Friday, February 28, 2014

Maple Syrup Time! Yeah!

     The following post has absolutely nothing to do with any of the topics I normally write about; you may skip it if you wish, but if you do you will automatically be nominated for the position of President of the No Fun Club.
     If you happen to live in a suitable climate it's incredibly easy to create your own maple syrup (providing you have some sugar maples, that is).  You may say, "So what?"  If so, you're probably jealous.  You can buy plastic taps for less than $2 each; gallon jugs of spring water cost less than a dollar and, after you drink the water, make excellent sap buckets.  Last year we got between 2-3 gallons of syrup from 18 trees.  We tapped 17 trees today, and expect to tap a few more (after we drink a few more jugs of water).  It helps if you have kids to collect the sap.  We discovered that boiling down the sap indoors set off the smoke alarms, so we switched to an electric roaster out on the porch.  It was slow, but it got the job done.
      I'll report back once we have some actual syrup.  Meanwhile, here's a photo of our first Sap Collection System of the year:

Abortion Myth # 6

Myth: “If abortion becomes illegal, tens of thousands of women will die again from back-alley and coat hanger abortions.”

-Women never died “by the thousands”: this figure was fabricated by pro-abortionists (see Abortion Myth #1).  The highest verified figure is 388 maternal deaths in 1948, before anti-biotics became available.

-For decades prior to legalization, 90% of abortions were performed by doctors in their offices, about the same number as today. 

-   Women still die from legal abortions in the United States [here, here].

-The same pro-abortion activists who warn about coat hangers and the back alley fight strenuously 
against any regulation of abortion clinics, even standard health regulations, that they believe might discourage abortions (see Davis, Wendy).

-Because pro-abortion activists oppose regulation of abortion facilities, and the politicians who rely on their financial support look the other way, brutal and deadly abortionists like Kermit Gosnell are able to flourish.

-Every year more than half a million unborn women die in legal abortions in the United States.

-Poland went from 148,200 abortions in 1975 to only 253 in 1998, and maternal deaths decreased by 30%, and miscarriages decreased by 25!

Except where noted, information above comes from Randy Alcorn’s Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments.


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Requiescat In Pace

This piece was recently recommended to me by an outstanding young man who passed away last weekend at the age of 18. Requiescas in pace, mi amice.  We'll be praying for you; I know you'll return the favor.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What is the Liturgy of the Hours?

     I wrote in a recent post that praying the Liturgy of the Hours (also known as the Divine Office) has had a profound impact on both my prayer life and my spiritual state in general.  I promised to expand upon the Liturgy of the Hours itself, and offer some suggestions on how it might be incorporated into the lives of busy laypeople, in subsequent posts.
     First of all, what is the Liturgy of the Hours?  It traces its origins back to the very earliest days of the Church, and before that to the formal prayer of the Jewish Temple [for more information, see here and here].  It consists mostly of Psalms, canticles and other scriptural readings, said at assigned times (the “Canonical Hours”) in order to “sanctify the day.”  The Hours, along with their traditional and modern names, are:

Matins (Office of Readings) – traditionally during the night, now any time of day
Lauds (Morning Prayer) – sunrise
Terce (Mid-Morning Prayer) – third hour of the day
Sext (Midday Prayer) – sixth hour of the day, i.e., noon
None (Mid-Afternoon Prayer) – ninth hour of the day
Vespers (Evening Prayer) – toward evening
Compline  (Night Prayer) – nightfall, or before retiring

Matins was traditionally said during the night.  Today, as the Office of Readings, it can be prayed at any time of day (in other words, it is no longer necessary to interrupt your sleep).  In addition to three Psalm readings there is also a longer Biblical reading and a non-scriptural reading, either from the writings of the saints, or the lives of the saints, or magisterial documents of the Church.

