Showing posts with label poor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poor. Show all posts

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Eucharist and Poverty

Spend enough time with Catholics from a broad enough background, and the issue of taking Holy Communion will pop up. Sometimes these discussions are very fierce. Broadly speaking, and I note that there is much more complexity and depth to what I write here, those who favour receiving our Lord on the tongue claim to do so in the name of reverence, and those who argue for receiving him in the hands do so in the name of freedom. There are lots of interesting commentaries on this issue, so I need not go into them.[1]

Historically speaking, faithful Christians have received on the tongue and in the hands. When receiving on the hands it was, traditionally, in a manner distinct to how it is received nowadays, but customs change, so this is not a necessary sign of invalidity. When receiving on the tongue, it was pretty much the same as these days, but again, not a necessary indicator that such a style must be normative.

The Eucharist makes the Church. The unity and essence of the Church is in Christ, and her participation in Christ is made possible first by Baptism, and then is nourished and renewed by the Eucharist – hence St Paul writes to the Corinthians: “The bread which we break, is it not participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread.” Christ, who is the bread of life, becomes the basis for the Body of Christ, the Church.

Continually nourished by the bread of life, the Church exists for her mission, on which Pope Paul VI states: the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.” Evangelism is the proclamation of the good news. Were the Church to leave the good news (or gospel), she would leave her essence, and were the Church to keep silent the good news, then St Paul declares woe.

Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah to similar effect when he explains his own ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” This good news is universal in scope, it affects everyone in the world – but in Jesus’ typical style, he is first and foremost concerned with those in need. So are we. Right after declaring that the Eucharist makes the Church (CCC 1396), the very next paragraph of the Catechism opens “The Eucharist commits us to the poor.”

What does poverty have to do with how we receive the Eucharist? A lot, actually. The poor are not a group alien to us, indeed, we are the poor: perhaps not in terms of bank accounts, but in terms of how we relate to God, we are poor. There is no way around it – God has given us everything we have, even our very existence is a free gift. When we receive the Eucharist, when we receive Jesus Christ – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – we receive the greatest treasure the Church has, or according to St Thomas Aquinas, the only treasure the Church has.

Cardinal Bergoglio handing out the Eucharist reminiscent
of how one hands out food to people in need.
Therefore, when we receive the Eucharist we must receive it in such a way that recognizes our poverty. This does not actually shed much light on how to receive Holy Communion, or perhaps it seems to indicate that in the hands is the right way to receive, for when does one actually feed a poor person by putting the food in their mouth? No, usually food is passed to them whilst they are standing, and in their hands.

We should receive the Eucharist in such a way expresses our spirit of poverty and both ways are appropriate within the poverty motif, as well as permissible by Church practice.[2] Jesus says something very important, however, when he talks about people coming to him: Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.

Children are one of the neediest groups of all: they are not fully formed, they are not well educated, they lack means and the maturity. Even more than a spirit of poverty, of which Jesus already said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the kingdom of God,” we are told that also to the children does the kingdom belong to.

Is not the Eucharist more
nourishing than vitamin A?
It seems quite clear to me, when combining both lines of reasoning, how to partake of the Eucharist: I must receive this most Holy Sacrament as a child, as a poor child, as a child who cannot help themselves: on the floor and straight into the mouth. To do otherwise would be to make the appearance of having grown up and becoming self-sufficient – I can scarcely imagine a time in which a creature could say to God “cheers, mate, and thanks for all the fish.”

I suspect this issue is like vocation: one has a thousand reasons for why one pursues one course and not another, and hence can often lack any comprehension of why another would do differently. How to partake of Holy Communion is something the Church currently leaves up to individual preference – both ways are lawful, as they say, but perhaps not both ways are beneficial.

[1] For those interested, however, Danielle Bean commented in 2010 about the awkwardness involved in receiving on the tongue with Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (see, Paul Kokoski wrote an essay for the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, in which he discusses the claims of the Archbishop of Karaganda (Kazakhstan), Athanasius Schneider, (see and I found the foray into history of I. Shawn McElhinney fascinating (which can be found here:

[2] Something being permitted is different to something being encouraged, I should note.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Though I Walk Through (Fortitude) Valley, I Will Fear No Beggar

Written for Social Justice Sunday, 29th of September, 2013 AD.[1]

I get off at the Valley railway station.

[i]It is a Thursday in the evening, as I walk through Brunswick Street to do some errands. People hailing from all parts of the world, particularly the neighbouring East Asian countries, bustle in the walkway going about their daily lives. The night brings people dressed in more expensive clothes, ready to partake in the Valley's night life. Some are wearing more formal dresses and suits, others seem to be going for sexual appeal - all seem to be getting ready for the entertainment the Valley brings.

Except not quite all. Looking a little more carefully at the people not rushing to get somewhere or huddling in large groups, some people are wearing rather inexpensive clothes indeed, perhaps sufficient for warmth in the upcoming months of Australian spring and summer, but barely enough to survive the ending winter. They seem to live on the streets, making surviving off the waste and generosity of others. Or perhaps they do have some accommodation – still, they barely scrape by the day.

One such person walks up to me now, a lady probably in her early-thirties, but looking closer to fifty years old. Her body looks fatigued, but her eyes dart rapidly around, as if she were paranoid about being attacked by someone behind me. We lock eyes and she, after looking at my chest for a split-second, approaches me with a little more energy.

“Spare a few bucks, mate?”

I stopped.


