In an article “Vincent de Paul, Welfare Statist?“Acton Research Fellow Kevin E. Schmiesing writes on Acton Insititute Power Blog of his concern that Vincent is being used as a pawn in an election cycle.
“In Thomas Worcester’s recent column on the Huffington Post, he spins the seventeenth-century Catholic saint, Vincent de Paul, as an advocate of twenty-first century liberal social policy. Though he doesn’t quite say it, a month ahead of a presidential election the message can hardly be missed: St. Vincent de Paul, were he around today, would surely cast his vote for Barack Obama. Worcester is probably mistaken, but the more important thing is that, in his zeal to recruit St. Vincent for the Democratic Party, he besmirches the reputation of one of history’s great exemplars of Christian charity.
“This is a common sort of historical malpractice, the attempt to wedge past figures into some contemporary agenda. The temptation is irresistible to some because a) historical figures are famous, and thus can lend prestige to any cause; and b) historical figures are dead, and thus cannot personally object to being coopted by campaigns with which they might rather not be associated.”…
He concludes “Vincent said that the missionaries went “to evangelize the poor as our Lord had done.” It is this spirituality that inspired the nineteenth-century Parisian, Frederic Ozanam, to found one of the world’s largest charitable organizations, the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Viewing Vincent’s work as little more than political activism not only distorts his biography; it reduces his extraordinary, grace-enabled sanctity to ordinary humanistic compassion. In this account, all we need to do to imitate St. Vincent perfectly is to support the correct political causes.
“If we must ask “What would St. Vincent do?,” then a more accurate response would be the following. If Vincent thought government programs genuinely helped the poor, he probably would support them; if he thought they didn’t, he wouldn’t. Importantly, he would have firsthand knowledge of the facts, because he would be living and working among the very people who are supposed to benefit. Given the decidedly mixed record of success exhibited by government welfare programs since the War on Poverty began more than forty years ago, it is at least plausible that Vincent would have qualms about continuing down the same path.
“Thomas Worcester wants God to send “more saints like him,” and to that I say amen. An army of St. Vincents in contemporary America would be a boon for the spiritually and materially poor alike. Whether it would be equally beneficial to the fortunes of the political left, as Worcester seems to think, is much more doubtful.”
(The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is an American conservative research and educational institution.)
What do you think? Does he have a point or does he himself fall into the trap he is accusing others of? No doubt there is room for many nuances.
Perhaps researchers into Vincent and Fredric can offer their insights based on their study of these two giants.
Tags: Advocacy, Anti-poverty strategies, Frederic Ozanam, Vincent
Who would Jesus vote for? Reflections from someone who hates politics.
Some interesting thoughts from a “flawed Christian”…
I came up with the following thoughts:
Jesus wouldn’t judge anyone if they were a patriot or not. He wouldn’t express any interest in whether a person hoisted their flag up on a pole on the Fourth of July or even waved one at all.
Jesus wouldn’t care if you called yourself Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Agnostic, Atheist, etc.
Jesus wouldn’t be impressed how many Bible verses you memorized but by the times you helped your neighbor.
Jesus wouldn’t be part of any political party, lobby group, nor would He be left,right or anything in between.
Jesus would be surprised that those who believe his Father created the earth aren’t more vigilant in making sure that it is treated with respect and dignity.
Jesus would be interested in how we as a society treat the poor, the sick, the people with severe challenges, the homeless, the hungry, and the elderly. He’d want to see His teachings in action and not just in prayer. Are we feeding the hungry? Are we protecting the vulnerable? Are we doing everything we can to support our neighbors? Are we giving everyone a dignified life?
He would wonder why so many fed themselves and filled the pockets of a billion dollar revenue company when the same people could have instead performed the Christian act of forming long lines to donate to those in need at food banks and shelters across this country.
Jesus would be saddened to see the leaders of both political parties sitting down at high-priced dinners all in the name of raising sinful amounts of cash to feed media outlets with lies about their opponent instead of using the money for the truly desolate and impoverished.
Jesus wouldn’t be concerned about your right to bear arms. Remember how He told the apostles to put down their swords at the betrayal in the Garden? Jesus would probably be shocked how our society is so brainwashed that we need to have firearms to “protect” ourselves. Who are we really protecting?
Jesus would be amused at how Christmas has become more of a shopping celebration, a chance to stampede your way into stores for a sweet deal on a big-sized TV or the latest tech gadget. He’d wonder what happened to just a simple, “Happy Birthday, thanks for showing us how to be compassionate” gesture by reaching out to those who don’t have anything. He’d be puzzled why family and friends get together to shower each other with unnecessary gifts.
Jesus would be appalled how little we appreciate the gift of life in a country that proclaims to give equal rights to all – except to those who can’t say whether they want to live or not. He would wonder why those who are pro-birth are not pro-children, not willing to spend the money to make sure the young people of this world are fed, clothed and educated properly. After all, children did not be asked to be born in poverty.
Jesus would walk into the election booth and stand there for several minutes, thinking about the issues each candidate has expressed as being important. He would think hard about how compassionate Romney and Obama are to the poor, unemployed, sick, hungry, and homeless. He would wonder who cared more about respecting and protecting innocent human life. He would focus on whether a candidate truly cared about peace and who was more concerned about waging war on poverty than on each other.
Jesus would probably not cast a vote. He would leave the election booth in disgust. Instead, He would stand on the highest mountain, look down on us as we silence our cell phones and pagers to listen, and say, “My children, you have created quite a mess here. Take your time to fix it. It’s going to be a while before my Father welcomes you anyway.”
He would ask: “Do you really believe in Me? I mean really believe in Me? Stop using my name for your own purposes.”
It’s up to each of us to answer this. It’s time to look at ourselves in the mirror as Christians. We need to act like who we say we are and help one another or put the Bibles away and stop being hypocrites.
Michael John Sullivan is a flawed Christian, an author living with his family on Long Island. He has written two novels, Everybody’s Daughter, and Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness.
Please allow me to submit, first of all, that if Father Worcester “spins,” so do those who think differently, and that there are those in the right who are just as guilty of “historical malpractice” as those in the left.
As for St. Vincent de Paul, I do think he did give an important role to government in alleviating misery and poverty. Otherwise he would not have approached the Queen and prime ministers, Richelieu and Mazarin. How big should the government’s role be? St. Vincent preferred small beginnings. But should they end up big, he saw to it they stay manageable and not turn into mere self-absorbed bureaucracies. After all, his and his organizations’ goal is to help the poor and relieve poverty, not to help himself or themselves nor to perpetuate themselves by fostering dependencies, my humble opinion.
For a counterpoint to the Acton Institute reflection visit http://famvin.org/en/2012/10/10/catholic-leaders-proclaim-that-the-stewardship-of-common-good/