Monday, June 12, 2017

Personal Sacrifice vs Government Dole

In the Preamble to the Constitution the Founding Fathers listed the general purposes for which the government of the United States was founded, namely “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

It is highly unlikely that any of those founders would have expected the government of the United States to grow to its present size and to assume control and responsibility over as many issues and elements of public life as it has.

Periodically the citizens of the United States debate whether the government has taken on responsibilities that are beyond the promotion of the General Welfare.

During the time between the publication of this “Frame of Government”  in 1787 and its ratification by eleven states in 1788, there were public and private debates about its various proposals and the ramifications of accepting them.

For example, Robert Yates, aka “Brutus,” an author of anti-Federalist writings, questioned the government’s power to lay and collect taxes…to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. (article 1, section 8).

“Brutus” asked what is implied in this authority and where are the limits on this power. He did not question what is included in “general welfare,” but we can safely presume  that  today  this expression includes a great deal more than he would have imagined in 1787.

Many citizens see the widening of “general welfare” to be a necessary development of the government’s  responsibility. New times, they say, call for new measures.

The founders of the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, often spoke of the need for a personalism which recognizes the sacredness of every human being.  No one can be discounted since all are made in the image of God.

Although there are several descriptions and definitions applied to the term “personalism,” for Maurin and Day it was radical, active application of love to all people, all creation.

Maurin saw the danger for a citizenry to rely solely upon the government to meet the needs of its people. Many Americans know first-hand the delays, waste, and failed opportunities resulting from governmental red-tape and mismanagement.

Without denying the need for government’s intervention in providing assistance in some cases of poverty (destitution), health, and child-care, Maurin was concerned that people in general, and Christians in particular, have lost the Gospel’s mandate to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, provide shelter for the homeless.

Maurin’s philosophy on this matter appeared in one of  his so-called “Easy Essays” in an early issue of  The Catholic Worker newspaper:

In the first centuries
of  Christianity
the hungry were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at  personal sacrifice.
And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
“See how they love each other.”
In our own day
the poor are no longer
fed, clothed, and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice
but at the expense
of  the taxpayers.
And because the poor
are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
the pagans say about the Christians
“See how they pass the buck.”

Has the Church turned over to secular authorities one of its primary responsibilities? Without denying the value of many Church-related organizations serving the poor, the issue can still be raised on a personalist level to all Christians facing judgment day: “When I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat; when I was thirsty, you gave me nothing…”

Defending our inaction by pointing to the government dole may be  a rather flimsy excuse.

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