August 20, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Bernard, abbot and doctor of the Church

Today's Readings

Today we hear the end of the fairy tale, the Cinderella story. Ruth marries her prince and lives happily ever after. Let us go back though to before she marries Boaz, when she is gleaning the fields. The law of God given to Moses said that when harvest time came, some of the harvest must be left for the poor. Even though you planted the field and cared for it all summer long, you are not allowed to harvest all of it. What is left behind is for the poor, particularly the widows, orphans, and immigrants.

This portion was not left behind as a gift because of the generosity of the landowner. It is an obligation. The gleanings of the field are evidence that even though they worked hard to grow the crops, the land, the rain, the seeds, and the sun are gifts from God to all mankind. What we possess is not ours to do with as we wish; it has been given to us as stewards. As John the Baptist said, “If you have two coats, you have someone else’s coat.” What we own is for us to use, first for our own families, then for anyone who needs it. Before anyone can have a surplus, everyone must have what they need.

This is not to take a particular side in any political debate. The Magisterium of the Church does not have the answers to political questions, but it does teach the answers to moral questions. The political questions can be settled in any moral way. So the question for any Christian is, “How are we going to provide for the poor, especially for widows, orphans, and immigrants?” Some may believe that it ought to be done by the federal government, others by the states, others by non-profit organizations. These are all acceptable, so long as it never questioned that we have an obligation to provide for people in need with our surplus.

It is unacceptable, however, to place the rights of the rich above the rights of the poor, to glorify the rich and despise the poor. People are not smart and hardworking because they are rich, and people are not lazy and unimportant because they are poor. All people, rich or poor, immigrants or natives, are first of all people. All people, from the moment of their conception, inherit this earth together. The earth does not belong more to a billionaire than to an immigrant who owns nothing.