The handcart chronicles

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, in his Erasmus Lecture for 2014:

“If we ignore the poor, we will go to Hell. If we blind ourselves to their suffering, we will go to Hell. If we do nothing to ease their burdens; then we will go to Hell. Ignoring the needs of the poor among us is the surest way to dig a chasm of heartlessness between ourselves and God, and ourselves and our neighbours.”

This is so true that, it would seem, the opposite is also true. This is Christ’s dismissive reply to some liberal posturing from Judas, when He said, “the poor you will always have with you, but me you will not always have.” I quoted this recently, to the end of suggesting that if we ignore God, we will go to Hell.

The Nanny State, in which we willingly participate, provides us with a wonderful opportunity to ignore the poor, in our spare time while we are ignoring God. It allows every enfranchised taxpaying citizen to declare glibly, “I gave at the office.” Meanwhile, the bureaucracy itself ignores the poor, reducing them to an economic transaction, within an administrative routine, whose heartlessness must be experienced, to be believed.

That word, “heartless,” is underused today. It raises the stakes on our idea of “feelings.” We have too many feelings, most of them fake. The genuine ones tend to be quite selfish. We “hurt” easily, we indulge, easily. Empathy and compassion are reduced to “feelings,” and our “concern” is to make the rich pay. The actual poor are subject to our feelings of irritation. When cornered, rhetorically, we may write a cheque, but it becomes a kind of blood money. Living as I do in Parkdale, I am conscious of the ignorance of one street for another, one house for another, one apartment to the apartment next door. I can understand it. I don’t want to know these people, either.

So that my heart breaks — I am “genuinely impressed” — when I see examples of personal outreach to the neighbours. Most often I see this in the form of one rather desperately poor person, spontaneously helping another. Such as offering him a cigarette. (The smuglies in government have made cigarettes expensive.) Such as “being there” when a man is fallen, and not just calling nine-one-one. Such as taking care of the crazies, hands on. Such as — and this is the most impressive thing I’ve seen — teaching a hopeless wretch the use of a rosary. Because that can change everything.

It is no accident that the best work around here comes out of churches (and of course, not just the Catholic ones). That is where God is most likely to put ideas into people’s heads. It is a little known fact that helping the poor requires imagination; and that the average person needs divine help to acquire any.

“Someone will take care of it.” This, in my experience, is the true basic attitude of the citizen today. And that someone will have to be well paid. And if he is not, no one will take care of it. We are, if I may speculate, all going to Hell.