Friday, June 30, 2017

Why I Prefer The Poor

I used to be a snob.  In high school I ceaselessly engineered my rise as a "Somebody", or at least as someone every one knew.  I relished walking down the halls and overhearing: "Woltze's having a kegger on Friday" or "Woltze's looking to fight so and so."  You get the idea.  I wanted all eyes on me, but I also wanted to be above the crowd.  I was also a snob in prison, running with the "solid cons", but I was wise enough to know I'd never be a big shot in the Big House.  After my release, I yearned to be among the intellectual elites, writing books, op-eds and maybe even appearing on Fox News (I was a secular conservative at the time, now I'm just a tradition-loving Catholic).  It seemed like it all might happen as my academic laurels multiplied.  I even tried to dress the part of an "Important Person", wearing Armani, Zegna and Prada (Prada was usually too small for my frame, but I liked tight shirts), and I was a runner and gym rat.  I drank $80 bottles of small batch bourbon and often went out for sushi and fine cuisine (usually with a pretty girl).  I wanted to be one of the "beautiful people".  But it was an illusion in many ways, not least because it was purchased on credit cards!

Here's a photo of me in St. Peter's Square in 2008 wearing designer everything.  How times have changed.  That outfit cost over $1,000 (including the shoes), but you can't buy the peace that Jesus has given me.

That used to be me

So what changed?  Maybe it was slowly understanding that our "elites" (on both right and left) had gotten most things wrong.  After all, if you don't really believe that Jesus and His Kingdom are the "one thing necessary", then you will get most things wrong because "His ways are not our ways".  Maybe it was seeing a vision of a deceased Ted Kennedy on the day of his funeral in horrific shock and melting pain upon receiving his particular judgment.  His giant celebration of a funeral mass (crowded with elites) stood in stark contrast to the truth of his situation.  Maybe it was witnessing a "false sun" moving across the sky, and knowing that nearly all of our mover and shakers were complicit in that false kingdom of God, a lying kingdom of individualism, hedonism, sexual liberation, materialism, scientism, and a shabby peace without the Cross.  Maybe it was noticing that some bishops and cardinals were complicit in that false kingdom, whether through silence, a wink and a nod or even through advocacy.

Maybe it was noticing how my own arrogance and skepticism were the greatest stumbling blocks to divine charity and supernatural hope.

Let me confess that I used to loathe those heterodox priests who proclaimed that the poor were "my people", and always made a show of it even as they sought to liberalize some of the very things that have destroyed the poor (divorce, cohabitation, abortion, narcotics).  Now I pity them as fallen soldiers in the field of spiritual warfare.  They didn't seem to believe in sin--especially the sexual kind--though they definitely believed in their own righteousness and progressivism. Many Jesuits and Paulists (and other dying orders) specialize in this particularly sterile gospel.  May God have mercy on them because we all deserve the true Gospel, especially the poor.  If it weren't for God's overflowing grace into my formerly tight little heart, I would have been an insufferable neocon Catholic.  That's not the Gospel either, as God is so much more interesting than our compromised world views.  I would have greatly wept one day at my particular judgment. I'm sure I will still weep.

If I love the poor it is because Christ has put that love into my heart, but there is a good reason that Jesus loves them.  He loves them because many of them have true contrition and regret even as they fall again and again.  He loves them because they are painfully aware of their weakness, and so often forgive the faults of others.  Jesus loves them because they are real.  They don't put on airs or consider themselves of some account.  We meet them, and ten minutes later we've heard the whole ugly truth of their life story: the tragedies they endured and the sins they have committed.  "Respectable" people wouldn't dream of showing complete strangers their wounds.  In fact, they often go to great lengths to hide or justify their vices.

Some of the poor have given in to hardness of heart, but they are not the poor I am speaking of.  They are fewer than most people imagine, as many poor initially offer a tough exterior.  But the rough facade smoothes out and you realize that the poor "in spirit" are many.  I am not interested in canonizing them.  We often watch in veiled amusement as the "poor in spirit" will occasionally offer a half-hearted lie, but what is that compared to the searing truths they have just offered up?  I confess that I now prefer the poor, something that would be a shock to those who knew me in past decades.

Plenty of those who are not poor are also easy to love, and have a spirit of humility and forgiveness.  But they are not the object of neglect and even derision.  Lately we've gotten plenty of ugly and skeptical looks for literally "eating with poor sinners".  But maybe God is more welcome in an abandoned house in a field, full of heroin "zombies" than he is amidst the hardened hearts of some of their respectable neighbors.  Maybe some of the addicts hate their addiction and yearn for God and his freedom in a way that would make us blush.  Maybe their abandoned house is surrounded by wild flowers, and they are mothered by a warm, ex-biker chick named 'Cindy' who keeps a ready dose of Narcan.  Maybe angels watch over them, and know how the addicts were serially abused, and how they got high for the first time when they were eleven at their mother's prompting.  Maybe that angel looks on in compassion at their charge who was given much less than a talent of silver according to the Most High's Gospel story.  Maybe the angel also looks at Chris and I with compassion because we have been given a vault's worth of talents and Jesus will make a full accounting of us.

These aren't speculations but well-grounded truths.  We know that the "first shall be last, and the last shall be first". Jesus said so, and you can bank on that.

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