The COVID-19 lockdown has placed a greater burden on the poor as many have lost their jobs or homes and are seeking assistance. In a previous post I discussed the obligation of almsgiving according to the authoritative sources of the Church. Here I argued that this obligation is binding on all Christians according to their state and circumstances, and in some instances can be grave. In a second post I discussed how the Marxists always use the poor for the sake of their own power and ideology, when in fact they care neither for the poor nor for mankind. As 2020 draws to a close, we continue to see the Marxists and other ideologues within or without the Church attempting to use the poor for their own wicked ends. It is truly a nefarious and Satanic thing to use the vulnerable and needy people for the sake of evil.
When those outside the Church evaluate her according to their materialist ideologies, they are forced to admit that she is the greatest humanitarian organization in the history of the world. The so-called “Enlightenment” project was intended to outdo the Church in purely natural goods. This has failed and continues to fail as the unborn holocaust spreads its darkness across the globe. Child murder is the prime example of this failure, because the Brave New World of post-Christianity solves the problem of pain by hurting nature itself. The “solution” offered to woman is to hurt her nature and murder her child. The masculine virtue—which might seek to save the child and the mother—is dismissed as “toxic masculinity.” The Marxist vision therefore is hostile to human nature, and thus it can never hope to “build back better” the fallen world because its solution is to kill human life, whether through abortion or population control.
This error redounds to hurt the poor and vulnerable. First, because the Marxist sexual revolution creates poverty. Children born out of wedlock, by definition, are born into poverty. Marriage, considered on the natural level only, is a vow of security and provision and the most powerful force against poverty. A child born to married parents is born into income security. If the Marxists really cared about poverty they would promote marriage. Instead, they switch to their second tactic: blame poverty on the political structure. This allows them to focus their effort for “change” not on themselves, but on some enemy outside themselves. Finally, the Marxist, by first creating poverty and blaming it on politics, can then whip up the mob to give him the power he desires. He can then promise the mob sexual freedom in exchange for power. This is the wicked cycle of our world right now.
But it is too easy for the Christian to critique this evil. It is too simple for us to find things to blame. Instead, we must act. We must put our faith into practice against the howls of the mob. Here let us examine the ways in which we can truly help the poor in the way the Church desires and the saints have taught us.
Face to Face
First, while the Marxist looks for answers on the highest level of politics, the Church puts her focus on an individual person. The Marxist wants to follow his ideology and avoid the individual person who is in need right in front of him. The saints show us the opposite approach.
The first miracle worked by the Apostles in Acts illustrates this fundamental principle of Christian almsgiving: a certain man who was lame from his mother’s womb… when he had seen Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive an alms. But Peter with John fastening his eyes upon him, said: Look upon us (Acts 3:2-4). Here the Apostles look at the beggar and speak to him as a person. This man is not simply a statistic or a formality to be completed on the way into the temple. A person lay a greater obligation on the believer, so that he cannot easily extract himself from the person’s presence. The fundamental truth about helping the poor is that it is not merely “helping the poor” but helping a person. We must not let “the poor” become itself an ideology. Every person has individual needs and circumstances which must be addressed.
Most telling of all, our Lord Himself tells us when He damns the goats He does so on the basis that as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me (Mt. 25:45). We need to extract ourselves from the Marxist sloganeering here, and truly consider the danger of our eternal damnation. When we encounter a man in need, we must follow Peter and John and all the saints, who looked at the poor man and saw Christ. St. Francis did see Christ in the poor man (Lapide, Commentary on Mt. 25:45). This fact is used by the Marxist to pursue their globalist agenda. But as early as 1926, Pius XI denounced the “purely imaginary figure of the Saint conjured up by the defenders of modern error” (Rite Expiatis, 1).