Lauds and Vespers are the “hinges” of the Divine Office, the most important prayer periods after Readings.  They are longer than the others and include two well-known of the Gospel Canticles: the Benedictus, or Canticle of Zechariah at Morning Prayer (“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel . . .”) and the Magnificat, or Canticle of Mary in the Evening (“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . . “). They contain in addition two Psalm readings, a non-Gospel Biblical canticle, antiphons, responsories and the Our Father.

Compline is prayed at the end of the day.  It contains an examination of conscience, but is otherwise shorter than Lauds and Vespers, with only one or two psalms and a short Gospel Canticle, the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon (“Now you let your servant go in peace . . . “).

Terce, Sext, and None are collectively known as Daytime Prayer.  These are shorter than the other offices, containing only three psalm readings and a short scripture reading.  Since the most recent reforms of the Office they are set up so that even if you pray only one of them a day along with Readings, Lauds, Vespers and Compline, you will have seen the entire Psalter (i.e., Book of Psalms) over the course of a four week cycle.

     Along with the Mass, The Liturgy of the Hours forms the public liturgical prayer of the church.   Clergy and religious, and certain lay persons under vows, are required to say these prayers every day (hence the name Divine Office, from the Latin officium, which means “duty”).  These prayers are not the exclusive preserve of  priests and nuns, however.  Paul VI, in the Apostolic Constitution promulgated in 1970on the Liturgy of the Hours [full text here] says:

The Office has therefore been composed so that it is the prayer not only of the clergy but of the whole of the People of God, and religious and lay people can take part in it, and there are various forms of celebration so that it can be accommodated to the various groups, with their differing needs. Since the Liturgy of the Hours should sanctify the different times of the day, in its revised form it can be fitted into the actual hours of people’s daily lives.

So, while those who pray the Office under obligation are also obliged to follow certain norms in doing so, the Church is inviting the rest of us to pray along with them in a way suited to our state in life and our other responsibilities.  I will offer some suggestions, and reflect on my own experience, in my next post on this topic.

     Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -
Websites: – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH.  It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones.  They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones. – Full tests of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets – but you need to buy a subscription. – My favorite LOH website.  It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer).  There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.

There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of  Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976.  I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above).  It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.

The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here].  It’s all there, but it’s gonna cost you.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Beethoven - Quartet in A minor for Strings, Op. 132, Mvt. 3 - Escher Str...

I'm posting this beautiful piece at the insistence of my son.  Beethoven composed it to thank God after the composer had recovered from a serious illness, hence the name "Heiliger Dankgesang" (Holy Song of Thanks).

Why be moral?

     I heard an atheist calling in to a Catholic radio show this morning with the following point:  atheists are quite as capable as Christians are of leading moral lives, and it is quite possible for an atheist to be a “good person”, and many in fact are.  The hosts of the show answered the caller respectfully (as always) and thoughtfully, but they missed (atypically, let me hasten to add) a crucial point, the crucial point: no serious Catholic I know of is arguing that atheists cannot be moral; rather, that without the authority of God morality is purely subjective, a personal choice on the part of the atheist.  There is no objective reason why he should not be immoral, since there is no objective standard of right and wrong.
     It is true that non-Christians, including atheists, can embrace natural law, as I discussed in an earlier post [here].  Not only that, but, as the radio hosts pointed out, St. Paul tells us:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.  When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them . . . (Romans 2:13-15

     The problem is that in our fallen state we have other influences, other “spirits” as St. Ignatius of Loyola would put it, who are urging us in other directions.  That is one reason why we need Divine Revelation.  As I argue in another place [full article here], the less Christian our society becomes, the stronger those other voices will become, and the less likely the atheistic or indifferent are to heed the law written on their hearts:

Our civilization has been shaped by Christianity for almost two thousand years.  Christian beliefs, attitudes and moral convictions (commonly referred to as the Judeo-Christian worldview) are woven into all of our customs and institutions.  It is true that we have never realized the Christian ideal; one could say that we haven’t even come close.  Nevertheless, anyone raised in the West over the last two millenia has been formed, to a large degree, by that Christocentric worldview, whether they consciously embrace it or not.  More than one commentator has remarked that even the “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have not jettisoned principles such as the dignity of the human person (not a universal value by any stretch) or a Judeo-Christian concept of justice — they employ these very ideas, in fact, as weapons against Christianity.  This is confirmed by my personal experience: most self-proclaimed atheists with whom I am personally acquainted still adhere to a mostly Christian ethical code (even though they can’t give an authoritative reason why), with the usual exceptions involving sexual morality — which doesn’t do much to distinguish them from most professed Christians.
Without its source and foundation of Christian belief, however, the worldview itself will quickly wither . . .

