Today, in the West, there is a tendency among Catholics to partition evangelization and charity into two separate compartments. If evangelization is seen exclusively as something that serves spiritual needs, then such a mission can easily be relegated to the middle and upper classes. From my personal observation and experience, Catholic evangelists- by and large –are apt to avoid the lower class-minority demographic; not because of any racist tendencies, but rather because they simply can’t identify with that subculture. This may explain why many African-Americans refer to Catholicism as a “white man’s” religion.
Since the upper and middle classes are materially provided for, it is natural that the spiritual dimension be the chief concern among Catholic evangelists. As result, doctrinal orthodoxy and moral purity becomes a high priority, as it should. But when the spiritual component of evangelization is disengaged from serving the poor, then a void is created. In the absence of Christ-centered personnel, charity-based initiatives and social services tend to take on a humanistic character. No longer seen as a single reality, evangelization and social services not only pursue different ends, but they are often inspired by different ideals. As such, those who honorably care for the poor do so without the sound moral and spiritual principles that evangelization requires for its mission. In many cases, what was once founded as a religious enterprise for serving the poor ends up becoming a secularized philanthropy.
If America is going to benefit from what Catholicism has to offer then evangelization and charity- both native to the Catholic Faith –will have to exist side by side, as one ministry, for the common good of this nation. Catholicism will never compete with political demagogues and advocates of big government if minorities and the lower class are untouched by Catholic evangelization and charity. Quite often, the ministry of caring for the body (i.e., soup kitchens etc.) leads to unfamiliar subcultures where the Gospel can be preached. Understandably, many Christians from the middle and upper classes are simply uncomfortable with this. So, they focus their energy on "spiritual poverty." The nice thing about "spiritual poverty" is that it is everywhere; including in our own parishes. As such, there is no need to venture to the other side of town; the part of town where lifestyles are markedly different from our own.
To put it another way, the convenient thing about attending to the needs of the soul- as opposed to the needs of the body and the soul -is that you never have to leave the parish basement; our comfort zone is secured. However, there is a price to pay. The false promises politicians hold out to the lower classes and minorities eventually acquires credibility and strength in our absence. And to be sure, proponents of big government will continue to have a monopoly on the underprivileged as long as Christians relegate their ministries within their own familiar environments.
Concluding thoughts on the next blog.