Gaudium et Spes 27

The question was asked in a comment box about our duty to a neighbor who is able to work, but refuses. Such a thing might be offensive to a sense of fairness, but there are two problems with the example.

First, knowing that the person is indeed unwilling to work implies a relationship with knowledge. It is not something one can presume to judge from distant observation. And second, the act of charity is not wholly about the rendering of service to another in need. It is also about the journey to holiness of the giver.

Gaudium et Spes 27 teaches with the caution of hellfire and eternal suffering to back it up:

Coming down to practical and particularly urgent consequences, this council lays stress on reverence for (humankind); everyone must consider (their) every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all (their) life and the means necessary to living it with dignity,(cf. Jas. 2, 15-16) so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.(cf. Luke 16:18-31)

The present day is seen as a “special” circumstance where justice and charity are concerned. Over and over, the Vatican II documents discuss technological advances, communications breakthroughs, the political interconnectedness of nations, the threat of war and destruction. These circumstances merit a fresh look at the responsibilities and duties of the believer:

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping (them) when (they come) across our path, whether he (or she) be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he (or she) did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my (brothers and sisters), you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40).

Jesus is no less direct and forthright in Matthew 25 than he is in John 6. And just as the Real Presence of Christ is nourishment and inspiration to believers, so too is the encounter with Christ in the poor intended for our benefit as well. Part of the benefit is the notion that the uplifting of the poor and needy portion of the human race uplifts us all. And part is that we who lack few material things are in a position to relieve suffering. Or is our response that of Peter: denial followed by flight?

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where (people) are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

I think a Catholic can make a valid prudential choice to avoid voting for a politician who supports abortion. But I think those who do will be hard-pressed not to make a similar assessment of politicians who support torment, coercion, insult, and arbitrary imprisonment.

The world today, more than ever, is in need of fearless and honorable leaders who will take the right stand and apply it though it would seem to weaken them.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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