch, an unsanitary, overcrowded and poverty-stricken city, for when the Christians
used their limited resources to meet the physical needs of ‘the least,’ they were able to
meet Jesus as the original disciples met Him.34
Such ministry is the fruit of people living a moral life, making choices based on
the teachings of Jesus. For us, such reflections and meditations can be guides to meet the
needs of ‘the least’ in our society. But are they effective? If they were, would Americans
have to work two jobs to meet financial obligations? Would the ACLU have to stand for
the rights of the homeless? Would local politicians seek legislation to prevent people
from serving the hungry, or cite ordinances to prevent a parish from assisting a family of
resettled refugees?35
Would there be generations of poverty in Haiti? Would there still be
structures in place to prevent the escape from poverty in cities like East St. Louis?
If we appeal to the conscience with arguments of persuasion based primarily on
statements of faith, how effective will we be in bringing about justice for ‘the least’? The
social encyclicals of recent popes and the pastoral letters of the U.S. bishops, The
Catechism of the Catholic Church and The Code of Canon Law have not been able to
persuade the majority of Catholics to make radical changes in our pluralistic society.
Perhaps we should turn to thinkers like Robert Goodin, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Perry
and others in order to persuade people to become compassionate agents for social
transformation.
Because I am trying to move people to relationship with ‘the least,’ I begin with
compassion. Andre Comte-Sponville sees compassion as the lowest form of love, lowest
as in minimal. Quoting Luc de Clapiers Vauvenargues, Comte-Sponville observes,
“Wouldn’t we rather forget the suffering of others or at least not feel it? Vauvenargues
10
[writes]: ‘The miser says to himself: Is the poor man’s fortune my responsibility? And so
he waves away pity, which annoys him.’ We would be better off without pity, at any rate
those who enjoy well-being now would be better off. But is this sort of well-being what
we are after? Is the easy life, the comfortable life, our ethical norm?”36
It is not. Compassion, unlike pity, is between two equals, the suffering person and
the one next to her. It contains no measure of contempt. “Compassion presupposes no
particular value judgment with regard to its object, …[it] does entail respect; …
otherwise, … it would no longer be compassion but pity.”37
This relationship between
compassion and respect is a theme taken up by Margaret Farley.
Of respect, Farley writes, “To respect a person … is to respect her fundamental
capacities for relationship as well as the relationships that are part of her concrete reality
here and now.”38
Echoing Comte-Sponville, she sees that suffering “has the power to
grasp us when we see it in others.”39
Compassion for suffering individuals includes
“respecting their capacity for free choice.”40
Philosophers help us understand the relationship between compassion and respect;
and the three that Farley references – Martha Nussbaum, Lawrence Blum and Elizabeth
Spelman – reject the “oppositional understanding of reason and emotion.”41
The
experience of compassion in us when we encounter a person who is truly suffering
“constitutes a bridge between ourselves and others. … Compassion is not only a response
to a need, … [it] is a response to a person. … Compassion includes seeing the one in need
as a sharer with us in humanity. … Suffering is the great equalizer, but compassion …
[assures] a kind of equal respect.”42
(Italics mine)
11
A reason that people lack compassion for others is because they sever themselves
from the possibilities of ever finding themselves in those events or situations. Martha
Nussbaum writes, “Nobles and kings … lack compassion for those beneath them. …
Juries often have a hard time sympathizing with the life story of a criminal defendant
who is very different from them in class and background. … All kinds of social barriers
… prove recalcitrant to the imagination, and this recalcitrance impedes emotion.”43
However individuals get the idea – whether it be envy, shame or disgust – that they will
never be in a situation like that of the sufferers matters not. Third Reich Germans did not
respect Jews because Nazi propaganda portrayed them as disgusting, inanimate objects.
Above, I pointed out that Nussbaum rejected the opposition between reason and
emotion. This does not mean that
“compassion takes up the point of view of any and every sufferer,
but rather the point of view of an onlooker who appraises the seriousness
of what has happened. … [This usually involves] losses of truly basic
goods, such as life, loved ones, freedom, nourishment, mobility, bodily
integrity, citizenship, shelter. … Societies … attach value to such losses,
and … parents communicate these values to their children early in their
developmental history.”44
Nussbaum emphasizes that one who defends compassion “is not bound to
embrace as good any and every sort of human neediness and dependency.”45
Parents need
not give their children everything, since that would undermine development of effort; but
they should not expect their children to forage for their own food since that would
impede other important human capacities that should be developed.
Yet, compassion itself does not supply a complete morality. It must be
accompanied not only by respect, but also action. “People can all-too-easily feel that they
12
have done something morally good because they have had an experience of compassion –
without having to take any of the steps to change the world that might involve them in
real difficulty and sacrifice.”46
A reason that many people who feel compassion take no
steps to bring about social transformation is that sustained commitment on actions and
institutions takes serious effort.
For Nussbaum, political systems and institutions that meet people’s needs are not
enough; they need compassionate individuals. “The relationship between compassion and
social institutions is and should be a two-way street: compassionate individuals construct
institutions that embody what they imagine; and institutions, in turn, influence the
development of compassion in individuals.”47
Nussbaum follows this with an idea that
addresses the evangelical spirituality that many in our society have embraced. When
compassionate individuals construct social support systems that treat people not as
victims, but respect them as individuals, capable of working to better their own lot, we
establish a society where dignity rules. We would not think twice about a government
that protects private property or provides financial assistance to individuals or corporate
entities, e.g., schools, hospitals, citizens who drive on streets. Yet, we would suggest, or
at least acquiesce to, cutting off basic social services in order to encourage agency and
character in the poor.
Nussbaum furthers her argument by asking these sorts of questions: Should
women have to demand that the government do more to enforce laws against rape?
Should women be required to wage this struggle? Would they not
“be more productive agents in the economy and in their homes with these
pressures minimized? … A compassionate society … is one that takes the full measure of
the harms that can befall citizens beyond their own doing; compassion thus provides a
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motive to secure to all the basic support that will undergird and protect human dignity. …
[Therefore], we should not say that financial assistance directed at providing basic food,
child welfare, and other prerequisites of meaningful human life is a way of dehumanizing
people or of turning them into subhuman victims. ”48
In a wealthy and comfortable society, we are sometimes terribly upset by such
trivial things – traffic jams, boredom, ruined vacations – that we unduly elevate to our
sympathy list. Instead our compassion should cross every boundary of race, gender and
class in order that we should guarantee that all citizens expect these capabilities: life,
bodily health, bodily integrity, senses, imagination, thought, emotions, practical reason,
affiliation, relationship, play and control over one’s environment.49
A society where
educators, media and political leaders cultivate children’s emotions through stories like
Grapes of Wrath or Schindler’s List will enable children to become more compassionate
citizens; for though compassion is a highly fallible motive, “what we want to cultivate is
appropriate compassion based on reasonable judgments.”50
Such compassion should lead
us to see evil people without disgust, for disgust allows us to distance them from
ourselves. This is quite the challenge! “When we see Nazis depicted without disgust, as
human beings who share common characteristics with us – whether the emphasis is on
the capacity of all human beings for evil or on a universal submissiveness to distorting
ideologies – this is alarming, because it requires self-scrutiny, warning us that we might
well have done the same thing under comparable circumstances.”51
How would it be if all members of our society developed such self-scrutiny to see
not only terrorists without disgust, but a fortiori, the working poor, homeless, resettled
refugees, oppressed minorities and others? Would that such compassion lead us to a more
just society! Notice that Nussbaum’s compassion moves the reader beyond a simple
14
professional-client relationship in which needs can be met. Robert Goodin writes, “Rich
strangers might be in a better position to provide material resources; but friends, because
of the emotional component inherent in their relationship, can supply each other with
certain sorts of goods that are unavailable from mere strangers.”52
This is what John Paul
II meant when he encouraged Christians to get close “to those who suffer, so that the
hand that helps is seen not as a humiliating handout but as a sharing between brothers and
sisters.”53
If we see the ‘the least’ as brothers and sisters, we more easily bear our special
responsibility to protect them.
For Goodin “the principle of protecting the vulnerable amounts to an injunction to
prevent harms from befalling people.”54
Protection guarantees them having food, shelter,
clothing as well as self-respect and civil liberties. One cannot limit the responsibility for
such a guarantee to only a few. Goodin illustrates this by the example of a drowning
child. If an individual hears the cries, he is responsible for responding. If a group of four
people hears the cries, they are each 25% responsible for saving the child. If group of 50
people hears the cries, they are equally accountable (2%) to organize themselves and
respond. If a community is aware that natural disasters strike nearby, each citizen is
responsible for doing his/her part in protecting as many lives and interests as possible.
“Individuals have many moral duties which, for one reason or another, we think society
ought not compel them to discharge. However, where the duty is a collective one,
collective action clearly is in order.”55
Even in the case of public servants, “it is right that
[they] should be held responsible for the actions and choices they make on our behalf.”56
When it comes to the working poor, the homeless, resettled refugees, ‘the least,’
whose responsibility is it to tend to their needs? Goodin argues that those who “are not
15
physically unable to perform any and all tasks for which they might receive remuneration
… are excluded from the workforce on account of social conventions. … [They are]
forced to depend for support on others who [work].”57
This dependence makes ‘the least’
vulnerable. When people are vulnerable, it is also possible and highly likely that they are
exploitable, though not necessarily exploited. Goodin’s point is this: “It is immoral to
tolerate a serious risk of immoral outcomes, e.g., exploitation, even if that risk never
actually becomes a reality; and this is true whether what prevents the immoral outcome is
an act of will or a stroke of luck. … The fewer opportunities people have to exploit one
another, the less inclined they will be to use them.”58
That being the case, do not public servants and private citizens bear some
responsibility to prevent ‘the least’ from the possibility of being exploited? Do not we
who enjoy some discretionary power over ‘the least’ share the responsibility to provide
for their needs? Goodin states that even if we accept the fact that in an ideal world
vulnerability will remain a feature of social life, we can still insist that people bear
responsibility to protect those who are inevitably vulnerable and dependent. He
summarizes his argument around these two points: (1) We must prevent exploitable
vulnerabilities; and (2) we must protect the vulnerable.