     That, I think, is the counter to the atheist’s challenge: it’s not that an atheist can’t be moral, but rather, without God, why should he?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival

Ah, yes, “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival.” [link to host site].  Glad to be back.  It's been a busy week at Principium et Finis.  Here's the round-up:

Monday: "Cello Wars" by the Piano Guys [link].  This is pure fun - my kids insisted that I post it.  It's worth checking out.

Also Monday: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”[link] Not all poverty is alike.  This is an argument that, at least in the United States, Poverty of Spirit is the more serious problem.

Wednesday: "It's snowing again . . . " [link] Well, it was snowing again, and it looked awful picturesque.  I took a picture of my beloved Wayside Crucifix and the raised bed gardens out back. Welcome to Maine!

Also Wednesday: "'Doing' The Truth In Love" [link].  A curious bit of Latin in our new bishop's coat of arms leads me to a new appreciation of a familiar scripture passage.

Thursday:  "Free The Romeikes!" [link] In Germany, Christian Homeschoolers are outlaws: the government can and will take your children away if you don't surrender them to the official (officially secularist) schools.  But that's not persecution, according to Attorney General Eric Holder . . .

Also Thursday: "Sanctify Your Day: The Liturgy Of The Hours" [link].  The Divine Office is not just for monks.

Friday: "Abortion Myth # 5" [link].  Aborting babies with abnormalities has become Standard Operating Procedure; nine out of ten babies diagnosed in the womb with Downs Syndrome, for instance, are "eliminated".  Guess what?  It's still wrong.

Also Friday:  "Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca sing 'Barcarolle'" [link].  Sure, Tales of Hoffman is a weird opera, but this is such a beautiful song. . . and you can enjoy it here without having to sit through that bizarre number with the doll.

Oh, and my favorite scripture quote: Romans 12:2: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."  I need to remind myself, constantly, that my mission is not to make everyone else like me, but to make myself more like Christ, which I can do only through His Grace.

Please, feel free to look around - until next week!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca sing "Barcarolle"

My only reason for posting this is that it is a truly lovely piece of music.  Listen, if you don't believe me . . .


MYTH: “Most abortions are wrong, but they should be allowed in cases of abnormal fetus.”


-         -People with disabilities are human beings, enjoying full human dignity and the same right to exist as the rest of us.

  -Families who are expecting a handicapped child need support, not an abortion!  Studies indicate that women who abort for genetic reasons have a high incidence of suffering grief, guilt, shame, and depression.  The actual incidence of of depression following “selective abortion” for genetic reasons may be as high as 92 percent for mothers and 82 percent for fathers among those studied.  (The Post-Abortion Review, July-Sept. 2003, Elliot Institute, link)

-          -There are lists of families willing to adopt babies with any serious medical condition including spina bifida and down syndrome.

-          -The belief that society is better off without the “genetically inferior” was the credo of  Nazi Germany, where thousands of people were exterminated solely because they had disabilities.

