Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 20, 2000
Canada's spiritual health
You can judge the spiritual health of a country by the way it treats its most vulnerable members. Jesus said that about individuals. He said those who are ready to enter God's kingdom are those who feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit those in prison. A person's willingness to meet the physical needs of others reveals the state of his or her soul.
There are reasons for this. The poor in the broadest sense - those who are hungry, unwelcomed, poorly clothed, sick or in prison - are excluded from full participation in the human community. Their condition separates them from their fellow men and women. And to be estranged from the community is to be cut off from the centre of one's personal dignity - association on an equal basis with other people.
We are social animals. Aristotle viewed justice as enabling friendship among people, a more personalistic notion than our modern ideas of individual rights and the balancing of the scales held by Justice who is blindfolded. Jesus, one suspects, would be more comfortable with Aristotle than with the cold, calculating individualism of today.
Jesus healed the woman who had been bleeding for 18 years. He praised the woman who put her last two coins into the Temple treasury as doing more than those who had given much more. He healed the noisy blind beggar Bartimaeus and he cheerfully visited the home of the cheating tax collector Zaccheus.
Over the centuries, Jesus' followers have tried to systemize this mission by running hospitals and soup kitchens, helping immigrants and refugees, and by establishing social service agencies as multi-faceted as central Alberta's Catholic Social Services. Much of that mission has now been taken over by governments who, thanks to modern technology and professionalism as well as to their much-deeper pockets, have become effective at carrying out the Church's social ministry.
But we still need to be clear on the source of the government's social, educational and health programs. They stem from Jesus' words, "Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to the least of those who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25: 40).
This means, first, that the thrust to help the poor, the sick and all the other vulnerable people in society is Christian in origin. Our faith has provided one of the cornerstones of society - a cornerstone that is rooted far more in the view of justice as enabling friendship than of justice as cold, blind objectivity.
It also means that we, as Christians, should be the first to fight to protect this system which our forbears created. Christians always put compassion for those in need ahead of tax cuts on our list of priorities. Why? Because Jesus said our justice is the clearest sign of the state of our souls.
Jesus made it clear: "One's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15). Then he told the parable of a rich man who harvested abundant crops. What did the man do but build bigger barns to store all his grains and goods. Then he relaxed to eat, drink and be merry. Jesus' words to the man were strong. "You fool!" he exclaimed.
Jesus was not motivated by envy for the rich man's possessions. Rather, he was indignant at the stupidity of one who would hoard so much of the world's goods for himself and offer little or none to the poor in his midst.
Our spiritual lives can only be judged by the help we give to those excluded from relationships with others. Likewise, our nation can only be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members. On that count, Canada has been slipping badly. The primary secular role of Christians in this society must be to fight to see that the Christian notion of justice is restored throughout the land.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.