Are prevention and protection found in our pluralistic society? Robert Merrihew
Adams believes they can be. He thinks that for the health of our society “the participants,
and especially the leaders, should often try sincerely to do what is fair and what is best
for people in general. This of itself does not eliminate conflict, since our views of what is
fair and best can conflict as much as our self-interest.”59
Should leaders press for
compassion for ‘the least’ as something that is fair and best for people in general? I
16
believe that they must. If social transformation is to occur in our society, leaders who
press for what is fair and best, leaders who seek “to alleviate suffering and injustice in the
name of compassion and human freedom”60
must be sought and supported. Russell
Butkus sees the task of religious education as promoting compassionate action and social
responsibility.61
I would say that it is the task not only of religious education, but also
secular education. Learning and doing compassionate action and social responsibility is
part and parcel of the process of learning how to be a responsible citizen.
The formation of responsible citizens, like the formation of responsible members
of a faith community, is a demanding task. As we bought into the concept that God helps
those who help themselves, we bought into the concept that religion is a private affair.
This is a misguided understanding that is all too prevalent among believers in America.
Quoting Johannes Baptist Metz, Michael Perry writes, “Since the faith of Christians is a
faith that does justice, there is no way we can avoid political activity. … A ‘private’ – as
distinct from public/political – spirituality is a counterfeit, an inauthentic, spirituality. To
try to privatize – private-ize – religious morality, rather than public-ize/politic-ize it, is to
misunderstand fundamentally the character of religious moralities of the sort that
predominate in the West”62
Our country and communities would infinitely benefit if our
public and private institutions turned out men and women who put morality into action.
This is not to say that men and women who put morality into action would all
agree, but they must engage in dialogue. Of this dialogue, Perry writes, “The sort of
dialogue at issue here is normative dialogue, which is, whatever else it is, a process for
making normative judgments: judgments about what choice to make, what action to take,
and so on. … The very possibility of communication means that disagreement and
17
conflict are grounded in a deeper unity.”63
The possibility of this dialogue flows from the
members’ individual and communal commitments to obtaining what is fair and best for
all people, including ‘the least.’ Yet, we will not agree on what is fair and best for all
people. To Perry, total agreement is not the point.
“Community, not agreement, is the fundamental test or measure of
the success of ecumenical political dialogue. … [Responsible citizens] join
the societal debate … to deliberate about what political choice the Church,
and others, should support. Why assume that ‘the mind of the Church’ or
other community is to be shaped only by internal dialogue: Why shouldn’t
the mind of the Church or other community be shaped by external
dialogue as well: deliberation between those who are members of the
religious community and those who are not?”64
Individuals, if they choose to be responsible citizens of our country and
community, must join the conversation and dialogue about the social problems that face
us. A few cocktails or frames of bowling will not improve the lives of ‘the least’ in our
local and global communities. A just community, whether it acts locally or globally, first
begins with a conversation, a dialogue with others about the situation of people in our
midst. “What should we do about …?” begins with “What do you think about …?” It is
from here that we engage people in the conversation, and attempt to persuade them into
dialogue about people who are illustrated in books by Ehrenreich, Hopper, Kozol and
Farmer. When we begin to voice our thoughts, we begin to seek solution, and sometimes
there is a happy ending – at least, a happier result than what would have been. For
example, in her memoir, Learning Joy from Dogs without Collars, Lauralee Summer,
who was raised by an eccentric and uniquely idealistic single mother, tells us how she
was sometimes homeless and at other times lived in shelters or cheap apartments from
Astoria, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts. Because people who knew Summer engaged
18
in conversation with one another, she was fortunate enough to attend and graduate from
Harvard University. Certainly, her story is unique. My point is that because people
engaged in dialogue about her situation, our society benefited. Is ours not a better society
because people acted out of compassion for her? This is what John Paul II means when
he says that Christians must get close to those who suffer, so that the hand that helps is
seen not as a humiliating handout but as a sharing between brothers and sisters. To
engage in dialogue is not simply Catholic or Christian, but American and human.
It is the exercise of free speech in a pluralistic, democratic republic where
individuals sometimes turn to religious images to get across the point that in God’s eyes
and heart, the least ones of our society matter. They matter because like the rest of us
who do not consider ourselves ‘the least,’ they too are created in the image and likeness
of God. I believe this is one of the points that Martha Nussbaum gets across when she
writes about seeing even the Nazi without disgust, for it is my disgust that pushes the
individual further from me not as brother or sister, but as inanimate object. To see
individuals not as inanimate objects, but as brothers and sisters in need of compassion
sometimes takes great effort on our part. To persuade others to see ‘the least’ as brothers
and sisters may mean appealing to something beyond a common notion of what
responsible citizenship is. John Coleman cites John Winthrop, Samuel Adams, Herman
Melville, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and others who
appealed in public to religious imagery and sentiments as some of “the strongest
American voices for a compassionate just community.”65
With that in mind, I conclude with one individual who has inspired me to enter
the public square. In With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural
19
Theology, Stanley Hauerwas mentions three individuals who give witness to the Church:
John Howard Yoder, Pope John Paul II and Dorothy Day. In contrasting the first two,
Hauerwas writes,
“As different as an obscure Mennonite theologian may be from the
pope, it is clear that John Paul II and John Howard Yoder represent a
recovery of the Christological center of the church’s life and witness. That
center, moreover, requires and entails that the church be a witness to the
peace that is an alternative to the death that grips the life of the world.
What John Paul II and John Howard Yoder share over and above their
differences is exemplified by a life that joins what they each hold dear.
The name given to that life is Dorothy Day. … Because Dorothy Day
existed, we can know that the church to which John Paul II and John
Howard Yoder witness is not some ideal but an undeniable reality.
Moreover, such a church must exist if indeed the cross and not the sword
reveals to us the very grain of the universe.”66
Day and Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin “enunciated principles, lived
according to them, and expected others to do the same.”67
For them faith was not a
private matter. John J. Mitchell writes, “When Christian faith is privatized so that it no
longer has its moorings in the structural life of society it is trivialized.”68
Nor could
people look to the state to serve the needs of all. Maurin “looked on the emergence of the
welfare state as a dramatic sign of the deterioration of community and concern for the
common good. Citizens, even Catholics, were willing to direct the needy to the care of an
impersonal state. What could be more in contradiction to Jesus’ admonition in the Gospel
to practice the works of mercy.”69
Though his three main ideas – round-table discussions
to create awareness of the relationship between Catholic faith and society’s economic
conditions, diocesan and parish houses of hospitality, and farm communities - were never
completely successful, Maurin demonstrated how an individual could combine religious
20
convictions about compassion, charity and justice and responsible citizenship by
engaging people in dialogue.70
Dorothy Day, seen by some as “the most significant, interesting and influential
person in the history of American Catholicism,”71
spent nearly fifty years struggling to
reform the American society. She related Christian personalism and socio-economic
reform. “The starting point of her social theology was a recognition of the dignity of each
person as a child of God. … People deserve to be treated with dignity. Without justice in
America there can be neither respect for human dignity nor the enjoyment of fundamental
human rights. … The moral quality of any society must be judged on the basis of how
well it protects the rights of those least able to care for themselves.”72
Because Day
wanted a society that was both charitable and just, she “rejected both the individualistic
philosophies of those who advocated charity toward the poor without showing any
serious concern about the social and economic inequalities in society.”73
Though she never developed a comprehensive analysis of capitalism, Day was
quite critical of it. Turning to the social encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI for guidance,
she “observed that it was hypocritical for Catholics in America to simply parrot Pius’
condemnation of socialism without giving any voice at all to his sever judgments of
industrial capitalism.”74
Being a practicing, faithful Catholic, Day’s model for a new socio-economic
order was the Eucharist, “in which all people come together to share the bread of life.”75
She loved the Church made visible, but was often dissatisfied with the hypocrisy she
found in the lives of its leaders and members. “She considered hypocrisy a bitter price to
pay for preserving a comfortable station in life.”76
21
Day’s social theology stands in stark contrast to the economic spirituality that
many Americans, including Catholics, embrace today. Perhaps the reason she so inspires
people of all faith traditions and none to work for the poor is because of the personal
economic sacrifices that she herself made and how she personally treated the poor. She
was not only compassionate towards the poor, but also in communion with them, that is,
she lived with them. “The poor were no more created by God than were the socio-
economic conditions which perpetuated their poverty. [Day wrote:] ‘I am sure that God
did not intend that there be so many poor.’”77
Yet, she did not see care of the poor
something that could be turned over to the state. When works of mercy are left to the
state, “the natural solidarity which exists between people as children of God is torn
asunder.”78
Such a practice does not lead to what John Paul II feared – that the hand that
helps is seen as a humiliating handout, and not a sharing between brothers and sisters. If
we see the ‘the least’ as brothers and sisters, we would more easily bear not only our
special responsibility to protect them, but also our religious and civic duties to love them
compassionately.
