December 5, 2013
When gas prices soared in 2008, sales in big cars plummeted by 20% and small cars’ sales rose by 16%. The same trend occurred again in 2011. When fuel prices rise, the size of cars shrinks. And, since gas prices have been, for the most part, on a steady rise, car manufacturers are pushing smaller cars. But, history would suggest that Americans prefer ‘big.’ In the last twenty years, Americans have shifted their preference away from cars to SUVs.
Our consumer culture certainly contributes to the desire for the bigger and the better. There is a relentless ratcheting up of standards. New kitchens. New bathrooms. New homes. Always bigger. Even the size of the clothes closet has had to be expanded. Long gone is the desire for the small house with the white picket fence. But there is more.
Deep within the American psyche, there is a predisposition for bigger and better. Americans think big. Big houses. Big cars. Big bank accounts. This country with its vast expanse of land from the Atlantic to the Pacific has fostered the mindset among its inhabitants to expand, to grow and to get bigger and better.
After World War II, car companies took advantage of this proclivity to have the largest and the best. Jobs were plentiful; wages good; and the opportunity to spend, most welcome after the war years. There was an abundance of steel. Large, well-appointed cars were very popular. The Lincoln Continental, the Cadillac Eldorado and the Gran Torino. These captured the attention of Americans.
In the 1960s, Americans were not buying small German cars. But, then, a campaign was launched to get Americans to think differently and to buy small cars. The advertising group Doyle Dane & Bernbach pushed the Volkswagen Beetle.
Their ads caught the attention of college students and office workers and were a smashing success. They told the truth. They admitted that Americans saw the Volkswagen and thought it small. And they were right. The car was small, but worth buying. Their ads worked.
Doyle Dane & Bernbach’s marketing campaign for the Beetle became the gold standard in advertising. Their strategy garnered them interest and sales. Their strategy? Honesty! People like honesty. They respect sincerity. People will respond to the truth and, if it must be, even change their attitudes and their actions. Perhaps, it is time for some to re-examine their attitude towards the Church as well as their actions to despoil her of her rightful place in society.
In January of 2013, there was an online petition asking the White House to designate the Catholic Church as a “hate group.” The behavior of some clerics in the past has, admittedly, been shameful and harmful to others. And, not all present clerics are either. Their sins escape neither notice nor notoriety. However, the headlining of the shameful behavior of these clerics by the press reinforces a negative and myopic view of the Church, which is not the whole truth. Far from being a “hate group,” the Catholic Church is truly a “love group.”
On the one hand, we struggle to eradicate the root causes of injustices facing our communities. Because of our love as a Church, we advocate for just public policies. We work with others to change the social structures that contribute to suffering and poverty. We know Pope Francis is right when says, “The way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.”
On the other hand, the Church runs to the relief of those who suffer. We respond “to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison…”(
Deus Caritas Est, 31). We match our policies with works.
Emphatically and clearly, Pope Benedict XVI put care for the poor at the heart of the Catholic Church’s identity. In his first encyclical,
Deus Caritas Est, the Pope Emeritus said that the love of the poor defines the Church. “Love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind is as
essential to her [the Church] as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church can no more neglect the service of charity than she can neglect the sacraments and the word” (22). And, we don’t!
Take, for instance, the Church of Paterson. In the calendar year 2012, our diocesan Catholic Charities agencies served 60,593 individual clients. Approximately 24,000 were children; 28,000 were adults; and, over 7,000 seniors. Sadly, 29,422 of these individuals had incomes below the poverty level.
Every month in that same year, 121,515 meals were provided to 6,000 adults and 3,000 children. Prescription assistance was given to 3,626 individuals. Clothing assistance was offered to 15,167 others, many of whom had been victims of fire or other disasters. 6,303 clients were given residential or outpatient drug and alcohol rehab services. Around the clock care was given to 74 adults living in our group homes for persons with disabilities. 675 three and four year olds were nurtured in child care programs. 309 children over the age of six received before and after school care. Community Support Services helped 3,826 persons with such pressing needs as rent, affordable housing, temporary shelter, transportation assistance, and even burial. The list of charitable services could go on and on. All in one small diocese with a big heart!
Pope Francis has said, “The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not, I repeat, not what builds up . . . Rather, it is the culture of solidarity that does so.” Our care as a Church for those in need truly builds up our society. When individuals know the facts about our work with those in need, they are more open to recognize the incalculable good the Church does and appreciate the benefit of having the Church as an active partner in building a just society.
Today, we witness, in some circles, an anti-Catholic prejudice which, in its most virulent form, becomes what Blessed John Paul II called
odium ecclesiae (a hatred of the Church). We recognize this in efforts to banish Catholics from the public square and in the way some media reports discrediting the Catholic Church. This is a way to silence her moral voice and mute her witness of charity.
All Catholics, therefore, have the obligation to counter prejudice with facts. Where the Church is present, there is relief for the poor, help for the needy and respect for all. It is time to advertise the whole truth about the Church.