-          -There are numerous support groups for families with special needs children, among them CHASK (Christian Homes and Special Kids) and NATHHAN (National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network); NATHHAN also provides a list of further resources (link)


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sanctify Your Day: The Liturgy of the Hours

     There was a time of my life when I was immersed in secularism.  I began to recover in my late twenties, a process given a sudden and decisive boost by a powerful conversion experience in my thirtieth year, as I have related in other posts [here, here].  That was the start of an amazing adventure.  In the first flush of rediscovered faith I experienced an unexpected  joy in prayer, and many problems that had seemed insurmountable before were now, surprisingly, manageable. 
We can't all pray like monks . . .
      I have heard this honeymoon period after a conversion, or reversion, referred to as the “Pink Cloud” phase.  The Catholic tradition wisely tells us that conversion is a process and the pink cloud, like the infatuation at the beginning of a relationship, sooner or later (sooner, usually) dissipates, leaving the long and often hard road that is the only way to true love. 
     So it was for me.  Eight years down the road my wife and I had moved to another state (twice) and had several small children.  Life was good, but my spiritual life was stuck.  I needed something more, but I didn’t know what.  It happened that we were visiting my wife’s family, and as I was driving past the church where I had been moved so profoundly years before the bells began to chime (literally).  The clock on the dashboard said 6 o’clock.  “Vespers”, I thought to myself, and then it struck me: I could pray the Divine Office.  In fact, it seemed as though I was being told I should pray the Divine Office.
     I was excited about the possibility, but had no idea how to go about it.  I had a very vague understanding of the Divine Office: I knew that it was a series of formal prayers said at certain times every day, and I knew the names of some of those prayer times (Matins, Lauds, Vespers), but that was it.  As soon as our car ride was over I looked up “Divine Office” in the encyclopedia (my mother-in-law did not have internet access) and started piecing it together.  I learned that the Divine Office (now called the Liturgy of the Hours) goes back to the very earliest days of the Church, and is built around the praying of the Psalms and certain Canticles (poems or songs) from other parts of the Bible.  The Magnificat, for instance, which is the prayer Mary says when she meets her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55), is always part of Vespers (i.e., Evening Prayer).
     I did not at first feel ready to pray the actual Liturgy of the Hours (I didn’t even know where to find the prayers), so at first I just made a point of praying some time close to the canonical hours.  Soon, however, I started to find resources online, and eventually bought a fairly inexpensive prayer book.  The Divine Office changed everything: not only did I have a much fuller prayer life, but I found that it really did “sanctify time”, as they say.  I felt closer to Christ and his Church, and I became much more familiar with Sacred Scripture in the process.  I also found that some ingrained patterns of sin which
. . . family life can be busy
had withstood my earlier experience became more tractable.  It was, in fact, another conversion.
     I do need to point out that I have never been able to pray like a monk: I have a wife and children and need to work extra jobs to keep them all clothed and fed.   Priests and religious, and certain lay people under vows, are required to pray the Divine Office in a certain way; the rest of us can adapt it to our situation.  I am planning a series of posts discussing various aspects of the Liturgy of the Hours, including how busy lay people can incorporate the Divine Office into their regular prayer life, available resources, the history of the Divine office, and my reflections on some of the particular hours.

     In the meanwhile, I encourage you to click on the logo below and visit, one of the best online resources available.


Free the Romeikes!

     The issue of illegal immigration is a complicated one.  There are legitimate arguments in a number of different directions that are due serious consideration – even though serious consideration all too often takes a back seat to emotional posturing on all sides.  It is unconscionable, however, that a government that refuses to make any concerted effort to enforce the law in the case of millions who have come here illegally is going all-out to expel one family that has come here legally: the Romeikes, who have requested asylum because the government of their native Germany has threatened to take their children away if they don’t cease homeschooling and entrust their children to the government school system [link].  The Romeikes are evangelical Christians, who do not wish to subject their children to the un -Christian value system that holds sway in the official schools.

     The Obama administration and its Justice Department don’t believe that using the power of the state to take children from their parents constitutes persecution.  We know better.  I’m asking all of you to pray for this family, and to speak out about the unjust actions of our government in this case.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Doing" The Truth In Love

      Last Friday the Diocese of Portland, Maine, consecrated a new Bishop, Robert Deeley.  His episcopal motto: "To Speak The Truth In Love."