In conclusion, I share a personal note from Hauerwas. He responded to my
request for some guidance in writing this paper. I wrote:
“I recently went before our Borough Planning Commission to ask
for an occupancy permit for an old convent to be used to house a family of
refugees. We assisted a family from Bosnia, then Rwanda, and now
whoever Catholic Charities sends to us. We are not getting cooperation
from the Borough Manager. That is another story. What came to my mind
is, “How would I present this to these people if they were not Christian?”
That question lead me to this. … How can I persuade the secular world to
perform works of mercy for the homeless, refugee, the least ones?”
Hauerwas responded …
22
“I think the answer to your question is you use anything they offer.
That the works of mercy derive their intelligibility from Christ doesn’t
mean others cannot be attracted to them. They need of course
exemplification, and that’s why it’s important that Christians do the work.
Others will be attracted whether they are Christians or not. Of course, you
can also use all kinds of pragmatic arguments. By feeding people it may
stop them from stealing. I don’t particularly like that kind of response
since it makes those who are being fed to be considered in a derogatory
manner. But there may be other pragmatic arguments that can be used,
such as we really ought to feed children. Most people are persuaded by
that. So you won’t know in advance what reasons you can give. Rather,
you have to talk to people and see what they may think about feeding the
hungry.”79
I have come full circle. I started wanting to persuade the secular world to perform
works of mercy for ‘the least.’ Like Dorothy Day, I will not be content with
compassionate acts of charity, but will call others to work for just solutions to social
problems. I am still deeply disappointed that Catholics and Christians of our Borough
Council did nothing to support our parish’s efforts to open a home for a family of
resettled refugees. In the future, hopefully, my words and deeds will inspire others to do
great acts. I keep in mind that inspiration comes through sacrifice and suffering, and that
if Jesus could not inspire everyone through his own sacrifice and suffering, I may not
have much success either. Nonetheless, the effort cannot be overlooked for believer or
unbeliever because change is only possible through passionate compassion put into
action. With that, I close with these lines from Gerard Hopkins Manley’s As Kingfishers
Catch Fire.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is--
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
23
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_____. “Religion and Church Life.” Reading the Signs of the Times: Resources for
Social and Cultural Analysis. Ed. T. Howland Sanks and John A. Coleman. New
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Comte-Sponville, Andre. A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy
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Farley, Margaret A. Compassionate Respect: A Feminist Approach to Medical Ethics and
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24
Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the
Poor. Los Angeles: University of California Press. 2003.
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November 2003.
Hauerwas, Stanley. With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural
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_____. Personal Letter to Paul Cwynar. October 1, 2003.
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Paulist Press, 1989.
Hehir, J. Bryan. “Catholic Social Teaching and the Church in the City.” Address given at
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23 November 2002 http://www.pittsburghlive.com.
Jewell, Tom. “Oakmont Blocks Home for Refugees.” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. 24
October 2003 http://www.pittsburghlive.com.
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Luz, Ulrich. “The Final Judgment (Matt 25:31-46): An Exercise in ‘History of Influence’
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Mitchell, John J. Critical Voices in American Catholic Economic Thought. New York:
Paulist Press, 1989.
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Bishops.” Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and
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Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989.
25
National Alliance to End Homelessness. Washington, D.C. http://www.naeh.org.
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Cambridge University Press. 2001.
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Princeton University Press. 1993.
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Politics. New York: Oxford University Press. 1991.
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Social and Cultural Analysis. New York: Paulist Press, 1993.
Sedgwick, Timothy. “Graceless Poverty and the Poverty of Grace.” Prophetic Visions
and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’
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Strain, Charles. R. Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and
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B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1989.
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Simon & Schuster. 2003.
Tambasco, Anthony. “Option for the Poor.” The Deeper Meaning of Economic Life:
Critical Essays on the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the Economy. Ed. R.
Bruce Douglass. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1986.
Tracer, Robert. “Religious NGOs at the UN: 1945 & 1995,” Conference on World
Christian Mission: Pacific Southwest. Asilomar, CA, July 28-31, 1995.
http://religionhumanrights.com/Research/un.udhr.htm.
26
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Convention and Protocol Relating to
the Status of Refugees.” United Kingdom. August 1996.
United States Catholic Bishops. “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in
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Vitillo, Robert. “Who Are the Poor in the Richest of Nations?” New Theology Review
15, no. 2 (May 2002): 5-15.
Wolf, Arnold. “The Bishops and the Poor: A Jewish Critique.” Prophetic Visions and
Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter
on the Economy. Ed. Charles R. Strain. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, 1989.
27
28
1
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (New York: Henry Holt and Company,
2001), 117f.
2
Tony Norman, “Shall City Control Charitable Acts?” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 18, 2000.; Torsten Ove,
“ACLU Sues City Over Seizure of Homeless’ Belongings,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 6, 2003,
<http://www.pittsburghpostgazette.com>.
3
Tom Barnes, “N. Side Residents Fight Growth of Programs Serving Homeless,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 5,
2002, <http://www.pittsburghpostgazette.com>.
4
Kim Hopper, Reckoning With Homelessness (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 213.
5
Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 3.
6
Ibid., 37.
7
Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003), 17.
8
Ibid., 158.
9
Ibid., 157. This thought is echoed in the writings of Dorothy Day. See fn 73.
10
John 12:8. There are a number of web sites that offer information about people who are refugees, homeless and poor.
My intent is not to list every one of them. For those who are interested, I suggest <www.unhcr.ch>,
<www.endhomelessness.org>, <www.nccbuscc.org/mrs/refprog.htm>, <www.refugeesinternational.org>,
<http://www.saintirenaeus.org/homfiles/Ecclesiology_Final.doc>.
11
New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, ed. John P. Beal et al (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), 283.
12
Ibid.
13
Ibid., 284.
14
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2d ed., (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference , 1997), #1803ff.
15
Ibid., #1807
16
Ibid., #1928-1948.
17
Ibid., #2439-2442.
18
Ibid., #2438-2449.
19
Robert Tracer, Religious NGOs at the UN: 1945 & 1995, Conference on World Christian Mission: Pacific Southwest.
Asilomar, CA, July 28-31, 1995. Text at <http://religionhumanrights.com/Research/un.udhr.htm.> The social
encyclicals had a profound influence on Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. As Robert Tracer and others have shown, the
Vatican, and particularly, Angelo Roncalli, had tremendous influence in the drafting of the UN’s Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, brought to my attention by a speech given by Mary Ann Glendon at the 2003 Catholic Charities
Dinner. Human rights became one of the cornerstones of Vatican II, obviously influence by John XXIII.
The Papal Nuncio in Paris, Monsignor Roncalli, who had met regularly with Rene Cassin, the prime drafter of the
Universal Declaration, apparently had a different view. We know now that he "played an important part in the
formulation of the draft Universal Declaration of Human Rights." (5) And when he became Pope John XXIII, he
affirmed the Universal Declaration in a remarkable encyclical entitled Pacem in Terris. Moreover, through Vatican II he
made human rights the cornerstone of the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
20
John A. Coleman, “A Cultural Overview” in Reading the Signs of the Times: Resources for Social and Cultural
Analysis, ed. T. Howland Sanks and John A. Coleman (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 17.
21
John A. Coleman, “Religion and Church Life” in Reading the Signs of the Times: Resources for Social and Cultural
Analysis, ed. T. Howland Sanks and John A. Coleman (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 140.
22
Richard J. Mouw, “Thinking About the Poor: What Evangelicals Can Learn from the Bishops” in Prophetic Visions
and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy, ed. Charles R.
Strain (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 32.
23
Ibid., 31.
24
Ibid., 28.
25
Arnold Wolf, “The Bishops and the Poor: A Jewish Critique” in Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities:
Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy, ed. Charles R. Strain (Grand Rapids, MI:
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 101.
26
Timothy Sedgwick, “Graceless Poverty and the Poverty of Grace” in Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities:
Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy, ed. Charles R. Strain (Grand Rapids, MI:
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 150
27
Lk. 6:20-26; Mt. 5:3-10.
28
Sedgwick, 155.
29
Ibid., 148.
30
Anthony Tambasco, “Option for the Poor” in The Deeper Meaning of Economic Life: Critical Essays on the U.S.
Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the Economy, ed. R. Bruce Douglass (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press,
1986), 43, 53.
31
R. Bruce Douglass, “First Things First: The Letter and the Common Good Tradition” in The Deeper Meaning of
Economic Life: Critical Essays on the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the Economy, ed. R. Bruce Douglass
(Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1986), 31.
32
Paul Cwynar, “Matthew 25:31-46,” <www.saintirenaeus.org/homily.cfm>, 7f.
33
Ibid., 8. Ulrich Luz, “The Final Judgment (Matt 25:31-46): An Exercise in ‘History of Influence’ Exegesis” in
Treasures New and Old: Recent Contributions to Matthean Studies, ed. David R. Bauer and Mark Allen Powell
(Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996), 305.
34
Ibid., 9. For a further reflection, see Warren Carter and John Paul Heil, Matthew’s Parables: Audience-Oriented
Perspectives (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1998), 205-207, 495.
35
Tom Jewell, “Oakmont Blocks Home for Refugees,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 24, 2003,
<http://www.pittsburghlive.com.>
36
Andre Comte-Sponville, A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life, trans.
Catherine Temerson (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1996), 110.
37
Ibid., 114f.
38
Margaret A. Farley, Compassionate Respect: A Feminist Approach to Medical Ethics and Other Questions (New
York: Paulist Press, 2002), 37.
39
Ibid., 41
40
Ibid., 53.
41
Ibid., 64.
42
Ibid., 65f.
43
Martha A. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (New York: Cambridge University Press,
2001), 316f.
44
Ibid., 372ff.
45
Ibid., 375.
46
Ibid., 399.
47
Ibid., 405.
48
Ibid., 414, 412.
49
Ibid., 416ff.
