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April 30, 2014
The other poor
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

Some people write about the poor. Others speak about them.  Still others like Pope Francis have worked among the poor.  His witness of mercy and compassion speaks volumes. And the world has taken notice.
Other forms of poverty are more subtle.

Poverty of the Mind

Today, many educators worry that ‘our greatest problem is the poverty of the mind. Our whole educational system is failing in training the mind that seeks truth.  Empty minds cannot generate wisdom.  If we do not educate the mind, we perpetuate physical poverty. You cannot preach the Gospel to someone who does not believe in the capacity of the mind to know the truth,’ they say.  There is further concern that our youth lack the desire for truth and for learning that nourishes the mind; the social media has claimed their time and attention. 

Recently, in Crisis Magazine Online, Father James Schall, S.J. wrote an essay, “Why Silencing Christians Will Continue.”  In it, he notes that truth is basic to virtue.  He observes that “we no longer want to hear speech if it ‘offends’ someone’s feelings or self-defined identity. We have become infinitely tolerant of anything but truth itself.  Speech is not directed to truth or falsity of an issue but to the ‘sensitivity’ and ‘compassion’ of those who hear it.”  Without truth, there is no virtue.

Catholic education cares for the whole person.  It teaches the truth about the divine human dignity of every person in his or her relationship with God and with others.  In the process, it sparks in our youth a desire and love of learning not merely for the present but also for the rest of their lives.

Poverty of the Emotions

Americans suffer from the poverty of emotional maturity.  Too many of us live with the erroneous assumption that emotions are the best guide of human behavior. ‘Emotions can’t be controlled.’  ‘We can't be chaste.’  ‘We should admire people who simply let their hearts rule their heads.’  In 1936, Edward VIII abdicated the British throne and followed his heart to wed the divorced American Wallis Simpson who was awaiting her second divorce. The whole world watched as George VI accepted the responsibility thrust on him during World War II.  “Emotivism is caught up in its own needs; it makes good consumers,” observes Alasdair MacIntyre. Reason and faith drive emotional maturity.

Financial Support of the Church’s Apostolate

The Church needs affluent Catholics ready and willing to help in the Church’s global ministries. The Vatican, for example, relies on the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museum to help maintain the artistic treasures entrusted to the care of the Vatican. 

In 2008, an anonymous donor gave $20,000,000 to save St. Brigid’s Church in Lower Manhattan from demolition thereby allowing it to continue to serve the faithful. This happened after the parishioners lost a law suit to keep the parish open. The same donor put aside some of these funds to help the parish school and to establish an endowment for the parish.

Numerous scholarships have been set up by wealthy Catholic donors to educate students in need of financial support.  Regis Jesuit High School in Manhattan is one such school that offers scholarships to boys of exceptional intellect and character.  Of its many distinguished graduates are Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Health in Washington, DC and Jim Sciutto, a reporter for CNN and an expert in Asian affairs.  In these ways, the wealthy take up their role with the Church in performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  
The Virtuous Life

Twenty years ago, Kenneth L. Woodward wrote an essay in Newsweek, entitled “What Is Virtue?”  Throughout civilization’s long, rich history, “virtue has meant a quality of character by which individuals habitually recognize and do the right thing.”  Instead of talking about values which vary from one culture to another, “everybody would be better off talking about the virtues that a decent family tries to inculcate.” 

The skepticism engendered by the Enlightenment has reduced all ideas of right and wrong to matters of personal taste, emotional preference, or cultural choice.  Can faith have an impact on our culture when social media, especially the Internet, has manipulated the minds of youth?  The philosophers, Alasdair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum, Bernard Williams, and Charles Taylor agree that the “Enlightenment Project” as a philosophy has failed.  What they propose is the renewal of the idea of virtue—or character—as the basis for bother personal and social ethics.  We learn virtue by doing; we perfect a virtue through practice and discipline.

It is now a well-established fact that there is a movement away from the Judeo-Christian tradition, from the Catholic faith, and from religion in general. Many young people have abandoned the faith of their childhood and boast that they ‘no longer believe.’  Many claim no identity with a faith-tradition.  Woefully poor are those who have lost the ability to believe in God’s love for them and those who have also lost their belief in others. 

Are we living in the new dark ages of history? Or, do the words of Jesus still hold sway: “I am your way; I am your truth; I am your abundantly rich life?” 

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].
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