St. James (2:14-26) make it very clear when he states that without works, faith is meaningless. But this is an exhortation to the doer of the works. It is not a plea to the able-bodied ‘do-ees’ to succumb to that of dependency to maximize the opportunities proffered by the doers of charitable works. In verse 14, it is forcefully declared:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
St. Paul had harsh words for brothers that did nothing (Paul 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians Ch 3, verses 6-18). Jesus Christ’s owns words in the parable of the talents (Matthew Ch 25, verses 14-30) were even harsher for the person who buried his one talent. They were referring to the ‘do-ees’ and not the ‘doers’. One of the more memorable good works in scripture, right up with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke Ch 10, verses 29-37), is the poor widow’s contribution, obviously on the margin of existence, nonetheless giving her meager mite for others (Mark Ch 12, verses 41-44).
…If you are not willing to work, you don’t eat
“In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” (Paul 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians Ch 3, Verse 10)
After discovering the one servant simply buried his talent…
“Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’” (Matthew Ch 25, Verses 27-30)
…Jesus using the Good Samaritan parable to illustrate how we are tasked by God to help our fellow man.
“Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”” (Luke Ch 10, Verses 36-37)
“A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”” (Mark Ch 12, Verse 42-44)
There is much confusion in the minds of sincere Catholics seeking social justice. In this current time of economic distress as the U.S economy wallows in economic misery, there are many who want to help themselves but find gainful occupations difficult to come by. Their enforced dependency, a result of ill-conceived economic policies, is understandable. Those afflicted with substantial illnesses or mental and physical handicaps have no choice in regard to dependency. They are not the persons upon which this article seeks to focus.
Having been and still being a college professor (Economics and Finance) for over a half of a century, I have quite a few successful former students as well as many who have fallen into dire distress at times. In my meanderings through life, I meet many people from all walks of life. One such serendipitous meeting was with a person that works for the government in the area of adjudicating safety net claims for benefits. That person mentioned that to their amazement, the zeal and effort of many to obtain, maintain or appeal the denial of these safety net claims required far greater sustained effort in respect to these claims than if the individuals sought gainful means of supporting themselves. This is the dangerous downside of dependency on government’s ‘good works’.
I have heard some seemingly sincere Catholics, some even at the highest political and economic levels, accept abortion when the impoverished are involved. I do not know if the widow of ‘widow’s mite’ fame bore any children. I do know of many current day widows who have borne children. Their widow’s mites require just as much sacrifice today as in scriptural times. My mother was one such widow. My father died when I was eleven years of age. She had ten children and took in two orphans when they left the orphanage and she mothered them until they married. She was generous to everyone. She gave away many a mighty widow’s mite.
Since government has increasingly insisted on taking over the doing of ‘good works’, we must ask if the exhortations of St. James and others including St. Paul and even Jesus Christ Himself, that fill the Sacred Scriptures, are any the less valid in this ‘brave new world’ of increasing government dicta. Must we render unto Caesar taxes that fund not only heinous acts such as abortion, but those that encourage dependency on government ‘good works’ – at worst requiring no self-dependency whatsoever, or at best, a means test? Must I as an employer accept as my Christian duty, agreeing to health care for my employees including financing contraceptives which are usually aborticides or even outright abortions including chopping into pieces, babies as they emerge from their mother’s wombs (the womb being a de facto pre-birth tomb)? The U.S. is beginning to look a lot like pagan Rome going into decline.
What about the principle of subsidiarity? Does government forcing out private and religious groups from the orphanage placement process and forcing men and women of good conscience out of an entrepreneurial business because of government mandates so that the rendering to Caesar is now going against the will of God.?
Regarding subsidiarity, Pope Pius XI powerfully wrote:
“Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.” (Pope Pius XI, May 15, 1931 – Quadragesimo Anno, 79)
The clock is ticking and the fuse is lit.
Ignorance may be bliss, but its result can be devastating including the loss of political and religious freedoms. Remember the lessons of history from the recent Second World War era such as National Socialism, Fascism, and Communism. They portrayed themselves as the doers of good works.
Beware of false idols.