Skip to comments.Vincent de Paul, Welfare Statist?
Posted on 10/10/2012 5:27:25 PM PDT by markomalley
In Thomas Worcesters 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 doesnt 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 historys 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.
Worcester gets some things right. Vincent de Paul did not conceive of assistance for the suffering as a purely private affair. He understood that government has a role to play in creating the conditions conducive to a just society. When he sought prison reform, he did indeed [take] his cause to the highest levels of the state. Catholic teaching on justice has always recognized the indispensable part played by public officials and political institutions in promoting justice; its no surprise that the devout and intelligent Vincent shared that recognition.
Worcester also articulates well Vincents concern for the poor and marginalized. Vincent would want a radical change in the self-satisfied, arrogant mentality of many well-off persons who consider themselves entitled to live in luxury while others around them suffer in various ways. He would take up the cause of families struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. He would help refugees and immigrants, welcoming them and finding for them the assistance they need.
But when he tries to turn Vincent into a partisan political activist, Worcesters account goes off the rails. Vincent, he is certain, would support a major increase in the minimum wage, and he would defend President Obamas Affordable Health Care Act; he would oppose any cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, or student loan and grant programs.
It is impossible to say which of these programs Vincent might support were he still with us (though the abortion-promoting and religious liberty-compromising health care law would be a good bet for least likely), but one thing can be said for certain. He would deem any government policy as secondary to the most critical obligation of charity: personal action.
This is the essential point that liberal interpretations of charity fail to capture, and it is why they cannot fully appreciate the heroism of saints such as Vincent de Paul. Vincent did not see his duty toward fellow human beings as fulfilled when he punched a ballot for the right candidate, or when he persuaded a wealthy person to give some money to the poor, or when he helped to sway the political authorities to adjust the levers of power to favor those who lacked wealth and influence. For Vincent, the obligations of charity were fulfilled when he served the poor with his own hands, when he treated the sick and visited the lonely. Only through such personal contact with the needy could he understand with adequate sensitivity the exact character and extent of their needs. Only through such personal involvement could he share in the ministry of Christ.
As this last sentence indicates, for Vincent charity was an essentially religious enterprise. His relationship with Jesus was not an incidental quirk in his character that happened to complement nicely his concern for the poor. It is the explanatory key without which his concern for the poor is incomprehensible. Reflecting on the beginnings of the Catholic religious order he founded (the Congregation of the Mission, known popularly as Vincentians), 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 worlds largest charitable organizations, the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Viewing Vincents 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 didnt, he wouldnt. 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.
So, God likes Obama because he engages in billion dollar crony deals, while his gay partners are found murdered (and no demand for investigation), wearing a Islamic wedding ring, violates ALL of the 10 commandments, etc.?
Maybe you should re-read the piece again...a little slower, this time.
We have a St. Vincent de Paul store in town. Last I knew they weren’t breaking kneecaps to extract donations.
Yeah. Vincent de Paul would have absolutely been in favor of abortion.
BAM! Not a citizen (natural born or otherwise).
Would great religious leaders vote at all? I suspect they'd keep quiet about it if they did.
Yup. Classical case of a lib wacko speaking out of both sides of his mouth. With one side, they decry conservatives upholding moral standards advocated by Scripture, out of the other side, he justifies his socialism by a complete misinterpretation of charitable acts of a saint.
Like the commies who claim Christianity demands a commie existence because of Acts 4:34-35.
- St. Vincent de Paul
Oh boy. I would be all for running government welfare like our church runs the St. Vincent De Paul society.
1. Voluntary donations
2. .0001% overhead
3. Personal interview with every recipient to determine what help is needed (not requested) and whether its a scam
4. Really and truly help people. Can’t get to work because you don’t have a car? We’ll find you a car and you’ll be driving it to work tomorrow. Might not be great shakes, but it will serve the purpose.
Plus they have to prove their residence by providing a utility bill before any assistance is given.
Although I am not Catholic, I find myself in complete agreement with what you say.
Many have been fooled into thinking that coercive taxation plus cradle-to-grave welfare equals charity. It does not. It is, in fact, another way the devil attempts to confuse the faithful.
Charity is a way of life for the Christian. That is entirely scriptural.
Unscrupulous politicians see this, God’s admonition to the faithful - and they have seen it for a very, very long time - and find ways to exploit it for their own aggrandizing. Eventually their reinterpretation (twisting) of God’s truth. leads to people, people unlearned in the ways of Christ, believing that the motivator and giver of all such good gifts to the needy is government and not God. And thus government usurps the position of God. And, so, Revelation 13 and following is fulfilled.
Wow, that is so true.
This is a type of classic heresy, since it confuses a heart for heroic Charity with a desire for an imperial government which redistributes wealth.
Apples and oranges here, nothing else.