Sunday, July 17, 2005


On the Importance of Shelters and Soup Kitchen Outreaches

While the "least of my [Christ's] brethren" does not apply exclusively to those in more materially impoverished conditions, it does normally require that they receive special attention in many concrete circumstances. Recognition of this reality normally goes by the phrase "preferential option for the poor" in the parlance of Catholic social teaching.

I had made the point in a previous post that the "soup kitchen and the market are not meant to be enemies, but collaborators serving the common good". At this time I would like to elaborate on the vital role that the former plays in society. For the sake of brevity, included under the heading "soup kitchen" are shelter, jail, and other institutional outreach apostolates.

While it is true that providing the poor an oppurtunity to be self-sufficient and make their own contribution to the common good is esssential to their well-being as well as to society as a whole, they are, in many cases, in need of assistance before they are able to do so.

Of course, these needs take on several forms because poverty almost never occurs in isolation. It is almost always occurs in conjunction with behavioral (i.e. moral) degradation. Needless to say, discerning and meeting those needs pose some serious challenges. From the outset, the poor are not to be seen primarily as the "poor", as though their being poor is something ontological. They must be seen, first and foremost, as human beings created in the image and likeness of God just as much as everyone else. It is in this light that Blessed Mother Teresa called poverty and other problems as "disguises".

It goes without saying that this is much easier to understand in theory than to put into practice. The latter often requires seeing through disguises of alcoholism and drug addiction and the emotional instability and equally unstable, and even dangerous, behaviors associated with them. Furthermore, the odds of recovery are against those in the throes of drug addiction and alcoholism. Even with the "lesser" forms of poverty there is, at times, great difficulty. Many of these people have been exploited by unscrupulous businessmen, landlords, and even politicians {1} who often use the less fortunate as a means to further their careers. Or, in the case of women, being exploited by abusive men is also a serious issue.

Trying to secure the trust of people in such situations is difficult to be sure and often doing so in the face of great failure can be downright discouraging. It is, therefore, no empty accolade to say that people who have been called to such work possess great faith and are very pleasing to our Lord. They are a very special breed of people who have an ability that not many have. In addition to the challenges already discussed, those called to serve the poor in this capacity have to resist the temptation to become controlling or posessive of those they serve. In the previous post I link to above, I had pointed out that there are some of those whose "...sense of worth seems to depend upon the poor remaining such and therefore always dependent on them. " and that "[t]his is not love. It is tyranny of the worst sort." This gravely harmful to both the poor themselves and those who serve them.

In this light, it is all the more imperative that we support apostolates who have a trackrecord for being able to properly discern and serve the needs of those who need a hand-up in life. And that support can range from financial assistance, volunteering time, and prayer and moral support, or some combination of all three.

Such worthy apostolates and outreaches include (but by no means are limited to):

General Soup Kitchen and Shelter

Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal

Saint Vincent de Paul Village

Substance Abuse

Volunteers of America {2}

Prison Outreach

Kairos Ministries {3}

Battered and Homeless Women's Shelters

St. Clare's Home

Good Counsel Homes

{1} Political exploitation of the poor is a major reason why this writer opposes extensive government spending on social welfare programs. Here I am in total agreement with Catholic social teaching as expressed by Pope John Paul II of venerable memory. While recognizing that the state can " ...exercise a substitute function, when social sectors or business systems are too weak or are just getting under way, and are not equal to the task at hand." But goes on to say that "[s]uch supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons touching the common good, must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of state intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom." (Centesimus Annus #48) The same encyclical elaborates on the dangers of the so-called welfare or "social assistance" state (as the encylical calls it): "In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of state, the so-called 'Welfare State.'...By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need. "

{2} VOA is not a religious-based outreach, but it does do good work in the area of subsatnce abuse.

{3} Kairos is an ecumenically-based Christian outreach


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