50
Ibid., 447.
51
Ibid., 451.
52
Robert Goodin, Protecting the Vulnerable: A Reanalysis of Our Social Responsibilities (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1985), 98.
53
Robert Vitilio, “Who Are the Poor in the Richest of Nations?” New Theology Review 15, no. 2 (May 2002): 12,
quoting Pope John Paul II, “Novo Millenio Ineunte,” Origins 30 (January 18, 2001), 489, 491-508.
54
Goodin, 110.
55
Ibid., 140.
56
Ibid., 144.
57
Ibid., 191.
58
Ibid., 194.
59
Robert Merrihew Adams, “Religious Ethics in a Pluralistic Society” in Prospects for a Common Morality (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 106.
60
Russell A. Butkus, “Dangerous Memories: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Transformation” in Religious Education
as Social Transformation,ed. Allen J. Moore (Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press, 1989), 223.
61
Ibid., 206.
62
Michael J. Perry, Love and Power: The Role of Religion and Morality in American Politics (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1991), 81.
63
Ibid., 84.
64
Ibid., 124, 102f.
65
Ibid.,88, quoting John A. Coleman, “Theology and Philosophy in Public: A Symposium on John Courtney Murray’s
Unfinished Agenda,” Theological Studies 40 (1979): 701ff.
66
Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology (Grand Rapids, MI:
Brazos Press, 2001), 230.
67
John J. Mitchell, Critical Voices in American Catholic Economic Thought (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 110.
68
Ibid., 114.
69
Ibid., 117.
70
Hauerwas, 233. Hauerwas notes Maurin’s desire to cultivate the intellect.
71
Mitchell, 153, quoting David O’Brien.
72
Ibid., 158.
73
Ibid., 159.
74
Ibid., 167.
75
Ibid., 162.
76
Ibid.
77
Ibid., 163.
78
Ibid.,, 166
79
Personal Letter from Stanley Hauerwas, October 1, 2003.

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moral_theology_final

  • 1. “The possibility I am creating for myself is the possibility of being compassionate.” When I spoke these words, I had in mind Claudine, a refugee from Rwanda, and her six-year-old daughter, Regine. They are the second family our parish helped through our Refugee Assistance Committee and Catholic Charities Refugee Service. Claudine certainly made us more aware of the plight of refugees. This is not to say that our parishioners were not aware of refugees. How could we be unaware of them if we give only a cursory glance at world events? But were we prepared to be involved in their lives? Were we willing to be involved? In this paper I examine the relationships between people who need and people who tend to their needs. My observation is that between the two a great chasm exists that allows us to be comfortable in our charity without being challenged to work for justice. Is this how we are to be? As evidenced in the writings and actions of Pope John Paul, Dorothy Day and other committed Christians, the answer is simply no. There is a greater chasm still between people in need and people who do not tend to their needs or may not even be aware of their needs. More callously, some in this latter group may not even care about the needs of the least in our society. My purpose is not to browbeat others into action, but to analyze how we can establish friendships with people in need as a result of lives that are lived justly. To do this, however, there must be some moral argument that persuades people to seek such a relationship. I will look at some of the sources upon which we rely – Church teaching, as outlined in The Code of Canon Law, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, papal and episcopal letters, Scripture, Catholic moral theology, and arguments that rely upon sources that are not exclusively Catholic. 1
  • 2. I begin with those situations in which people find themselves that makes them people in need, or as Matthew calls them, ‘the least.’ ‘The least’ may be the working poor, as narrated by Barbara Ehrenreich, or the homeless, as told by Kim Hopper, or those victimized by poverty in our own nation or another, as told by Jonathan Kozol and Paul Farmer, or resettled refugees, as told by those who live among us. How did the Church of Matthew love and serve ‘the least’ among them? What appeal can I make to Americans today by turning not only to religious sources, but also secular ones? In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich takes on the life of individuals who work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. As a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aide and Wal-Mart salesperson, she discovers what many people know, that the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts, and that one job is not enough to make ends meet. She writes: “When I watch TV over my dinner at night, I see a world in which almost everyone makes $15 an hour or more, and I’m not thinking of the anchor folks. The sitcoms and dramas are about fashion designers or schoolteachers or lawyers, so it’s easy for a fast-food worker or nurse’s aide to conclude that she is an anomaly – the only one, or almost the only one, who hasn’t been invited to the party. And in a sense she would be right: the poor have disappeared from the culture at large, from its political rhetoric and intellectual endeavors as well as from its daily entertainment. Even religion seems to have little to say about the plight of the poor, if that tent revival was a fair sample. The moneylenders have finally gotten Jesus out of the temple.”1 The poor have disappeared from the culture at large, and culture prefers it that way. Over the past few years, the City of Pittsburgh Police conducted sweeps of the homeless and citations of people who distribute food and blankets.2 Others have deemed outreach to the homeless as misguided and sought to make drop-in centers to feed or 2
  • 3. house the homeless more difficult.3 On a larger scale anthropologist Kim Hopper, writing on homelessness in New York, states that the shock of meeting poverty on the street is both edifying and disingenuous. “It is edifying because people who have lived with the convenience of not seeing can prove quick studies when they confront it in the flesh. … It is disingenuous because, plainly, the poverty had always been there for the seeing. It was not the case that some previously unknown, long festering ‘underclass’ had emerged. What was new was that poverty had become an unavoidable fact of everyday life. Culture could no longer shield it from sight: in order to turn a blind eye to suffering these days one had to cultivate the habit of not seeing. This takes time, and it isn’t simple or painless.”4 Similarly, Kozol, in Savage Inequalities, speaks of how influential people showed little inclination to address the issue of ongoing segregation in our nation’s schools. Many saw segregation “as ‘a past injustice’ that had been sufficiently addressed. Others took it as an unresolved injustice that no longer held sufficient national attention to be worth contesting.”5 Yet, in poverty-stricken East St. Louis, Illinois, a predominantly African- American city, crumbling infrastructures of the school buildings drive up the per pupil cost far beyond what other districts spend. Here, “critics willfully ignore the health conditions and the psychological disarray of children growing up in burnt-out housing, playing on contaminated land, and walking past acres of smoldering garbage on their way to school.”6 In Pathologies of Power, Farmer writes of health and human rights as “understood from the point of view of the poor.”7 Because “what happens to poor people is never divorced from the actions of the powerful,”8 we must understand that the conditions of their lives are the result of structural violence. Such violence is overcome 3
  • 4. not simply by charity, but by “working for social justice, working with poor people as they struggle to change their situations.”9 Writing about different, but similar sets of people, Ehrenreich, Hopper, Kozol and Farmer are onto something. Life would be easier if the ‘the least’ would disappear from sight. But they will not. They are and have been with us even before Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you.”10 How then do we live with ‘the least,’ not as a problem to be solved, but as a people to be cherished? Clearly, Catholics are to promote social justice and assist the poor. Canon 222§2 of The Code of Canon Law reads: “[The Christian faithful] are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources.”11 The commentary on this canon reminds us: “Individuals must first work at the eradication of the causes of evil and of social injustice so that the works of charity truly reflect the Lord’s command to love God and one’s neighbor.”12 It cites John Paul II’s Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, which reminds us that “This ‘option for the poor’ cannot remain on the abstract level but must be translated at all levels into concrete actions until it decisively attains a series of reforms”13 Human dignity demands as much from those who believe. Canon law, like other Church documents, relies primarily on Scripture and earlier Church teaching. (Although I will cite several other teachings, I would like to say here that an appeal to people in our society must go beyond Catholic teaching, even beyond the Word of God, though it can be clearly rooted in that Word.) Scattered throughout The Catechism of the Catholic Church are citations of Scripture and Church teaching that remind us of Jesus’ identification with the poor and hungry, and thus encourage 4
  • 5. commitment to the works of mercy. In Part Three, Life in Christ, one finds an article on the virtues,14 including a paragraph on justice.15 Social justice is taken up in Article Three.16 Respect for the human person and the duty of loving neighbor even if he or she is different are taught. The duty of rich nations to seek the means so that other nations may develop is tied to solidarity, justice and charity; and this vocation is laid squarely on the lay faithful.17 That section entitled Love for the Poor, like the rest of the Catechism, relies heavily on Church teaching, Scripture, personalism and natural law.18 But while the Catechism offers clear teaching, effectively it falls short. I doubt that the Catechism itself can be faulted for failing to accomplish the teachings of Jesus and the works of charity. Perhaps a reason for its ineffectiveness is our own choice to ignore this teaching, hoping that it, like ‘the least,’ would disappear. Nonetheless, the teaching is present. Nor can the popes or the bishops of the Catholic Church be entirely faulted for trying to relay this teaching to the world, however, only since Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum have popes addressed the social conditions of our world. Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno, John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra and Pacem et Terris, Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio, and John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and Centesimus Annus are referred to in other Church documents, and had some influence in the world, but unfortunately, many refer to the social teaching of the Church as our best-kept secret.19 Why have these writings and the U.S. Bishops Pastoral Letter on the Economy, Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, had so little influence in the way we live? The American Jesuit theologian and sociologist, John Coleman believes that we must first come to grips with the dominant creed of our 5
