Charity and Government

Congress is considering significant cuts in the food stamp
program.  Our bishops and many Catholic social service organizations,
including Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul are urging
Congress to leave the program intact.  Although I understand the
reasoning for the need for food stamps, my conservative political view
balks at the basic tenants of the program and my Christian world view
balks at designating the government as the primary provider for the

It is my impression that the food stamp program is
bureaucratic, expensive, devoid of human dignity and riddled with
fraud.  Having spent most of my professional life in the non-profit
world, I find it difficult to support this enormous program when those
federal dollars could be much more effectively by local hunger groups
who would deliver food in a caring, human environment.  Many of these
groups are secular, but many are faith based.

The monthly food card provides temporary nourishment
for the body.  Food received from a food bank also provides
nourishment and the human touch.  As an example, Meals on Wheels
provides that temporary nourishment along with human contact.  For
many seniors, the highlight of their day is the person who brings the

And then there are the faith based organizations that
provide food, clothing and shelter, accompanied by the loving and
saving words of Jesus.  Catholic Charities in DC now has a program
called “A Cup of Joe” that provides breakfast in DC and it is served
by volunteers who can look the recipients in the eye and greet them as
a son or daughter of God.

What is lacking in these options is the individual who
reaches out and does the corporeal works of mercy in his or her
neighborhood or community. As a society, even Christians have become
so used to giving money to organizations, or depending on government
to provide for the poor that we are no longer directly involved in the
corporal works of mercy.

In the Psalms, there are numerous references to
“stretching out our hands” to God. Recently the daily Gospel reading
was from Luke 6:6-11.  In it Jesus cures a man by asking him to
“stretch out your hand”.  Saint Ambrose in his Commentary on Luke
writes: “Stretch out your hand often by doing favours for your
neighbor, by protecting from harm one who suffers under the weight of
calumny; stretch out your hand to the poor man who begs from you;
stretch out your hand to the Lord, asking for pardon for your sins.
This is how you stretch out your hand, and this is how you will be

How often do I stretch out my hands?  If more people
stretched out there hands to the local poor, how much better would our
communities thrive? How will God look upon my activity, or lack of it,
with the poor on judgment day?

ms. Mary Ellen Barringer,O.P.
Immaculate Conception Chapter


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