On Monday we wrapped up another amazing EDGE middle school night. It was truly a blessed night touched by the Spirit in every way. Then I went to leave. As I was turning off the lights I heard a small and but unmistakable voice say, “Please use your iPhone flashlight.” As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, it was my feet. Specifically, my toes.
Let me back up here and explain.
See, EDGE gathers in the lower church meeting space. And the lower church was not designed in a way that anticipated my exact needs (the nerve). The light switch is at the front of the room. The exit is at the back. When leaving, you have to switch off the light and then make your way to the back in complete darkness. It’s a treacherous journey fraught with perils such as Folding Chairs, Round Tables, and of course Solid Oak Pews On Which You Can Whack Your Knee. Each time I make the journey I feel like Frodo going through Mordor with Sam to destroy the One Ring.
And each time I make this journey I have the same internal trialogue. My toes say, “Kindly use your flashlight app,” and my knees agree wholeheartedly. My eyes say, “Nonsense, I’ll adjust to the darkness in no time and see just fine.” And my brain, who is probably the worst of the three, comes up with these grand ideas about memorizing the position of each chair prior to shutting the lights off, creating a mental map and then using its superior Spatial Relations Skills to make an incident free exit.
And almost each time my toes (and knee) are right to worry. My eyes and brain don’t have evil intentions (though they do suffer from the sin of pride), they’re just not down there at the bottom where the impact of what they do is felt the most. It makes so much more sense to think of the concerns of the member of my body that stands to suffer the most by my inevitably fallible decision making.
In Catholic teaching on social justice we have this principle called the Preferential Option for the Poor. What that means is as Catholics we must, in all circumstances, consider the full impact of our actions on the poor and act in a way that promotes their well being. Or in other words, think first of the concerns of the members of the human family who suffer the most. That’s the rule of Christ’s Kingdom. In His Reign the first are last and the last are first. Jesus Christ is our Lord, King of the Universe and His vast and cosmic Kingship begins with and sees from the viewpoint of the toes.
If we are to be faithful stewards of Christ the King then we need to be more aware of who the toes are in every situation. Poverty is not merely about money. That’s far too narrow a view. There is material poverty all around us, true. The young, especially the very young, most especially the unborn are among the poor. The elderly, and people suffering from illness of mind and body are also among the poor. Immigrants, ethnic, racial and religious minorities, people who identify as LGBT, people suffering from addictions, people imprisoned whether justly or unjustly—all are counted among the poor. Even more, there is spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty is far more pervasive in our society—those who suffer a poverty of love, a poverty of joy, who are deprived of peace. These suffer the greatest poverty of all—to not know and trust Jesus.
There are countless spiritual poor who have never heard the Good News that there is more to this life, that the God who made them desperately loves them, that He entered into the state of being a fellow toe, died on the cross for their sin and brokenness, rose again on the third day and calls them to Life Eternal. In Jesus’ reign the needs of the poor, both the spiritual and material, come first. And not their needs as they perceive them to be, but as He knows them to be. The hungry need food, the ostracized need a loving embrace, the lost sheep need the Good Shepherd.
We must avoid the temptation to see Christ and His Church as the means to ultimately ending poverty. That makes an idol of social justice and thwarts any effort to build His Kingdom. The noble pursuit of true and lasting justice can only flourish when we realize that life in Christ is the greatest good. If only we could live life fully devoted in service to Him, longing for the day when we hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into my joy!” (Matthew 25:21) Because Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe doesn’t long for a kingdom of servants and slaves, but of friends— of Saints.