  • 6. country, for that defines the terms. The values Americans hold high are individualism, consumerism, technology and an egalitarian democracy dictated to all of us by the host culture that holds political prominence.20 Add to that, “a greater proportion of Americans [who] are religiously illiterate,”21 and try to successfully create a counter-culture. Offering some insight as to why the Pastoral was not as effective as the bishops wanted it to be, Richard Mouw says that “Catholics have embraced an economic spirituality that is not far removed from that which typifies much of evangelicalism, [which lauds a] … sense of self-reliance, the ‘Protestant’ work ethic, and the celebration of entrepreneurship.”22 Catholics, like most Americans, have bought into the idea that laziness – a legitimate cause – is the sole reason for poverty. “People who think in this reductionist manner need to be challenged by the larger perspective on these matters than the Bible presents.”23 Mouw contends that though there are two approaches to economics in our society – “God did not want poverty to occur, [so] we should all look at our patterns of economic activity to see how we can correct this sinful condition; [and] … God did not intend poverty, [so] we should not feel guilty if, as a result of our labors, we are enjoying the blessings associated with material abundance”24 – we must ecumenically and pastorally wrestle with both in order to develop an effective economic spirituality. Arnold Wolf suggests that some bishops believed that there was something wrong with Ronald Reagan’s America, and desired to be as vocal about the economy as the Church has been about sexual mores. From the Jewish perspective, “the Roman Catholic Church … has learned to live comfortably with political and economic structures that are far from [perfect].”25 The bishops surrendered seeing the situation from God’s perspective for the sake of persuading others through an adapted and modified rhetoric. 6
  • 7. In other words, the Pastoral lacks the forceful language necessary to make our society sit up and listen. This thought is echoed in Timothy Sedgwick’s critique. Employing the image of Church to society as soul to body, Sedgwick criticizes the Pastoral as failing to push people to the ideal, leaving them to question the purpose of working for a just society and a special obligation to the poor. “To embrace and serve the poor and alien – the hungry and the thirsty, the stranger and the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – is not a matter of social salvation, of eliminating hunger and, more fundamentally, the lack of power that marginalizes and alienates individuals from a broader community, as desirable as such success might be. To serve the poor and powerless is, rather, to recognize that in them God is encountered and to acknowledge that they are blessed because they have a privileged opportunity to know God. This requires careful explanation in order to avoid the romanticizing notions of poverty.”26 Ironically, the poor in the Scriptures are the blessed.27 The Pastoral disappoints because it “fails to provide prophetic criticism of itself and, in turn, devotes insufficient attention to how the church must form its own life in order to nurture and proclaim a distinctively Christian identity.”28 Since Sedgwick writes from an incarnational and sacramental perspective, he believes that Catholic individuals and faith communities, including the clergy of all ranks and the laity, must embrace and live Jesus’ ideals, as did Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day. The possibility of such a radical lifestyle is not far removed. “The problem with the pastoral is the inadequacy of its confident and optimistic understanding of a culture that is related to Christian faith as a means related to ends.”29 Catholics, too, have been critical of the Pastoral. On the one hand, John Langan is critical because of the affinity of the bishops with liberal academia, while pointing out 7
  • 8. that there is no way to avoid leaning one way or the other. On the other, Anthony Tambasco believes that the bishops have not gone far enough in their stand for the poor who, like the Bible itself, have a perceptive insight into the economic and political problems of justice. The Kingdom of God “provides new possibilities of justice and for the conquering of poverty now in this world. … [This] option for the poor … means much more than a pious sentiment of charity toward the unfortunate of society.”30 Admittedly, Tambasco states, the ‘option,’ like the entire Pastoral and the economy itself, is complex. R. Bruce Douglass asks if “justice means, simply, a concern for the well-being of the least advantaged. … Indeed, such a society could actually be judged unjust because of the way in which resulting costs were imposed on the rest of the population. … [The Pastoral] seems to suggest that we can …continue to maintain a huge, growth-oriented economy, in which each generation expects to have a greater standard of living than its predecessor, while at the same time modeling our lives on images which encourage simplicity, frugality, [and] putting the things of this world in proper perspective.”31 As one who seeks to tend to the needs of ‘the least,’ I recognize that while the Pastoral did not go far enough in promoting ‘preferential option for the poor,’ I am also aware that I live in a society where the dominant belief – espoused by and embraced by many (Catholics) – is that people are poor not because they were born into or fell into unfortunate circumstances, but because they are lazy. How then can the Word of God assist those of us who put faith in the Word better tend to the needs of ‘the least’? Matthew 25:31-46 helps us better understand how members of his Church not only lived with ‘the least,’ but also served their needs in the name of Christ. For Matthean 8
  • 9. Christians, ‘the least’ were originally “those poor, wandering Christian missionaries who depend upon the hospitality of Christians to provide for their needs as they make the Gospel known to all nations.”32 As time passed, we identified ‘the least’ with Christians in general and particular groups of people, e.g., Holocaust victims. In order to discover who they are for us, I asked parishioners to identify ‘the least’ from Matthew’s passage. Those surveyed identified them as the poor, homeless, infirmed, elderly, anyone and everyone. Few answered the hungry, thirsty, naked or imprisoned, and no one mentioned strangers or refugees. Their responses led me to believe that I must raise the community’s consciousness not only to what ‘the least’ need, but also to who ‘the least’ are so that we serve their needs. But because the further purpose of this paper is to use it as an instrument to engage people in ministry to ‘the least,’ let me limit the identification of ‘the least’ to the working poor, the homeless, resettled refugees, and men and women on disability with relatively little means to make their income last to the next paycheck without some assistance – people who are, in a word, hungry. In Matthew, we find a situation similar to ours. The members of Matthew’s community would “remember that in their own congregation love has grown cold, lawlessness has gained the upper hand, and there is in their midst hatred and those ‘incidents’ of power-grabbing for which reason Jesus continually needs to sharpen his message to them concerning humility and service.”33 Members realized that one’s relationship to Jesus could not be disconnected from one’s relationship to real persons, members of the community, who represent Jesus. In light of the Lord’s Passion, this passage reminded members of what could happen to them – homelessness, hunger and imprisonment. Yet, it struck hope in the hearts of this Christian minority living in 9
  • 10. Antioch, an unsanitary, overcrowded and poverty-stricken city, for when the Christians used their limited resources to meet the physical needs of ‘the least,’ they were able to meet Jesus as the original disciples met Him.34 Such ministry is the fruit of people living a moral life, making choices based on the teachings of Jesus. For us, such reflections and meditations can be guides to meet the needs of ‘the least’ in our society. But are they effective? If they were, would Americans have to work two jobs to meet financial obligations? Would the ACLU have to stand for the rights of the homeless? Would local politicians seek legislation to prevent people from serving the hungry, or cite ordinances to prevent a parish from assisting a family of resettled refugees?35 Would there be generations of poverty in Haiti? Would there still be structures in place to prevent the escape from poverty in cities like East St. Louis? If we appeal to the conscience with arguments of persuasion based primarily on statements of faith, how effective will we be in bringing about justice for ‘the least’? The social encyclicals of recent popes and the pastoral letters of the U.S. bishops, The Catechism of the Catholic Church and The Code of Canon Law have not been able to persuade the majority of Catholics to make radical changes in our pluralistic society. Perhaps we should turn to thinkers like Robert Goodin, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Perry and others in order to persuade people to become compassionate agents for social transformation. Because I am trying to move people to relationship with ‘the least,’ I begin with compassion. Andre Comte-Sponville sees compassion as the lowest form of love, lowest as in minimal. Quoting Luc de Clapiers Vauvenargues, Comte-Sponville observes, “Wouldn’t we rather forget the suffering of others or at least not feel it? Vauvenargues 10
  • 11. [writes]: ‘The miser says to himself: Is the poor man’s fortune my responsibility? And so he waves away pity, which annoys him.’ We would be better off without pity, at any rate those who enjoy well-being now would be better off. But is this sort of well-being what we are after? Is the easy life, the comfortable life, our ethical norm?”36 It is not. Compassion, unlike pity, is between two equals, the suffering person and the one next to her. It contains no measure of contempt. “Compassion presupposes no particular value judgment with regard to its object, …[it] does entail respect; … otherwise, … it would no longer be compassion but pity.”37 This relationship between compassion and respect is a theme taken up by Margaret Farley. Of respect, Farley writes, “To respect a person … is to respect her fundamental capacities for relationship as well as the relationships that are part of her concrete reality here and now.”38 Echoing Comte-Sponville, she sees that suffering “has the power to grasp us when we see it in others.”39 Compassion for suffering individuals includes “respecting their capacity for free choice.”40 Philosophers help us understand the relationship between compassion and respect; and the three that Farley references – Martha Nussbaum, Lawrence Blum and Elizabeth Spelman – reject the “oppositional understanding of reason and emotion.”41 The experience of compassion in us when we encounter a person who is truly suffering “constitutes a bridge between ourselves and others. … Compassion is not only a response to a need, … [it] is a response to a person. … Compassion includes seeing the one in need as a sharer with us in humanity. … Suffering is the great equalizer, but compassion … [assures] a kind of equal respect.”42 (Italics mine) 11
  • 12. A reason that people lack compassion for others is because they sever themselves from the possibilities of ever finding themselves in those events or situations. Martha Nussbaum writes, “Nobles and kings … lack compassion for those beneath them. … Juries often have a hard time sympathizing with the life story of a criminal defendant who is very different from them in class and background. … All kinds of social barriers … prove recalcitrant to the imagination, and this recalcitrance impedes emotion.”43 However individuals get the idea – whether it be envy, shame or disgust – that they will never be in a situation like that of the sufferers matters not. Third Reich Germans did not respect Jews because Nazi propaganda portrayed them as disgusting, inanimate objects. Above, I pointed out that Nussbaum rejected the opposition between reason and emotion. This does not mean that “compassion takes up the point of view of any and every sufferer, but rather the point of view of an onlooker who appraises the seriousness of what has happened. … [This usually involves] losses of truly basic goods, such as life, loved ones, freedom, nourishment, mobility, bodily integrity, citizenship, shelter. … Societies … attach value to such losses, and … parents communicate these values to their children early in their developmental history.”44 Nussbaum emphasizes that one who defends compassion “is not bound to embrace as good any and every sort of human neediness and dependency.”45 Parents need not give their children everything, since that would undermine development of effort; but they should not expect their children to forage for their own food since that would impede other important human capacities that should be developed. Yet, compassion itself does not supply a complete morality. It must be accompanied not only by respect, but also action. “People can all-too-easily feel that they 12
