Some while ago, I read something that has stuck in my head ever since as a perceptive analysis of one of the problems in the modern Church (and indeed in modern society).
I think, though I am by no means sure, that it was in Fr Bryan Houghton's excellent novel, Mitre and Crook.
Anyhow, the point he was making was that until fairly recently we used to care for people: the poor, the sick, the homeless (and indeed some still do, of course). But more recently, we have moved collectively from caring for to caring about. Thus, rather than feed and help the poor, we campaign about poverty. Rather than visiting the sick or imprisoned, we campaign about the NHS or penal reform; and so on.
At one level, that may seem rational: after all, if we can solve poverty, that is better than the poor being reliant on our charity. Yet it seems problematic to me; not least because it is much easier (for me at least) to care about than to care for. However, I think it is much better for me to care for.
That is partly because of the difference between the world of ideas, which is clean, intellectual, and in many ways safe, and the world of real people, which is messy, practical and unsettling. Yet it is in the poor, the dispossessed, the hungry, the sick and the imprisoned that we encounter Christ; and it is in going out of our way to be with them that we imitate Him.
In so far as caring about is a displacement activity for caring for, it is leading me away from Christ. And the troubling thing is, how eager I seem to be led away from Him...
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