I had been teaching at a local private school in Grosse Pointe, Michigan when one of the senior girls approached me. “Mr. Wittmer, can I ask you a question? How much does a gallon of milk cost?” I was a little surprised and I knew the young lady. She came from one of the wealthiest families in Grosse Pointe. “Karen” I said, “you are a senior in high school and heading for college in a few months. Have you never been in a grocery store?” “A few times,” she answered, “but our kitchen staff buys all the groceries for our home.” I told her it was about $1.99 a gallon but she might get it cheaper on sale. She thanked me and left for home.
On my way home, I got to thinking. It was not Karen’s job to know the cost of groceries but it did seem to me to indicate a certain amount of isolation from the real world. I also wondered how much of a connection gap existed today in both our government and church. There are 262 millionaires in our Congress. How can they relate to the struggles of their constituents when their wealth separates them from the day to day reality of life? America has over 46 million people on food stamps and 25 million people either out of work or struggling to survive by working minimum wage jobs. It seems to me that there is a big connection gap in our Congress.
Could the same situation exist today in the Catholic Church?
On the face of it, I would not expect the local pastor or bishop to be knowledgeable on the price of groceries in his parish but I do wonder if it does complicate his relationship to the struggling families that know exactly how much a gallon of milk costs. As our churches empty, it has never been more important for the priests and bishops to relate to their parishioners. With the cost of food and housing moving up almost on a daily basis, it is important for him to know the cost of living for his congregation. A small family of four may not have a working car or behind in their house payments.
I admire Pope Benedict for facing up to the reality of his failing health and his inability to serve his worldwide congregation. I also wondered when I saw the throngs of cardinals milling about Vatican Square if they had any idea what was happening at the street level with the Catholic congregations around the world. The economy in Europe is slowly sinking to catastrophic proportions and the United States could be on the brink of slipping into another recession. The local Catholic church on Main Street, U.S.A. is a long way from Vatican Square. Is there a connection gap between these men that earn an average $250,000 dollars annually and the struggling Catholic family in the United States earning $25,000 a year? They may be able to preach about Christ and the 5 loaves of bread and a few fish but do they know the cost of a gallon of milk?