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Want to serve the poor? Get to know them first

| Sunday, February 2, 2014

I am writing to clarify a few things in Bianca Almada’s latest Viewpoint article “Catholic Social Ignorance” from Jan. 30. To start with, I agree with Bianca on a number of points. I agree that “there is more to Catholic thought than abortion, gay marriage and premarital sex” and that one aspect of their faith that “Catholics are continually unfamiliar [with] is that of Catholic Social Teaching.”

However, I disagree with Bianca that a “vast amount of Catholic Social Teaching leans toward the left.” At first glance the Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable can sound a lot like the left agenda. This principle follows from Mathew 25: 31-46 when Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” As Catholics (honestly, as human beings) we have an obligation to the poor, to protect them and take care of them.

Some people will look at this and say that in order to fulfill this principle we must extend jobless benefits, increase funding for social programs, etc. But I think that this is one of the shallowest things that you can do for the poor. Yes, the poor need food, shelter and clothing, but simply throwing money at them accomplishes little, and honestly is quite demeaning. Instead of simply checking a box next to a political candidate that says they are committed to helping the poor, why don’t you help them yourself?

Last summer, I participated in the Summer Service Learning Project through the Center for Social Concerns, and one of the most important things I learned is that service is not about serving others. Service is about letting them serve you. You cannot let a homeless man serve you until you get to know him personally. Extending jobless benefits will undoubtedly help a lot of people, but it will not make them feel loved. Simply paying your taxes to support the less fortunate does not fulfill your obligation to the poor and vulnerable. Instead you must commit yourself to the common good and genuinely sacrifice your time, energy and often money to help others.

The plural of anecdote is not data. But in my experience, private philanthropic institutions (like Catholic charities) do more good, change more lives and save more souls than government programs and benefits.

Bianca concludes her piece by pointing out, “If people are attempting to follow these Catholic principles, then it may require a shift in their views.” I think she is implying a shift in political views, and I disagree. Attempting to follow these Catholic principles requires a shift in your heart.

The moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The most vulnerable members of our society are undoubtedly the unborn. They have no voice and they are too weak to fight for themselves.

Joshua O’Brien
Dillon Hall
Jan. 31

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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