     That’s not a bad motto for any of us.  I remember many years ago hearing Mary Cunningham Agee explaining how this same Scripture (it comes from Ephesians 4:15) served as a sort of mission statement for The Nurturing Network [link], her ministry to women at risk for abortion.  In our family we have tried to make it a guiding principle as well; it has come to be called the “Prime Directive” (yes, that’s a Star Trek joke).  Sometimes, in our human frailty, we honor it more in the breach than in the observance.  Saint Paul tells us in another place that:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
(1 Cor 13:1-2)

Some of the reasons why this should be so aren’t hard to grasp, once we see them.  Even those who disagree with us, even when they are angry, abusive, or blasphemous, still carry with them the image and likeness of God, which we must honor.  Also, we will not be very convincing evangelists for the God who is Love (1 John 4:8) if we seem to be lacking in that quality ourselves.
     But there’s more to it than that.  The old saying that “something is always lost in the translation” seems to be particularly true about scripture.  So it became clear in this case when I first saw Bishop Deeley’s episcopal arms, where his motto appears in Latin: Veritatem Facere in Caritate. I was struck by the fact that the word translated as “speak” in English wasn’t the Latin equivalent, dicere, as I would have expected, but facere, which more properly means “make” or “do.” A more literal translation would be “Doing The Truth In Love.” It seemed a curious (if not unpleasing) choice of word, and I suspected that the answer lay, at least in part, in the scriptural source.
St. Jerome
     That proved to be the case.  In the Vulgate Latin translation of Ephesians 4:15 St. Paul says: Veritatem autem faciens in caritate, crescamus in Illo per omnia Qui est Caput, Christus, “But speaking” (literally “doing”) the truth in love, let us grow through all things into him who is our Head, Christ.”  Veritatem faciens is itself a translation of St. Paul’s original Greek word aletheuontes, which can mean “speaking the truth”, but also “being true.”  St. Jerome could have chosen the narrower, more obvious meaning and used dicens, but he seems to have thought a broader meaning was called for.
     His choice is instructive, especially when we look at it in the context of the whole verse.  Truth should be more than what we say, but what we do.  St. Paul is talking about not just evangelization, but about becoming more like Christ (“growing into Him”) so we can take our place in His mystical body.  Evangelization is inseparable from our own growth in holiness.  It’s even clearer when we look at the larger context:

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.   (Eph 4:11-16)

It all comes down to love; it is love that binds together the body of Christ.  Without love we can say true things, but we can’t embody The Truth.
     It’s that understanding of embodiment that is one of the great insights, and one of the great strengths, of the Catholic tradition.  It has often occurred to me that one of Martin Luther’s great mistakes was misunderstanding fides as simply “faith”, a largely internal and subjective experience.  Fides is, in fact, much wider than that: it is “fidelity”, or “faithfulness”, a whole way of acting and living.  Think of what we mean by faithfulness in marriage: it’s more than feelings or intentions, it involves doing certain things, and specifically not doing others.
     So it is with veritatem facere.  It does not only mean speaking the truth lovingly (although that’s certainly a part of it), it means doing the truth, living it out in love, in order to make up a worthy body for our Divine Head.


It's snowing again . . .

Sure, it looks nice, but I'm ready for spring . . .

Snow piled up on the Wayside Crucifix

Not much growing in the garden right now . . . 

Monday, February 17, 2014

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

     Walter Williams published a piece last week called ”Dependency, Not Poverty” [link] that immediately brought to mind the brouhaha over Pope Francis’ supposed condemnation of capitalism in Evangelii Gaudium. You might recall that in said brouhaha the “smoking gun” brandished by gleeful leftists is the following quote:

     In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably  succeed in bringing about greater justice and  inclusiveness in the world. (Evangelii Gaudium 54)

As I pointed out in an earlier post [link], this statement fits in perfectly with over a century of Magisterial teaching by popes (Leo XIII, Pius XI, John Paul II) who were in no way friendly to socialism.  One could argue that it is simply common sense.  William’s article provides a perfect, real-world example: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The United States of America.
     Williams offers some intriguing facts taken from a report by Dr. Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “Understanding poverty in the United States” []:

-          80% of poor households have air conditioning
-          Nearly three quarters have a car or truck (31% have two or more)
-          Two-thirds have cable or satellite TV
-          Half have one or more computers
-          42% own their own home
-          “Poor Americans have more living space than the typical non-poor in Sweden, France or the UK.”
Walter Williams
Williams also points out that, while the poverty rate among American blacks in general is 35%, “the poverty rate among black married families has been in single digits for more than two decades, currently at 8%.”  Williams concludes that, rather than real material deprivation caused by factors beyond the reach of the sufferers, “What we have in our nation are dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state.” 
     In short, while “economic growth, encouraged by a free market” has indeed created enough wealth and more for every person in the United States, it certainly has not succeeded “in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness.”  The question is what, as Christians, ought we to do?
     This is a very complicated question, to which I, at least, cannot do justice in one blog post.  I expect to return to it a number of times in the near future.  For today, I’d like to sketch out a brief outline.  First, those on the economic left (including those who style themselves “Social Justice Catholics”) advocate more government redistribution, accomplished by taking wealth from those who produce it and giving it to others who consume it.  Walter Williams (and many others) argue that it is just such redistributionist policies, which separate wealth from work and incentivize dependency and indolence,  that are largely responsible for the “spiritual poverty” that is, is many ways, more damaging and demoralizing than ordinary material poverty (and which ultimately creates material poverty as well).
     Common sense and human experience bear him out.  Benjamin Franklin famously said:

I am for doing good to the poor, but . . . I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, it is leading or driving them out of it.  I observed . . . that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer.  And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.

Benjamin Franklin
Most of us Christians would not want to put the matter quite so harshly, and Christian Charity demands much more than simply letting the poor enjoy the benefits of the Law of Consequences.  Still, Mr. Franklin has a valid point: if doing nothing pays as well as or better than working hard, how many people are going to choose the easy road?  And St. Paul himself said: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” (2 Thess 10b-11
     As Catholics we also recognize how important work is to our dignity as human beings.  John Paul the Great says:

Work is a good thing for a man – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes “more a human being.”  (Laborem Exercens 9)    

We could truly say that it is uncharitable to enable otherwise capable people not to work, because we are robbing them of a part of their human dignity.  Pius XI said that “it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.” (Quadrigesimo Anno 79 – italics mine)  This same Principle of Subsidiarity applies to individuals as it does to organizations.
     So what are we to conclude?  Again, just a couple preliminary conclusions.  First, while it’s true that the market economy’s ability to generate wealth is not sufficient to create a just society, and does not of itself eliminate poverty, it is certainly a necessary condition; welfare state policies , on the other hand, create no wealth at all and, at least in some cases, discourage people from making choices that could lift them out of poverty.  This doesn’t mean that we ought not to help the needy, but it does mean that such assistance, whether private or public, ought not to make dependency more attractive than work.
     Also, no system, no program and no amount of wealth can save us from the effects of original sin; if we’re looking to politics or the market economy for salvation we’re going down the wrong road.  I can’t help but think (not for the first time) of what Pope John Paul II said: “It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new program’. The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever.”  (Novo Millenio Ineunto 29)
   Clearly this is true on the eternal level: the permanent disposition of our souls far overshadows our material circumstances in this world. But it is also true on a more mundane level. To the degree that poverty in the United States and other Western nations is the fruit of what Walter Williams calls “unwise choices and  . . . pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state,” (what we used to call “immorality” and “living in sin”), it can be corrected by wise choices and healthy lives.  Men and women who put Christ at the center of their lives,  and therefore live according to tradional Christian moral standards,  are likely to live in a way that leads to a better economic outcome.

     My final thought is this:  Christian morality is not simply one “lifestyle choice” among many; it is the truth, based on the reality of human nature as God created it.  The so-called “culture wars” are not a diversion from more important economic and political matters, but are in fact the key to solving problems in the political and economic realms.  After all, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.” (Rom 8:28)