  • 13. have done something morally good because they have had an experience of compassion – without having to take any of the steps to change the world that might involve them in real difficulty and sacrifice.”46 A reason that many people who feel compassion take no steps to bring about social transformation is that sustained commitment on actions and institutions takes serious effort. For Nussbaum, political systems and institutions that meet people’s needs are not enough; they need compassionate individuals. “The relationship between compassion and social institutions is and should be a two-way street: compassionate individuals construct institutions that embody what they imagine; and institutions, in turn, influence the development of compassion in individuals.”47 Nussbaum follows this with an idea that addresses the evangelical spirituality that many in our society have embraced. When compassionate individuals construct social support systems that treat people not as victims, but respect them as individuals, capable of working to better their own lot, we establish a society where dignity rules. We would not think twice about a government that protects private property or provides financial assistance to individuals or corporate entities, e.g., schools, hospitals, citizens who drive on streets. Yet, we would suggest, or at least acquiesce to, cutting off basic social services in order to encourage agency and character in the poor. Nussbaum furthers her argument by asking these sorts of questions: Should women have to demand that the government do more to enforce laws against rape? Should women be required to wage this struggle? Would they not “be more productive agents in the economy and in their homes with these pressures minimized? … A compassionate society … is one that takes the full measure of the harms that can befall citizens beyond their own doing; compassion thus provides a 13
  • 14. motive to secure to all the basic support that will undergird and protect human dignity. … [Therefore], we should not say that financial assistance directed at providing basic food, child welfare, and other prerequisites of meaningful human life is a way of dehumanizing people or of turning them into subhuman victims. ”48 In a wealthy and comfortable society, we are sometimes terribly upset by such trivial things – traffic jams, boredom, ruined vacations – that we unduly elevate to our sympathy list. Instead our compassion should cross every boundary of race, gender and class in order that we should guarantee that all citizens expect these capabilities: life, bodily health, bodily integrity, senses, imagination, thought, emotions, practical reason, affiliation, relationship, play and control over one’s environment.49 A society where educators, media and political leaders cultivate children’s emotions through stories like Grapes of Wrath or Schindler’s List will enable children to become more compassionate citizens; for though compassion is a highly fallible motive, “what we want to cultivate is appropriate compassion based on reasonable judgments.”50 Such compassion should lead us to see evil people without disgust, for disgust allows us to distance them from ourselves. This is quite the challenge! “When we see Nazis depicted without disgust, as human beings who share common characteristics with us – whether the emphasis is on the capacity of all human beings for evil or on a universal submissiveness to distorting ideologies – this is alarming, because it requires self-scrutiny, warning us that we might well have done the same thing under comparable circumstances.”51 How would it be if all members of our society developed such self-scrutiny to see not only terrorists without disgust, but a fortiori, the working poor, homeless, resettled refugees, oppressed minorities and others? Would that such compassion lead us to a more just society! Notice that Nussbaum’s compassion moves the reader beyond a simple 14
  • 15. professional-client relationship in which needs can be met. Robert Goodin writes, “Rich strangers might be in a better position to provide material resources; but friends, because of the emotional component inherent in their relationship, can supply each other with certain sorts of goods that are unavailable from mere strangers.”52 This is what John Paul II meant when he encouraged Christians to get close “to those who suffer, so that the hand that helps is seen not as a humiliating handout but as a sharing between brothers and sisters.”53 If we see the ‘the least’ as brothers and sisters, we more easily bear our special responsibility to protect them. For Goodin “the principle of protecting the vulnerable amounts to an injunction to prevent harms from befalling people.”54 Protection guarantees them having food, shelter, clothing as well as self-respect and civil liberties. One cannot limit the responsibility for such a guarantee to only a few. Goodin illustrates this by the example of a drowning child. If an individual hears the cries, he is responsible for responding. If a group of four people hears the cries, they are each 25% responsible for saving the child. If group of 50 people hears the cries, they are equally accountable (2%) to organize themselves and respond. If a community is aware that natural disasters strike nearby, each citizen is responsible for doing his/her part in protecting as many lives and interests as possible. “Individuals have many moral duties which, for one reason or another, we think society ought not compel them to discharge. However, where the duty is a collective one, collective action clearly is in order.”55 Even in the case of public servants, “it is right that [they] should be held responsible for the actions and choices they make on our behalf.”56 When it comes to the working poor, the homeless, resettled refugees, ‘the least,’ whose responsibility is it to tend to their needs? Goodin argues that those who “are not 15
  • 16. physically unable to perform any and all tasks for which they might receive remuneration … are excluded from the workforce on account of social conventions. … [They are] forced to depend for support on others who [work].”57 This dependence makes ‘the least’ vulnerable. When people are vulnerable, it is also possible and highly likely that they are exploitable, though not necessarily exploited. Goodin’s point is this: “It is immoral to tolerate a serious risk of immoral outcomes, e.g., exploitation, even if that risk never actually becomes a reality; and this is true whether what prevents the immoral outcome is an act of will or a stroke of luck. … The fewer opportunities people have to exploit one another, the less inclined they will be to use them.”58 That being the case, do not public servants and private citizens bear some responsibility to prevent ‘the least’ from the possibility of being exploited? Do not we who enjoy some discretionary power over ‘the least’ share the responsibility to provide for their needs? Goodin states that even if we accept the fact that in an ideal world vulnerability will remain a feature of social life, we can still insist that people bear responsibility to protect those who are inevitably vulnerable and dependent. He summarizes his argument around these two points: (1) We must prevent exploitable vulnerabilities; and (2) we must protect the vulnerable. Are prevention and protection found in our pluralistic society? Robert Merrihew Adams believes they can be. He thinks that for the health of our society “the participants, and especially the leaders, should often try sincerely to do what is fair and what is best for people in general. This of itself does not eliminate conflict, since our views of what is fair and best can conflict as much as our self-interest.”59 Should leaders press for compassion for ‘the least’ as something that is fair and best for people in general? I 16
  • 17. believe that they must. If social transformation is to occur in our society, leaders who press for what is fair and best, leaders who seek “to alleviate suffering and injustice in the name of compassion and human freedom”60 must be sought and supported. Russell Butkus sees the task of religious education as promoting compassionate action and social responsibility.61 I would say that it is the task not only of religious education, but also secular education. Learning and doing compassionate action and social responsibility is part and parcel of the process of learning how to be a responsible citizen. The formation of responsible citizens, like the formation of responsible members of a faith community, is a demanding task. As we bought into the concept that God helps those who help themselves, we bought into the concept that religion is a private affair. This is a misguided understanding that is all too prevalent among believers in America. Quoting Johannes Baptist Metz, Michael Perry writes, “Since the faith of Christians is a faith that does justice, there is no way we can avoid political activity. … A ‘private’ – as distinct from public/political – spirituality is a counterfeit, an inauthentic, spirituality. To try to privatize – private-ize – religious morality, rather than public-ize/politic-ize it, is to misunderstand fundamentally the character of religious moralities of the sort that predominate in the West”62 Our country and communities would infinitely benefit if our public and private institutions turned out men and women who put morality into action. This is not to say that men and women who put morality into action would all agree, but they must engage in dialogue. Of this dialogue, Perry writes, “The sort of dialogue at issue here is normative dialogue, which is, whatever else it is, a process for making normative judgments: judgments about what choice to make, what action to take, and so on. … The very possibility of communication means that disagreement and 17
  • 18. conflict are grounded in a deeper unity.”63 The possibility of this dialogue flows from the members’ individual and communal commitments to obtaining what is fair and best for all people, including ‘the least.’ Yet, we will not agree on what is fair and best for all people. To Perry, total agreement is not the point. “Community, not agreement, is the fundamental test or measure of the success of ecumenical political dialogue. … [Responsible citizens] join the societal debate … to deliberate about what political choice the Church, and others, should support. Why assume that ‘the mind of the Church’ or other community is to be shaped only by internal dialogue: Why shouldn’t the mind of the Church or other community be shaped by external dialogue as well: deliberation between those who are members of the religious community and those who are not?”64 Individuals, if they choose to be responsible citizens of our country and community, must join the conversation and dialogue about the social problems that face us. A few cocktails or frames of bowling will not improve the lives of ‘the least’ in our local and global communities. A just community, whether it acts locally or globally, first begins with a conversation, a dialogue with others about the situation of people in our midst. “What should we do about …?” begins with “What do you think about …?” It is from here that we engage people in the conversation, and attempt to persuade them into dialogue about people who are illustrated in books by Ehrenreich, Hopper, Kozol and Farmer. When we begin to voice our thoughts, we begin to seek solution, and sometimes there is a happy ending – at least, a happier result than what would have been. For example, in her memoir, Learning Joy from Dogs without Collars, Lauralee Summer, who was raised by an eccentric and uniquely idealistic single mother, tells us how she was sometimes homeless and at other times lived in shelters or cheap apartments from Astoria, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts. Because people who knew Summer engaged 18