Instead, when we make contact with any person in need, we should treat them as we would anyone else. If you live in a city, you might see someone begging on a street corner. Applying this “face to face” principle, we might speak to a person who is asking for alms and truly “look at them.” This means meet them. Find out their name. What is their situation? What do they need? This act already gives them an immense gift of charity from person to person. This is the charity that is obligatory at all times and in all places, but especially for the poor man. The Marxists want to create a vast bureaucracy and by doing so they make the individual poor person into a cog in a machine. The greatest poverty is the loss of charity, and especially the pain of being left alone. The Christian must speak to a poor man like a man.
Get to Know Your Community
The conversation then turns to the subject that the beggar started with: his need. This is where we must have the prudence to understand that a poor man’s situation is bigger than one alms. He is out on the street for some reason that goes beyond simply money. From here, there are two actions of almsgiving, which are not mutually exclusive. On the one hand, you can give him your spare change and any excess wealth you have. This alms is not always required, but can sometimes be grave. On the other hand, you can identify his need and connect him with resources that are experienced with helping those in need.
This brings us to the second necessary step for helping the poor: getting to know your community. This will allow you help someone in need. If you don’t know where to start here, try this. First, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a needy person. Perhaps it is an unwed mother. Perhaps a homeless, unemployed man. Search your city for a homeless shelter. Call them and ask them: Where can I find a bed for the night or a meal? Then think about what you would need in a given situation. Where can I find housing and employment help? Where can I get a divers’ license? Where can I get help with my GED? Your nearest homeless shelter will have all the connections you need. Most major cities already have a network of Christians helping the poor with resources to get employed, get housing and provide for their families.
These connections enable you to truly provide for the poor man more than your dollar. He needs more than an alms, he needs friendship and support long term. Your Christian brethren are already doing this, you just need to become aware of their work. You can also spend time volunteering at these ministries as a means of almsgiving.
Once you have some knowledge of the existing help your community gives to the poor, you can then make sure that your parish also has the resources to help the poor. Many poor people know that they can turn to the Church, and not without reason. Your parish should have connections with all the ministries in existence in order to help each individual poor person that calls the parish office.
The best model I have seen for parish ministry to the poor is that employed by the St. Vincent de Paul society. Unfortunately the lay order, like so many other orders, has lost the spirit of its founders and succumbed to Marxist Liberation Theology. But the fundamental model developed and promoted by Bl. Frédéric Ozanam, Bl. Rosalie Rendu, and Venerable Leo Dupont continues to be the best scheme for our urbanized epoch. This ministry works like this: a group of parishioners meet weekly to address the needs of the poor. When someone in need calls the parish, this group reaches out to them and arranges a visit to their home. One or two people go to the home and meet the family. This provides the opening for a relationship of Christian friendship.
When the family is introduced and their needs identified, the friend from the parish can find and connect them with the resources necessary to succor their needs. Maybe that is the parish food pantry. Maybe that is monetary assistance. Maybe that is negotiating with a strict landlord on their behalf. The needs of an individual family can also be addressed by the group in order to decide on the allocation of time and money as each need presents itself.
Without a doubt, every parish should be known in the community for the help it gives to the poor. If someone is in need in the neighborhood, someone should be saying to them, “Call St. Michael’s Church down the street, they will help you.” We recall here the words of St. Paul when he described his and Barnabas’ meeting with Peter, James and John, about the Gospel. They settled on the preaching that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision: Only that we should be mindful of the poor: which same thing also I was careful to do (Gal. 2:9-10). The Gospel proclamation has always included help for the poor. The saving of souls has always included the saving of bodies. Why? Because, says St. Thomas, “a man in hunger is to be fed rather than instructed” (S.T. II-II q32 a5). The spiritual work of mercy is higher than the corporal, but sometimes a man’s corporal needs are so great that his poverty must be alleviated before he can hear the Gospel and be converted.
So many of the bishops have abandoned the Gospel in favor of Marxism. But they would not be so easily deceived if Christians fulfilled their duties to help the poor. In our lockdown crisis, many families have been strained with unemployment and eviction. Those who have the means should use them to the benefit of their neighbor in order to obey Christ. If we follow the saints, we can do this as an act of charity with God’s help.
Timothy S. Flanders is the author of Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and four children.