The Readings for the Feast of the Visitation:
I’m going to pick this up where I left off last year.
So much of San Francisco is “casting the lowly further down and lifting up the rich”. San Francisco is rather like the nation at large: we have a wealthy nation that can’t share. We can’t share with our own poor, nor with the poor outside our lands. And none of us has enough.
So what’s the Church to do? How can we lead by example? To be certain we don’t always do that. Sometimes we’re happy to talk about the unborn, but the unhoused (or the unnationed) escape our attention.
America lives in a zero-sum game. There have to be winners and losers. Christians have known this all along, Mary says there are lowly to be lifted up and rich to be cast down. That’s a sign that winning and losing is, somehow, part of the makeup of things.
Yet the Church decided in the earliest moments that while there was nothing wrong with having things, the only reason we have them is to share with the poor. Nowadays when we might wear three different outfits in one day, we find it appalling to imagine the spiritual benefits of only own two: one for formal, and one for work. When it’s easy to graze all day on any food or beverage we might feel like, we cannot imagine the idea of going hungry so that others might eat.
The early Church shared all things not because it was better to share but because God had clearly provided for the needs of the entire community if the entire community came together. The rich shared not their excess, but their all with the poor – who likewise share their all with the rich. Everyone shares and then everyone has enough. This became the Christian ideal and the Monastic ideal as well as the lay ideal right up until the modern era. If you don’t believe me: feudalism, at its best, was just a differently ordered version of this. The rich shared their land, the poor shared their labor. The rich didn’t get paid for their land in the way we image “rent” today. They had their duties as did the poor.
It’s for me to do with less if that lets you have enough.
The stories of the Christian past are filled with examples of charitable hospitality, shared with the poor and the needy with as much honor as would have been lavished on the rich. I watched a young man from church buy a meal for a homeless man in the Subway the other day and then hug him. The young man went and bought his own meal at the counter, and then gave that meal to the homeless man as well. It was the hug that got me though: the physical contact. I’m not just tossing away charity, I’m sharing something with someone I can hug, a real person – not a cardboard cutout of charity, but wealth lavished on a hand-painted and gold-bedecked icon of Christ.
I know I can’t live in this city safely even on my own wages. Paycheck to paycheck I’m kept in my apartment for fear of being unhoused. But what if there were a way for 3 or 4 folks with my salary could live together, maybe renting an apartment with an extra bedroom, from whence some homeless person could also be housed…