  • 19. in conversation with one another, she was fortunate enough to attend and graduate from Harvard University. Certainly, her story is unique. My point is that because people engaged in dialogue about her situation, our society benefited. Is ours not a better society because people acted out of compassion for her? This is what John Paul II means when he says that Christians must get close to those who suffer, so that the hand that helps is seen not as a humiliating handout but as a sharing between brothers and sisters. To engage in dialogue is not simply Catholic or Christian, but American and human. It is the exercise of free speech in a pluralistic, democratic republic where individuals sometimes turn to religious images to get across the point that in God’s eyes and heart, the least ones of our society matter. They matter because like the rest of us who do not consider ourselves ‘the least,’ they too are created in the image and likeness of God. I believe this is one of the points that Martha Nussbaum gets across when she writes about seeing even the Nazi without disgust, for it is my disgust that pushes the individual further from me not as brother or sister, but as inanimate object. To see individuals not as inanimate objects, but as brothers and sisters in need of compassion sometimes takes great effort on our part. To persuade others to see ‘the least’ as brothers and sisters may mean appealing to something beyond a common notion of what responsible citizenship is. John Coleman cites John Winthrop, Samuel Adams, Herman Melville, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and others who appealed in public to religious imagery and sentiments as some of “the strongest American voices for a compassionate just community.”65 With that in mind, I conclude with one individual who has inspired me to enter the public square. In With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural 19
  • 20. Theology, Stanley Hauerwas mentions three individuals who give witness to the Church: John Howard Yoder, Pope John Paul II and Dorothy Day. In contrasting the first two, Hauerwas writes, “As different as an obscure Mennonite theologian may be from the pope, it is clear that John Paul II and John Howard Yoder represent a recovery of the Christological center of the church’s life and witness. That center, moreover, requires and entails that the church be a witness to the peace that is an alternative to the death that grips the life of the world. What John Paul II and John Howard Yoder share over and above their differences is exemplified by a life that joins what they each hold dear. The name given to that life is Dorothy Day. … Because Dorothy Day existed, we can know that the church to which John Paul II and John Howard Yoder witness is not some ideal but an undeniable reality. Moreover, such a church must exist if indeed the cross and not the sword reveals to us the very grain of the universe.”66 Day and Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin “enunciated principles, lived according to them, and expected others to do the same.”67 For them faith was not a private matter. John J. Mitchell writes, “When Christian faith is privatized so that it no longer has its moorings in the structural life of society it is trivialized.”68 Nor could people look to the state to serve the needs of all. Maurin “looked on the emergence of the welfare state as a dramatic sign of the deterioration of community and concern for the common good. Citizens, even Catholics, were willing to direct the needy to the care of an impersonal state. What could be more in contradiction to Jesus’ admonition in the Gospel to practice the works of mercy.”69 Though his three main ideas – round-table discussions to create awareness of the relationship between Catholic faith and society’s economic conditions, diocesan and parish houses of hospitality, and farm communities - were never completely successful, Maurin demonstrated how an individual could combine religious 20
  • 21. convictions about compassion, charity and justice and responsible citizenship by engaging people in dialogue.70 Dorothy Day, seen by some as “the most significant, interesting and influential person in the history of American Catholicism,”71 spent nearly fifty years struggling to reform the American society. She related Christian personalism and socio-economic reform. “The starting point of her social theology was a recognition of the dignity of each person as a child of God. … People deserve to be treated with dignity. Without justice in America there can be neither respect for human dignity nor the enjoyment of fundamental human rights. … The moral quality of any society must be judged on the basis of how well it protects the rights of those least able to care for themselves.”72 Because Day wanted a society that was both charitable and just, she “rejected both the individualistic philosophies of those who advocated charity toward the poor without showing any serious concern about the social and economic inequalities in society.”73 Though she never developed a comprehensive analysis of capitalism, Day was quite critical of it. Turning to the social encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI for guidance, she “observed that it was hypocritical for Catholics in America to simply parrot Pius’ condemnation of socialism without giving any voice at all to his sever judgments of industrial capitalism.”74 Being a practicing, faithful Catholic, Day’s model for a new socio-economic order was the Eucharist, “in which all people come together to share the bread of life.”75 She loved the Church made visible, but was often dissatisfied with the hypocrisy she found in the lives of its leaders and members. “She considered hypocrisy a bitter price to pay for preserving a comfortable station in life.”76 21
  • 22. Day’s social theology stands in stark contrast to the economic spirituality that many Americans, including Catholics, embrace today. Perhaps the reason she so inspires people of all faith traditions and none to work for the poor is because of the personal economic sacrifices that she herself made and how she personally treated the poor. She was not only compassionate towards the poor, but also in communion with them, that is, she lived with them. “The poor were no more created by God than were the socio- economic conditions which perpetuated their poverty. [Day wrote:] ‘I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor.’”77 Yet, she did not see care of the poor something that could be turned over to the state. When works of mercy are left to the state, “the natural solidarity which exists between people as children of God is torn asunder.”78 Such a practice does not lead to what John Paul II feared – that the hand that helps is seen as a humiliating handout, and not a sharing between brothers and sisters. If we see the ‘the least’ as brothers and sisters, we would more easily bear not only our special responsibility to protect them, but also our religious and civic duties to love them compassionately. In conclusion, I share a personal note from Hauerwas. He responded to my request for some guidance in writing this paper. I wrote: “I recently went before our Borough Planning Commission to ask for an occupancy permit for an old convent to be used to house a family of refugees. We assisted a family from Bosnia, then Rwanda, and now whoever Catholic Charities sends to us. We are not getting cooperation from the Borough Manager. That is another story. What came to my mind is, “How would I present this to these people if they were not Christian?” That question lead me to this. … How can I persuade the secular world to perform works of mercy for the homeless, refugee, the least ones?” Hauerwas responded … 22
  • 23. “I think the answer to your question is you use anything they offer. That the works of mercy derive their intelligibility from Christ doesn’t mean others cannot be attracted to them. They need of course exemplification, and that’s why it’s important that Christians do the work. Others will be attracted whether they are Christians or not. Of course, you can also use all kinds of pragmatic arguments. By feeding people it may stop them from stealing. I don’t particularly like that kind of response since it makes those who are being fed to be considered in a derogatory manner. But there may be other pragmatic arguments that can be used, such as we really ought to feed children. Most people are persuaded by that. So you won’t know in advance what reasons you can give. Rather, you have to talk to people and see what they may think about feeding the hungry.”79 I have come full circle. I started wanting to persuade the secular world to perform works of mercy for ‘the least.’ Like Dorothy Day, I will not be content with compassionate acts of charity, but will call others to work for just solutions to social problems. I am still deeply disappointed that Catholics and Christians of our Borough Council did nothing to support our parish’s efforts to open a home for a family of resettled refugees. In the future, hopefully, my words and deeds will inspire others to do great acts. I keep in mind that inspiration comes through sacrifice and suffering, and that if Jesus could not inspire everyone through his own sacrifice and suffering, I may not have much success either. Nonetheless, the effort cannot be overlooked for believer or unbeliever because change is only possible through passionate compassion put into action. With that, I close with these lines from Gerard Hopkins Manley’s As Kingfishers Catch Fire. I say more: the just man justices; Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces; Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is-- Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men's faces. 23
  • 24. Bibliography Adams, Robert Merrihew. “Religious Ethics in a Pluralistic Society.” Prospects for a Common Morality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1993. Barnes, Tom. “N. Side Residents Fight Growth of Programs Serving Homeless.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 5 August 2002 http://www.pittsburghpostgazette.com. Butkus, Russell A. “Dangerous Memories: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Transformation.” Religious Education as Social Transformation. Ed. Allen J. Moore. Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press, 1989. Carter, Warren and John Paul Heil. Matthew’s Parables: Audience-Oriented Perspectives. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1998. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference. 1997. The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary. Ed. James A. Coriden et al. New York: Paulist Press. 1985. Coleman, John A. “A Cultural Overview.” Reading the Signs of the Times: Resources for Social and Cultural Analysis. Ed. T. Howland Sanks and John A. Coleman. New York: Paulist Press, 1983. _____. “Religion and Church Life.” Reading the Signs of the Times: Resources for Social and Cultural Analysis. Ed. T. Howland Sanks and John A. Coleman. New York: Paulist Press, 1983. Comte-Sponville, Andre. A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everday Life. Trans. Catherine Temerson. New York: Metropolitan Books. 1996. Cwynar, Paul. “Matthew 25:31-46.” www.saintirenaeus.org/homily.cfm. Douglass, R. Bruce. “First Things First: The Letter and the Common Good Tradition.” The Deeper Meaning of Economic Life: Critical Essays on the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the Economy. Ed. R. Bruce Douglass. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1986. Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 2001. Farley, Margaret A. Compassionate Respect: A Feminist Approach to Medical Ethics and Other Questions. New York: Paulist Press. 2002. 24
