Fr. Blake on the “trouble with the poor”

About a month ago, Fr. Ray Blake, a Catholic parish priest in the UK, posted some candid reflections on the difficulties of helping the poor — the truly poor. Far from being saints-in-the-making or happy-go-lucky Dickensian tramps, the truly poor are often as much a wretched bunch of sinners as anyone else. In working with them, one must often deal with lies (endless, shameless, obviously implausible lies), mess, disruption, crudity, theft, and other evils. I can attest to this personally, having occasionally found myself in the situation of trying to give money freely to someone who was trying to cheat me out of that same money. Fr. Blake notes especially the disruption caused to the Mass by one notorious local homeless man who, according to one of Father’s parishioners, was banned from another church after setting himself on fire there.

As Fr. Blake goes on to note, helping the poor is nevertheless obligatory, and we cannot explain our own lack of generosity at Judgment by claiming that the poor were not worthy of our help. Giving, he explains, enlarges our understanding of our own dependence on divine generosity, a dependence which continues to furnish gifts and blessings for us who are no worthier of them. Helping the poor serves also to confound our pride, jar us from our spiritual complacency, and remind us of the poverty of our own spiritual state.

All pretty mundanely Christian things. In response, of course, Fr. Blake got the usual treatment from the British media (e.g., here and here) who portrayed him simply as pointlessly libeling the poor rather than advancing an actual, spiritually relevant point, and who no doubt do in a year what Fr. Blake does in a week for the benefit of the poor. Fr. Blake responded here, for whatever good it’s done; the poor man has since had some Church of England schmuck piling on (see the tail end of the first article), supposedly his bishop has taken to publicly apologizing for his pastoral insensitivity (or whatever), and he is now considering abandoning blogging altogether. Take a moment, if you would, to pray for him, and for all those who have committed themselves to service of the poor at the price of extraordinary personal stress, with no help from armchair socialists whose much-vaunted compassion finds its only expression in their decision to spite God by sleeping in on Sunday.

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8 thoughts on “Fr. Blake on the “trouble with the poor”

  1. Be thankful you live in an era in the West where functional poverty (the kind you can fix pretty easily with a little help and a job) is very rare. Unfortunately that leaves us with dysfunctional poverty. Of course, our fiscal recklessness may bring about a return to common functional poverty. There was plenty of functional poverty in the Great Depression.

  2. There are plenty of deserving poor – people who are humble, repent of their sins, or have suffered misfortune through no fault of their own. I see no reason not to seek them out and provide them with charity rather than giving to the (also numerous) proud, wicked, and unrepentant poor, who positively wallow in sin. Since we can’t personally solve the problem of poverty, we should choose carefully how we use our limited resources to alleviate what little poverty we can.

  3. As Fr. Blake goes on to note, helping the poor is nevertheless obligatory, and we cannot explain our own lack of generosity at Judgment by claiming that the poor were not worthy of our help. Giving, he explains, enlarges our understanding of our own dependence on divine generosity, a dependence which continues to furnish gifts and blessings for us who are no worthier of them. Helping the poor serves also to confound our pride, jar us from our spiritual complacency, and remind us of the poverty of our own spiritual state.

    Is this a personal obligation, or does it require Christians to vote for taxing other people of other religious persuasions to give money to the undeserving poor as well?

    Do Christians have an obligation to dip into Hindu or Muslim wallets for the charity money they want to give away?

  4. This reminds me of the controversy surrounding Samaritan’s Purse, which is the Christian charitable organization that is responsible for those Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes that you see every year. Samaritan’s Purse, which is led by Franklin Graham (one of Billy Graham’s sons), has been very active in relief work around the world for people with HIV/AIDS.

    Last year, Graham wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post entitled Jesus is a model on how the church should respond to HIV/AIDS. The liberals went berserk. He was criticized up and down, despite the enormous amount of resources his organization has contributed to HIV relief efforts, because of two paragraphs in his essay:

    I am not an advocate of passing out condoms to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS. We should not condone sex outside of marriage. When a crowd dragged the adulterous woman in front of Jesus and prepared to stone her, Jesus forgave her and said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). I cannot imagine Jesus giving her a condom and saying, “Keep doing what you are doing and try to protect yourself.”

    We have to take responsibility for our lives and the decisions we make. That starts with the facts. And the fact is any type of sexual relationship outside a committed marriage between one woman and one man puts you at risk for contracting the virus.

    He went on to say that everyone, no matter how they were infected, deserves help and compassion. Despite his track record as a humanitarian and despite the fact that his comment is factually accurate, even the “Christian” left flipped out. Here is one example of an absurd rebuttal from an Episcopalian “priest”, who thought Graham’s comments were “outrageous” because (he says) homosexual marriage is no more risky than heterosexual marriage and because SP doesn’t hand out condoms. The “priest” doesn’t mention what he himself has been doing to alleviate the suffering of those infected with HIV, of course.

    Oh, and remember how the IRS admitted to targeting groups with Tea Party and conservative affiliations? Well, Samaritan’s Purse was one of those targeted organizations. Surprise surprise.

  5. I think reactionaries of good will might be interested in the work of Jean Danielou. Danielou was incidentally a prominent “reformer” at Vatican II but much like Ratzinger actually became more conservative after the Council’s conclusion. Be that as it may, his thoughts on the intersection of politics, theology and the poor are insightful. Danielou essentially argued that if the Church was to truly be the Church for the poor, it was best that the social order be united under Catholicism because only under such a society could the poor be adequately and most easily reached and ministered to. In a state where Catholicism was not dominant or actively persecuted, the poor suffer the worst. The other big problem noted by Danielou – a problem all too prevalent today – is that in a capitalist-consumerist society Catholicism becomes tied to money interests. Whether its high profile dinners with anti-abortion presidents, or “think” tanks like the Acton Institute, the Church loses its essential mission. So in a way Danielou makes a good “left-wing” argument in favor integralism.

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