IN the next session of the Council, the Fathers will face the most revolutionary question of our time: what do we mean by poverty, and especially the poverty of the Church? is the spirit of detachment enough; or must the Church and the faithful frankly despoil themselves in the service of the poor, and for poverty's own sake?
An appeal to ditch our riches— he they money, culture or power—will be met with a cry of "prudence. prudence", which, as St. Thomas tells us, is the art of success. Yet the Council Fathers testify that the Church is heaving with an irresistible movement towards renewal under the sign of poverty,.for only thus can the poor be served and evangelised.
The plain fact is that the world's poorest areas are the most pagan, and the poorest parts of the Christian world the worst evangelised. The whole world lives in a state of injustice, and is indeed a massive machine for producing supplies of "the poor".
Nations crying for peace spend 100,000 million dollars a year on arms, while 2,000 million people taste hunger. The Church too often appears as a stranger to the poor, if not their adversary. This image is steadily being reversed, but the process has a long way still to go.
Where does the Church really stand? The rich young man was told to give all he had to the poor. The chances of salvation for the rich were reduced to the width of the needle's eye. Yet the Lord put down the mighty and exalted the humble, filled the hungry with good things, and promised that the meek should inherit the earth. There are problems of interpretation here that the Council will have to tackle, But Council Fathers feel a growing sense that, in the Church and the world at large. evangelical poverty is not satisfied by almsgiving and spiritual detachment, but calls for something more—some actual spoliation or deprivation, individual and collective, a radical change of economic structure as well as of mentality and behaviour. It is here again that we need a new theology, a spirituality of economic development.
We know the revolutions of 1789 and 1917 better than we know the revolution of the Gospel. We shrink from the truth that the early Christians, so visibly one with the poor Christ, moved men with their loving indigence. What place is there here for the Noble Guard, the silk and silver, the richly adorned monastic house so recently rebuked by Pope Paul? Yet St. Louis was a wealthy king, and Pope John lived at the Vatican!
It would he folly indeed to tell the Church to dynamite her cultural, educational and charitable institutions, her material means of missionary enterprise. Yet, in her very presettee, she has to ensure that the dignity of the son of man is not divorced from that of the son of God; that economic development is the right of every man and of the whole man, opening up his spirit, his affections, his culture, his liberty and destiny—now as well as hereafter.
Building the earthly city must contribute to the growth of the Kingdom of God. Private virtue in business is not enough. There has to be a communal conscience and effort, lest the pursuit of global wealth subjects the poor to the dominion of money. The aim must he a fraternal society, involving a certain kind o( poverty and service of the poor, both personal and institutional.
Mere efficiency will not do. The institution must he animated by the love and humility of Christ. The individual must he ready to despoil himself at least to the point where all men can participate, to some degree, in the riches of money, culture and power. Paramount to the rights of private property is the right of all men to share in the fruits of the earth. From the material base of our existence, economic development must construct a growing solidarity of the human race in the process of production. Possession without love is a nullity.
Meanwhile, we have to love the poor, he jealous of their treasure. The Church must he present among them, teaching them self-help and a universal outlook binding rich and poor under one yoke to serve humanity. She must renounce all traces of triumphalism, that identities her with a civil power or a social category. We are only starting to ask the questions this poses. We wait, with quivering expectancy, for the next move in St. Peter's.