  • 25. Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Los Angeles: University of California Press. 2003. Goodin, Robert E. Protecting the Vulnerable: A Reanalysis of Our Social Responsibilities. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1985. Griffin, Bill. “Book Review: Pathologies of Power.” The Catholic Worker. October- November 2003. Hauerwas, Stanley. With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2001. _____. Personal Letter to Paul Cwynar. October 1, 2003. Mitchell, John J. Critical Voices in American Catholic Economic Thought. New York: Paulist Press, 1989. Hehir, J. Bryan. “Catholic Social Teaching and the Church in the City.” Address given at John Carroll University, Cleveland, OH. 1998. Hopper, Kim. Reckoning With Homelessness. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2003. Illustrated Catholic Bible. CD-ROM. Harmony Media. 1996 James, Ellen and David M. Brown. “Food Bank in Need.” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. 23 November 2002 http://www.pittsburghlive.com. Jewell, Tom. “Oakmont Blocks Home for Refugees.” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. 24 October 2003 http://www.pittsburghlive.com. Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools. New York: HarperCollins. 1991. Luz, Ulrich. “The Final Judgment (Matt 25:31-46): An Exercise in ‘History of Influence’ Exegesis.” Treasures New and Old: Recent Contributions to Matthean Studies. Ed. David R. Bauer and Mark Allen Powell. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996 Mitchell, John J. Critical Voices in American Catholic Economic Thought. New York: Paulist Press, 1989. Mouw, Richard J. “Thinking About the Poor: What Evangelicals Can Learn from the Bishops.” Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy. Ed. Charles R. Strain. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989. 25
  • 26. National Alliance to End Homelessness. Washington, D.C. http://www.naeh.org. National Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy.” Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference. 1986. National Resource Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness. Delmar, NY. http://www.nrchmi.com. Norman, Tony. “Shall City Control Charitable Acts?” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 18 February 2000 http://www.pittsburghpostgazette.com. Nussbaum, Martha C. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2001. Outka, Gene and John P. Reeder, Jr. Prospects for a Common Morality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1993. Ove, Torsten. “ACLU Sues City Over Seizure of Homeless’ Belongings,” Pittsburgh Post- Gazette. 6 May 2003 http://www.pittsburghpostgazette.com. Perry, Michael J. Love and Power: The Role of Religion and Morality in American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press. 1991. Sanks, T. Howland and John A. Coleman. Reading the Signs of the Times: Resources for Social and Cultural Analysis. New York: Paulist Press, 1993. Sedgwick, Timothy. “Graceless Poverty and the Poverty of Grace.” Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy. Ed. Charles R. Strain. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989. Strain, Charles. R. Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1989. Summer, Lauralee. Learning Joy from Dogs Without Collars: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2003. Tambasco, Anthony. “Option for the Poor.” The Deeper Meaning of Economic Life: Critical Essays on the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the Economy. Ed. R. Bruce Douglass. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1986. Tracer, Robert. “Religious NGOs at the UN: 1945 & 1995,” Conference on World Christian Mission: Pacific Southwest. Asilomar, CA, July 28-31, 1995. http://religionhumanrights.com/Research/un.udhr.htm. 26
  • 27. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.” United Kingdom. August 1996. United States Catholic Bishops. “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity.” Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference. November 15, 2000. United States Committee for Refugees. http://www.refugees.org/ Vatican Council II: Volume I: The Conciliar and Postconciliar Documents. Gen. Ed. Austin Flannery. Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company. 1998. Vitillo, Robert. “Who Are the Poor in the Richest of Nations?” New Theology Review 15, no. 2 (May 2002): 5-15. Wolf, Arnold. “The Bishops and the Poor: A Jewish Critique.” Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy. Ed. Charles R. Strain. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989. 27
  • 28. 28
  • 29. 1 Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001), 117f. 2 Tony Norman, “Shall City Control Charitable Acts?” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 18, 2000.; Torsten Ove, “ACLU Sues City Over Seizure of Homeless’ Belongings,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 6, 2003, <http://www.pittsburghpostgazette.com>. 3 Tom Barnes, “N. Side Residents Fight Growth of Programs Serving Homeless,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 5, 2002, <http://www.pittsburghpostgazette.com>. 4 Kim Hopper, Reckoning With Homelessness (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 213. 5 Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 3. 6 Ibid., 37. 7 Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003), 17. 8 Ibid., 158. 9 Ibid., 157. This thought is echoed in the writings of Dorothy Day. See fn 73. 10 John 12:8. There are a number of web sites that offer information about people who are refugees, homeless and poor. My intent is not to list every one of them. For those who are interested, I suggest <www.unhcr.ch>, <www.endhomelessness.org>, <www.nccbuscc.org/mrs/refprog.htm>, <www.refugeesinternational.org>, <http://www.saintirenaeus.org/homfiles/Ecclesiology_Final.doc>. 11 New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, ed. John P. Beal et al (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), 283. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid., 284. 14 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2d ed., (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference , 1997), #1803ff. 15 Ibid., #1807 16 Ibid., #1928-1948. 17 Ibid., #2439-2442. 18 Ibid., #2438-2449. 19 Robert Tracer, Religious NGOs at the UN: 1945 & 1995, Conference on World Christian Mission: Pacific Southwest. Asilomar, CA, July 28-31, 1995. Text at <http://religionhumanrights.com/Research/un.udhr.htm.> The social encyclicals had a profound influence on Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. As Robert Tracer and others have shown, the Vatican, and particularly, Angelo Roncalli, had tremendous influence in the drafting of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, brought to my attention by a speech given by Mary Ann Glendon at the 2003 Catholic Charities Dinner. Human rights became one of the cornerstones of Vatican II, obviously influence by John XXIII. The Papal Nuncio in Paris, Monsignor Roncalli, who had met regularly with Rene Cassin, the prime drafter of the Universal Declaration, apparently had a different view. We know now that he "played an important part in the formulation of the draft Universal Declaration of Human Rights." (5) And when he became Pope John XXIII, he affirmed the Universal Declaration in a remarkable encyclical entitled Pacem in Terris. Moreover, through Vatican II he made human rights the cornerstone of the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. 20 John A. Coleman, “A Cultural Overview” in Reading the Signs of the Times: Resources for Social and Cultural Analysis, ed. T. Howland Sanks and John A. Coleman (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 17. 21 John A. Coleman, “Religion and Church Life” in Reading the Signs of the Times: Resources for Social and Cultural Analysis, ed. T. Howland Sanks and John A. Coleman (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 140. 22 Richard J. Mouw, “Thinking About the Poor: What Evangelicals Can Learn from the Bishops” in Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy, ed. Charles R. Strain (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 32. 23 Ibid., 31. 24 Ibid., 28. 25 Arnold Wolf, “The Bishops and the Poor: A Jewish Critique” in Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy, ed. Charles R. Strain (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 101. 26 Timothy Sedgwick, “Graceless Poverty and the Poverty of Grace” in Prophetic Visions and Economic Realities: Protestants, Jews and Catholics Confront the Bishops’ Letter on the Economy, ed. Charles R. Strain (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 150 27 Lk. 6:20-26; Mt. 5:3-10. 28 Sedgwick, 155. 29 Ibid., 148. 30 Anthony Tambasco, “Option for the Poor” in The Deeper Meaning of Economic Life: Critical Essays on the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the Economy, ed. R. Bruce Douglass (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1986), 43, 53. 31 R. Bruce Douglass, “First Things First: The Letter and the Common Good Tradition” in The Deeper Meaning of Economic Life: Critical Essays on the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the Economy, ed. R. Bruce Douglass (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1986), 31. 32 Paul Cwynar, “Matthew 25:31-46,” <www.saintirenaeus.org/homily.cfm>, 7f. 33 Ibid., 8. Ulrich Luz, “The Final Judgment (Matt 25:31-46): An Exercise in ‘History of Influence’ Exegesis” in Treasures New and Old: Recent Contributions to Matthean Studies, ed. David R. Bauer and Mark Allen Powell
  • 30. (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996), 305. 34 Ibid., 9. For a further reflection, see Warren Carter and John Paul Heil, Matthew’s Parables: Audience-Oriented Perspectives (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1998), 205-207, 495. 35 Tom Jewell, “Oakmont Blocks Home for Refugees,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 24, 2003, <http://www.pittsburghlive.com.> 36 Andre Comte-Sponville, A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life, trans. Catherine Temerson (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1996), 110. 37 Ibid., 114f. 38 Margaret A. Farley, Compassionate Respect: A Feminist Approach to Medical Ethics and Other Questions (New York: Paulist Press, 2002), 37. 39 Ibid., 41 40 Ibid., 53. 41 Ibid., 64. 42 Ibid., 65f. 43 Martha A. Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 316f. 44 Ibid., 372ff. 45 Ibid., 375. 46 Ibid., 399. 47 Ibid., 405. 48 Ibid., 414, 412. 49 Ibid., 416ff. 50 Ibid., 447. 51 Ibid., 451. 52 Robert Goodin, Protecting the Vulnerable: A Reanalysis of Our Social Responsibilities (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985), 98. 53 Robert Vitilio, “Who Are the Poor in the Richest of Nations?” New Theology Review 15, no. 2 (May 2002): 12, quoting Pope John Paul II, “Novo Millenio Ineunte,” Origins 30 (January 18, 2001), 489, 491-508. 54 Goodin, 110. 55 Ibid., 140. 56 Ibid., 144. 57 Ibid., 191. 58 Ibid., 194. 59 Robert Merrihew Adams, “Religious Ethics in a Pluralistic Society” in Prospects for a Common Morality (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 106. 60 Russell A. Butkus, “Dangerous Memories: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Transformation” in Religious Education as Social Transformation,ed. Allen J. Moore (Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press, 1989), 223. 61 Ibid., 206. 62 Michael J. Perry, Love and Power: The Role of Religion and Morality in American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 81. 63 Ibid., 84. 64 Ibid., 124, 102f. 65 Ibid.,88, quoting John A. Coleman, “Theology and Philosophy in Public: A Symposium on John Courtney Murray’s Unfinished Agenda,” Theological Studies 40 (1979): 701ff. 66 Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2001), 230. 67 John J. Mitchell, Critical Voices in American Catholic Economic Thought (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 110. 68 Ibid., 114. 69 Ibid., 117. 70 Hauerwas, 233. Hauerwas notes Maurin’s desire to cultivate the intellect. 71 Mitchell, 153, quoting David O’Brien. 72 Ibid., 158. 73 Ibid., 159. 74 Ibid., 167. 75 Ibid., 162. 76 Ibid. 77 Ibid., 163. 78 Ibid.,, 166 79 Personal Letter from Stanley Hauerwas, October 1, 2003.