The Fairfax Press, never exactly backward about publicising anything likely to distress or damage the Church, headlined a recent story: “Catholic day a ‘scandal’.”
This stated: “A Catholic priest has said the money being spent on World Youth Day is an embarrassment and a scandal.
“‘There is a great dissatisfaction with the Restorationist spirituality, which is also devoid of any commitment to social justice,’ Father Confeggi said.
“Father Confeggi said his parish was one of the most disadvantaged in Sydney. He said the Church and State funds could be directed elsewhere, including to the 120,000 people sleeping homeless in Australia or education of the disadvantaged.
“Father Confeggi said it was an ‘utter scandal’ that a chalice, Communion plate and vessel to hold Communion hosts – adorned by Argyle diamonds and being made for a rumoured six-figure sum – would be given to the Pope.
“Yesterday Bishop Kevin Manning, the Bishop of Parramatta and member of the local organising committee for the event, defended it, saying it was ‘an investment in the future of the Church and society. ‘World Youth Day is about renewing the faith and ideals of young people so that they, too, will work for social justice and charity and will carry forward the works of the Church in these areas’,’ Bishop Manning said.
“‘The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education, health care and welfare services for the disadvantaged in Australia and the world and we want to ensure that such works continue and are strengthened in the future.’
“He said World Youth Day would ‘renew Australia’s commitment to a fair go, produce a new generation of leaders committed to justice and charity, and also guarantee that the significant contribution the Church makes to the care of the most disadvantaged continues’.”
Now, it isn’t for me to tell the Church its business, but – and setting aside my deep dislike of the phrase “social justice,” which I believe is meaningless (what’s wrong with plain “justice’?) – didn’t this problem specifically arise in Scripture?
And wasn’t it very specifically answered?
I hope Catholic readers will forgive me that I have only the King James Bible to hand, but there St John 12, says as follows:
“Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
“Then said one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, ‘Why was not this ointment sold for three hundreds pence, and given to the poor?’
“Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she done this.
“For the poor ye always have with you: but me ye have not always.”
The point today, I humbly suggest, is this: The Church is one of the greatest providers of charity in the world.
For much of human history it was by far the greatest, and indeed the only significant, such provider.
But it must be careful not to be nothing but a charitable organisation.
Had the Church existed simply for giving money to the poor there would have been no cathedrals, no monasteries (which would mean no Western civilisation), no Church patronage and protection of the early universities, and in the long-run, no spiritual or material improvement in the world beyond the low ceiling which had existed universally in pre-Christian times.
The Church has no reason to be ashamed of its record as a provider of charity, but it has other dimensions as well, and as Bishop Manning has suggested it looks not only to charity but also to some more permanent remedies to the human condition.