Marx said that religion was the opium of the people.
But I also know that charity can be the opium of the rich.
St. Alberto Hurtado, S.J.
St. Albert Hurtado was a twentieth century Chilean Jesuit who was an apostle of the poor.
Born poor, he entered the Jesuits and soon became known for his care of the poor, involving his university students in working with the poor. He founded centers for the poor, El Hogar de Cristo, where poor children, and later adults, were sheltered and also trained in various skills.
He also sought to spread the message of Catholic Social Teaching, even starting a periodical and writing several books.
He died on August 18, 1952 of pancreatic cancer.
For St. Albert it was not enough to care for the poor, though charity is essential:
Christ stumbles through our streets in the person of so many poor who are hungry, thrown out of their miserable lodgings because of sickness or destitution. Christ has no home! And we who have the good fortune to have one and have food to satisfy our hunger, what are we doing about it?
One should also seek to make the changes on society that will bring about greater justice.
This morning, I thought about St. Albert’s quote that charity might become the opium of the rich, as I read the Gospel of the rich young man in Matthew 19: 16-22.
If you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor – and then come and follow me.
That quotation of Jesus is a continual challenge to me and all of us who are rich – in comparison to two-thirds of the world. Am I willing to let go of what I have?
But thinking of the teaching and example of St. Albert Hurtado, I see not a way out of the dilemma, but a way to start responding to the dilemma of riches and the inadequacy of charity.
Be present to the poor and struggle for justice.
Share what you have with the poor and challenge the structures that keep them poor.
Give away as much as you can – trust in the loving providence of God and live in solidarity with the poor.
Above all, follow Jesus.