Thursday, 29 April 2010

The Colour Purple

G.K. Chesterton once joked that "the business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."  When one sees billboards around the country proclaiming "Vote for change: vote Conservative", one knows that the old Right is dead and buried. Conservatism ought to mean something like keeping things the same, but now there is nothing much left anyone wants to keep. It has all been broken and messed around, and all that is left to do is change it further. That, at least, is how many in England feel when they contemplate the schools, the NHS, the army, the Church of England, and Parliament. Everyone wants change, and the only question is what sort of change and who will deliver it.

The most radical kind of change we might hope for is one that cuts deeper than both Right and Left. There is an important strand of modern thought that identifies both our main political movements as manifestations of the same phenomenon - "Liberalism". This is a

Monday, 19 April 2010

Dorothy Day in Houston

I was recently lucky enough to spend a few hours with Mark and Louise Zwick, who run the Catholic Worker house inspired by Dorothy Day in Houston. Casa Juan Diego is a remarkable operation, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in December. Serving many of the poorest and most needy in the Houston area, especially immigrants, Mark and Louise have ten houses in all, housing forty men and several dozen women and their children, many of them ill or severely abused when they arrive. They offer not only shelter and food but medical and dental attention in clinics staffed by volunteer medics. Approximately 800 families are served with take-home food, and along with a wider community all are helped to negotiate the intricacies of state and government programs that the Zwicks know inside out. This is Catholic social teaching in practice.

It started back in 1980 when the Zwicks, coming back from an inspiring few years in El Salvador determined to become saints, spent a couple of hundred dollars buying and converting a house that soon burned down. Undaunted they continued to acquire cheap property and open their doors to those in need. Volunteers came forward to help, and somehow they always had just enough money to keep going. They do not go out asking for money (they’re much too busy, and perhaps a bit too shy), but the Casa does have non-profit status, and I can assure you that any donations would be put to excellent use. Visit their website to find out more about them and to explore their resources on Catholic social teaching. 

Sunday, 4 April 2010


Surely for all people of goodwill, and for Christians especially, the growing gap between the rich and the poor is a scandal that screams out for justice.  We are presented, as Benedict XVI has said in Caritas in Veritate, “with choices that cannot be postponed concerning nothing less than the destiny of man” (n. 21). The gap between the rich and poor is not an act of nature, like the weather, something we can complain about, but cannot effectively change.  Our DNA does not include a rich or poor gene.  Wealth and poverty are created by human actions and structures; they reflect the choices we make, as individuals and collectively as citizens, and the choices made by those who came before us, the results of which we simply inherit.

However, it is not merely “the cries of the poor” that call out for God’s justice.  Equally troublesome is the excesses of consumerism and the “overabundance” of the affluent; the modern-day idolatry that drives markets and motivates individuals and businesses, blinding them to the suffering of the poor and to their own spiritual suffering.  Consumerism is a futile attempt to fill our natural longing for the infinite with an infinite amount of what is finite.  We substitute fast cars, expensive clothing and large houses for a deep relationship with God.  As physical beings we have natural needs which are satisfied by natural things: thirst (water); hunger (food); protection from the elements (shelter).  All of these needs are easily satiated.  What we perceive as a longing for more things, more money, more of everything, is really our longing for God displaced onto the material world.  

[Based on an extract from the booklet Rich and Poor, by Charles Clark and Sr Helen Alford, the latest in the Catholic Social Teaching series from CTS.]