With great chagrin, I apologize to two very close friends, Tom McKenna and Pat Griffin. I was utterly dumbfounded when a third good friend, Ross Dizon, drew my attention to a major error. The “timely reflection:” referred to below was actually written by Fr. Tom McKenna. I literally copied it from his original post! How I made the mistake is a mystery to me. Here is the corrected version.
[This timely reflection of Fr.Tom McKenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission first appeared on FamVin]
If you’re looking for a topical subject in the Scriptures, you wouldn’t have to go much further than the one Paul brings up in a request to the Corinthians. He’s asking them to help their poorer Church members in another part of the empire. What’s so topical is not the fact of his request for money, but rather the line of reasoning he uses as the motive for donating. And it is this: that before God all of us are equal, and that equality applies across the board not just to spiritual things and matters of worship but extends out to what we possess. In his words, “As a matter of equality, the abundance of goods you now possess should supply for the needs they have.” Those who possess much have an obligation in Christ to share with those who have little.
He’s putting his finger squarely on the today’s hot-button issue of wealth inequality in society, the ever-increasing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Rather than moving in the direction of more equal distribution of this world’s goods, the forces at work are increasingly tipping things toward the very opposite. And so for instance, the top 5 percent of earners now take home more than half of all US income, and this is at a record high. An American CEO now makes over three hundred percent more than the average worker, also setting a record. It’s an issue more and more people are pointing to as a potential boiling point in Western society. And it’s a situation that many more believers than Paul would want to address head on, St. Vincent and Pope Francis very much included.
There’s no denying that the issue is complex and that simple solutions are very elusive. But neither is there no denying that the Gospel and the whole Vincentian tradition are calling us to come up with ways to address it. In the Pope’s words, “The abundance of goods some have should move toward redressing the imbalances between their prosperity and those who don’t have.”
For one, the generosity of the whole Vincentian Family has been a constant response to this principle Paul sets out – sharing out of our abundance and even at times from our want. But because the issue twists with such complexity through all sectors of our society, it moves beyond local charity into the much more intricate realm of how world whole systems collude to bring this about. Isn’t that exactly what the systemic change approach fostered in our works brings to the table?
While concrete strategies can’t be laid out in a short piece like this, what can be raised is the faith mindset. And by that I mean the mind to step out and do things that shrink the inequality gap – but to do these actions with the faith and confidence that the Lord meets us in them and will sustain and empower our initiatives.
This is the mindset that we meet in that suffering woman in Mark’s gospel who came up to Jesus in the crowd. There were others milling around who had needs and were curious about this arresting preacher — but it was she who acted. She took a concrete step (touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak) but did it with the faith and trust that he would and could respond to her.
And that’s the mindset — the one that says I can’t sit back but must do something, do it believing that the Spirit of the Lord Jesus will be present guiding that action to bring about that more balanced system where more of God’s people will be treated with equality. That’s the pattern. Reaching out like the hemorrhaging woman in some action or other, but doing so with the faith and dependence that there will be more in that action than we put into it, ‘the more’ being God’s own Spirit.
Isn’t Vincent’s mindset so in accord with Paul’s when he asks the Corinthians to share with the needy from their abundance. Both Paul and Vincent take concrete steps to see that wealth is more evenly distributed among the believers. But as with the woman in Mark, they do so grounded in their underlying conviction that this is the way in the Kingdom of God and that the Lord’s Spirit will accompany them all along that way.