Advent is about waiting. It is about waiting for the promises of Isaiah and the prophets to be fulfilled. It is also about trusting in God, trusting that, as Isaiah says, God will give us the bread we need and the water for which we thirst. We wait for completion, fulfillment. The Risen Christ will bind up our wounds, heal us and make all things new now and in the fullness of time.
I just read with interest and I must admit with a cynical smile a report on Rachel Held Evans who tried to live biblical mandates and injunctions for a year. I was amused when she interpreted Paul’s admonition to submit to her husband—she let him pick the movie they were going to watch even though she wanted to watch something else. (http://ncronline.org/news/women/author-finds-out-just-how-much-expected-biblical-women) She chose to live a very literal fundamentalist version of the Bible.
Somehow, as I read this, my mind wandered to Newt Gingrich and his plans for poor kids in school. I then remembered that newt converted to Catholicism to be the catholic his third wife wants him to be. His disdainful, disrespectful caricature of poor people totally ignores Catholic social teaching which should be embraced by “good” Catholics. Here is the report with his words:
“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday,” Gingrich said.
“They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”
Gingrich said every successful person he knows started working at an early age in explaining his position that schools should hire poor children in their neighborhoods for part-time jobs as assistant librarians or assistant janitors.
“I come around to this question,” he said. “You have a very poor neighborhood. You have kids who are required under law to go to school. They have no money. They have no habit of work. What if you paid them part-time in the afternoon to sit at the clerical office and greet people when they come in? What if you paid them to work as the assistant librarian?”
“What if they became assistant janitors and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom?” Gingrich added.
Like Rachel Evans, John Boehner and Paul Ryan—all Catholics—Gingrich embraces a fundamental church where he wrongfully attributes the fall of Poland solely to John Paul II. As a historian, he should know better. Soviet communism fell under the burden of a rapacious consumerism that depleted all the natural resources. I wonder whether the movie Gingrich and his wife made about this explains how John Paul II welcomed the flow of CIA cash into Poland in exchange for his condemnation of liberation theology which trampled the rights of Latin American campesinos.
I am not questioning the former Speaker’s motives or sincerity. God’s grace can work wonders even for a person who divorced his first wife while she was undergoing treatment for cancer. I am questioning his brand of Catholicism which looks more like Ayn Rand than Jesus Christ. Here we have a conservative (not liberal) cafeteria catholic picking and choosing among convenient truths.
In response to Gingrich’s challenge to the poor, I would ask, “What would happen if we made a concerted effort to educate poor kids?” We summoned the national gumption to put men on the moon. Surely we can figure out how to educate all children so that “they might have life and have life in abundance.”
Gingrich, Boehner and Ryan choose to ignore or gloss over Catholic social teaching because it gets in the way of the rich getting richer and amassing even more wealth which supposedly will trickle down to help poor people show up and stay at work all day. Are these powerful politicians even aware of John Pauls’ teaching on structural sin. Maybe the structures the rich and powerful have created and keep in place keeps the poor in their place—out of the running for a piece of the American pie.
They ignore over a century of church teaching on social justice. Beginning with Leo XXIII in Rerum Novarum down through Benedict XVI, the church has embraced the concept that what really matters in life is how we treat the least among us who during Advent and throughout the year as they wait on God to set them free from oppression.
Catholicism is about justice—the restoration of right order and right structures—not about greed and amassing more and more in overloaded silos. Catholicism is about seeing Lazarus at the gate and doing something to alleviate his misery. Catholicism is about living the Bible in the manner of Francis Assisi, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa—serving the needs of the least among us. Catholicism is about honoring life from conception to death. (For conservative fundamentalist Catholics, it more about abortion than it is about war, nuclear weapons and the death penalty.) Catholicism is about proclaiming liberty for captives, sight for the blind, and Jubilee re-distribution of wealth and resources.
As we witness these aberrations which hijack true Catholicism, we can but wait and pray that the Christ will set things right and wipe away every tear from every human face. Isaiah sets the tone for our expectant waiting:
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.
He will give rain for the seed
that you sow in the ground,
And the wheat that the soil produces
will be rich and abundant.
On that day your flock will be given pasture
and the lamb will graze in spacious meadows;
The oxen and the asses that till the ground
will eat silage tossed to them
with shovel and pitchfork.
Upon every high mountain [residences of idols] and lofty hill
there will be streams of running water.
We have God’s promise that living streams of running water will wash away the idols of greed, oppression and nationalism. The Risen Christ wants us to have what we need—shalom, healing, justice and peace. Jesus is healing the crowd. He sends his disciples forth on a rescue mission. They are to be the hands and feet, eyes and ears of the Christ. Healing and restoration of human dignity is pure gift, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
Today, we are Christ to our communities, our nation and the world. We are to bring healing and restore justice for all. Like Jesus, our guts should be bursting with compassion and not disdain for the poor among us, “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” It is our task. I am afraid we will not find many such shepherds in Washington, DC nor among the presidential hopefuls. Our trust is in the Living One who loves all people including most especially the poor and oppressed. A small nagging voice will urge us to move forward in our efforts to bring peace, justice, love, forgiveness and compassion to the task at hand—serving the least among us, being the voice for the voiceless.