Someone like me gets asked that sort of question around Brisbane daily and probably every other second somewhere in the world. I suspect that anyone reading this has been asked on the street for money – not just by someone busking, but by someone in financial woes.

When I talk to people about the issue of giving money to beggars, or giving alms in language that is more common in the Bible, what the saying that usually pops up is “give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” That sort of logic seems to me to be correct: giving in a way that produces sustainability is better than giving in such a way that produces dependence.

When Caritas International says something to the same effect, I nod my head. Browsing the financial statement for Caritas Australia, I can see that every cent in produces a cent out in targeted and wise relief and humanitarian aid.[2] However, when I talk to the average person about giving to persons such as the lady that approached me on that Thursday evening, I am more than often talking to someone who justifies not giving fish by fooling themselves that they will teach them how to fish.

The brilliance of using that line is obvious upon a little reflection: one is able to justify to oneself one’s lack of kindness by pretending that one is being truly kind. After all, those darting eyes probably came from spending the last merciful soul’s money on drugs, right? One can rationalize the competing desires to give alms because it seems right, and keeping the money because we like money, by making out that keeping one’s money is actually right! With all one’s generosity, one can now abundantly not give.

The utilitarians can stop reading now. Considering only the outcomes of the action, and given that utilitarians are practically obliged to give away the money anyway, their not-giving is more like the targeted giving of Caritas.[3] Though I used to be a utilitarian, I must say I fell too often into the trap of self-deceit and selfishness. I should have known better than to conjure up a rule that justified my doing what I really wanted to do anyway.

The Christian perspective on giving is dramatically different. Of all the numerous parables, discourses and sayings of Jesus about judgement, caring for those in material need is one of the most prominent: be it caring for Christian brethren in need (such as in Matthew 25), or the poor person in the street (such as the parable of Lazarus and the rich man). In fact, Jesus gives us the very clear command to give to whoever begs from us, right after  talking about turning the other cheek, giving one’s cloak after having one’s coat taken and walking two miles when forced to walk one:

"Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you." (Matthew 5:42 – see comments here)

Anyone who refuses a beggar is, in a very real sense, sinning. But the reason we managed to convince ourselves that we were doing the right thing originally is that there was some truth in the fear that the money would just go towards making the lady’s eyes turn red, and it’s distinctly possible that this will be the case now.

Let me say a few words about people in material need who abuse drugs and alcohol: there may be very few people in the world who have more of an aversion to these two substances than me. For various cultural and personal reasons, substance abuse in all its forms is abnormally repugnant to me. It probably is to them, too. These people often abuse substances because forgetting their woes for a few hours, even a whole day, is often far more exciting a prospect than having some food. Particularly those involved in the sex industry, substance abuse can be the only way to get through the day. More generally to the question “what do you do with your pain?” that I heard asked to a group recently, the response was fairly quick: “get drunk.” Another said “Sex, drugs and rock and roll”. This is not a poor investment for many of them: it is an attempt to remedy something deeper, a reflection of the fact that “man does not live by bread alone.”

Suppose there’s a good chance any money given will be squandered on drugs – then is it OK to ignore the beggar? No. We followers of the Risen Lord have the example of Jesus to model our love on. Consider the recklessness with which Jesus graces us: imagine the angels giving counsel to God, saying “you shall give them the grace to do great things, and they shall squander it with sin!” I cannot speak for anyone else, but when God has given me much, too often I have used it all for my own gain. When, by the sheer love that Christ in his forgiveness has lavished upon me, I am pardoned of all my transgressions, when I am invited to dine with Jesus at the Supper of the Lamb, I frequently decline in favour of wrongdoing. So no, the chance, even a high chance, of misuse is not grounds for Christians to refuse alms.

I would go further and say that even the bank note in my wallet[4] is not mine by right, but instead mine by grace. St John Chrysostom famously said "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs." The grace given to me in the form of wealth is in fact a chance to give it away to someone who needs it more. This grace of Jesus is the essence of the Gospel, and grace dies if it is not shared, that is, the Gospel withers in a person if it is not nourished by its proclamation by word and deed.

Money might produce temptation in a drug addict, so if we are fairly certain the person will misuse the funds, then are we justified in not giving? Almost, yet absolutely not. As I said, people in material need rarely take drugs because they are overflowing with cash. It is the rich-though-spiritually-needy who try to fill the holes in the soul with the extravagance of drugs, not the materially needy. So although giving money might produce the temptation which leads to sin – obviously a negative outcome – it is still the lack which ultimately produces the sin. We as Christians are not justified in not giving, now is the moment when we must give the most: now we must give instead our time, energy, mental strength, compassion, and not just our money. For instance, I have at times had the opportunity to go out for lunch and talk – or perhaps just listen – to people who usually get ignored because of the guilt they produce in us.

I, at least, must remember that the added energy that came to the lady after glancing down at my chest came from the hope she saw in the Cross of Christ which I wear around my neck. From there all my hopes come, from there her hope came. I should never disappoint, for I have never been disappointed by God.

[1] My gratitude to Marc who wrote an inspiring piece that I have borrowed in large part and recast as my own here. See his version:

[2] The Caritas Australia financial statement for the financial year ending 2012 can be found starting page 70 here:

[3] For an understanding of why this is the case, see the "Demandingness Objection" - I would have said I was Singerian, though very poorly:

[4] I am, as a university student, not exactly rich anyway, though I have far more than many and my parents provide for all my basic needs. Every so often, though, I do have some spare money in my wallet.

[i] Source for Image: