“Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save” (Psalm 146:3)

I find this picture from today’s Drudge Report very poignant and thought-provoking.

Here we are, on the eve of the U.S. mid-term elections, and most people seem to sense the palpable unease that is in the air. A great tumult may be not be far off. Tumult and turmoil go hand in hand. And many pessimistic prognosticators have been prognosticating for the past year that something big and bad will happen in the U.S. that will shake things badly. An economic implosion, perhaps, or another successful terrorist attack, a natural disaster, or some kind of event that will provoke wide-spread civil unrest. God forbid! 

I hope they’re all wrong. I hope that tomorrow’s election will help to stabilize things somewhat and maybe even move us back toward some kind of sanity in our fiscal and social policies. Heaven knows that the damage wrought in the last two years of the current regime’s disgusting bacchanalia of spending and social engineering will be hard to correct. Some say impossible. But I am hopeful. Like many of you, I am worried and prayerfully cautious about how things will turn out. I don’t put my trust in the princes and princesses of either political party, but I remain hopeful. 

Look at that poor man in the picture. He is not hopeful. He personifies the despair that so many are experiencing these days. See how he kneels (kneels!) in the gutter, hands folded and face set like flint in grim mask of supplication as the presidential limousine whisks by him. I don’t know what was in his heart at that moment, and I don’t know what his political views are or what he hopes will happen in tomorrow’s election. But I am quite moved by this picture. This man represents something very sad to me about the way America has been changing in recent decades, certainly since I was born in 1960. His face reflects an abject servility that is very disconcerting when I think of how cringing and servile so many Americans have become in their attitude toward The Government. How bad can it get, and how long can it go on?

What makes me so sad — and angry, too — is that this disconsolate man should feel so hopeless that he is reduced to kneeling in the gutter in hopes that the occupant of that armored limousine will take notice of his plea for help. I see a look that says, “Please look at me! Live up to your promises. Don’t betray me. Don’t leave me here in the gutter after you promised to help me me up.”

The Government (certainly not this one) can’t save him. It can’t save us. It can’t even save itself from itself. It devours. It’s a necessary evil that seems bent on becoming ever more unnecessary.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about this poignant image is that it might just as well portend the calm before a storm — one man’s last, ditch effort to get help. And when the limousine passes him by once again, and things just continue getting bleaker, what then? 


  1. MemoriaDei

    There is no excuse whatsoever for anyone to be homeless in this country. No excuse. None. Zip. If they are homeless because they are mentally ill, then they should be given what they need. Some are addicts…give them treatment and a support team after treatment. Whatever is the reason, there is no excuse for this.

  2. Ted Seeber

    This level of destruction is not the result of 2 years of very minimal economic engineering (minimal when you compare the size of the hole, $650 TRILLION, to the size of the engineering, barely $2 trillion, $3 trillion if you include defense spending on the two wars we're in). We are paying for what is the ultimate sin in all religions- treating our fellow man as a resource, a thing. We've been doing it for 40 years- through both demand side and supply side economics- through trying to do charity through government then removing that charity when it became unprofitable- through ignoring subsidiarity and encouraging centralization of government in Washington DC and centralization of the economy in New York City. We left economic sanity behind with free trade, with materialism, with killing off the next generation for the private property rights of the current generation.Obama isn't the problem. America's culture of death is the problem. Until we learn that we are not INDIVIDUALS, but COMMUNITY- we will continue to have that problem.

  3. Patrick Madrid

    Ted, you and I agree on some things, and disagree on others. Mainly, I see BIG problems where you don't seem to see them.

  4. 40 Days for Life El Paso and Las Cruces

    I see a man on his knees pleading for help, but not from the man inside the limousine. He is pleading to God Almighty to touch the soul of the man inside the limousine and to give him the grace of a true conversion. Similar to how we see people on their knees pray outside of an abortion clinic for the conversion of those who support abortion.

  5. Cori

    You nailed it, Patrick.

  6. Ricochet

    As a Catholic below middle class status I feel for this man and I am aware how dangerously close me and my family are to this despair.Tomorrow I vote but I feel disenfranchised. There is no party that can speak for me as a conservative Catholic. If I vote with my wallet I should vote Democrat they will give me things, but at the price of selling out to the culture of death. If I vote Republican I fear more jobs will be lost and wages will continue their downward spiral, but perhaps we will have more responsible spending and our freedoms respected.As a follower of Christ I will vote against the culture of death and suffer my little economic martyrdom. I hope it`s little.

  7. Elizabeth

    Excellent and timely post. This election, in particular, has raised the "now what?" question. Several years of a Republican reign in the nineties, then these 4 solidly Democrat years with no solutions. Are we just going to flip the switch again and hope it gets fixed? We have to stop looking to Washington and make positive, community and Christ-focus decisions to help each other.

  8. Kari

    I agree with you Elizabeth. This man is our responsibility not the governments. Government always misuses money and screws everything up. I am for lowering taxes, so I can have more money to help the poor and do the things I believe God would want me to do. This is true freedom. I want to have the choice as to what charity I want to support…. I don't want government to do this for me. These are truly conservative republican principals.

  9. doanli aka "orange blossom"

    *start rant*And then I am reminded of a few cars parked in my Catholic church's parking lot on Sunday, still with "Obama 08" stickers on them.You might as well say a good portion of fellow Catholics gave the Pro Death party the power they have in the past few decades. (And put Supreme Court Justices who are very pro-Roe v. Wade.)It's like Judas Iscariot's betrayal of our Lord all over again. All because the Pro-Death Party will give all this money to the poor–money, money.(rant over)

  10. Jim

    I completely agree with Elizabeth. Despite what either party may say, God will not live in Washington no matter who is in power. He lives in each of us. Her suggestion to make Him manifest in our communities through us is well taken.

  11. doanli aka "orange blossom"

    Oh, and after all of these government programs and expansion of the Welfare State– we still have the Poor—just as Christ said we would.And our public education system is worse off despite all of the money we've poured into it the past few decades.

  12. Nick

    "The Government (certainly not this one) can't save him. It can't save us. It can't even save itself from itself. It devours. It's a necessary evil that seems bent on becoming ever more unnecessary."If you have something against the Government, than point it out and refute it, just as the Church Fathers did against evils and heresies. A blanket statement will not save you.

  13. Patrick Madrid

    Why so testy, Nick? When did I say a blanket statement will save someone? I'm not even sure what that's supposed to mean.I said what I wanted to say in my post. You're free to accept or ignore it.

  14. Susan L

    Ricochet, I'm sorry things are not going well for you. I respect you for choosing to vote in the way that you believe serves Christ even if you think that you might personally suffer for it. (I don't think that jobs will be lost if the Republicans win tomorrow. I do believe that jobs are being lost because of the taxes and restrictions that the Democrats and RINOS are inflicting on us.)I will pray tonight that God gives you whatever you need. I really hope that things look up for you.

  15. MemoriaDei

    I think that when the Holy Father, not long ago, told the laity that we are to be responsible, many took the message to mean who can do what during Mass. What I think he is saying is that faithful Christians need to work together to help others which would definitely include the homeless. Each community should have Christians working together not separated by denomination. We shouldn't need the govt to do this because we have been called by Christ to do it. Each faithful Christian, everyone of us, is responsible for the homeless if we are not helping them in a joint effort of Christians working together to get 'er done.

  16. Paul_Bennett

    God bless and protect America now and into the future.

  17. Ron

    I see the contrast between this man looking up to the president, and the man on the street who looked up to Peter. Peter didn't make empty monetary promises, but gave the man sight, and hope. The Church stands in stark contrast to the world. To whom do we give our attention and allegiance?

  18. Ron

    The Captcha on my post was "petri".

  19. Elizabeth

    @MemoriaDei Well put. It's our job and I really think we're happy to do it.@Ron's Captcha: that's amazing and excellent.

  20. ach_hartley

    MemoriaDei,I think some people prefer the streets to an actual home, that is where they are able to get drugs. Also, some people don't want or respond to treatment.You can only help those who are willing to help themselves, and some people don't want help finding a home or get help.

  21. Nick

    Sorry for the late reply. I'm like a flea on the Internet."Why so testy, Nick? When did I say a blanket statement will save someone? I'm not even sure what that's supposed to mean."Not testy. I'm just asking you to imitate the Church Fathers. They didn't just throw out a blanket statement by saying, "Rome can't save us. It can't even save itself. It devours. It's a necessary evil that seems bent on becoming ever more unnecessary." No, they cited individual evils within Rome, than refuted them.

  22. Greg

    Unfortunately, Patrick, your sentiments about the role of government are not at all in accord with Catholic teaching. True, the Church does not teach that government can 'save us', whatever you might mean by this. But the Church, particularly in the 19th-21st century encyclicals of popes (including the most recent Caritas in veritate), has consistently articulated that government has a necessary role in public welfare. Yes, the principle of subsidiarity is such that local approaches are to be sought whenever possible. However, democratically elected governments have a role to play in ensuring that wealth is redistributed fairly, that people receive adequate health care, that the impoverished no longer have their human dignity violated, etc.This is official teaching. I think you need to explain why how you think your sentiments accord with Catholic teaching.

  23. Patrick Madrid

    Sure thing, Greg. I'd be happy to.First, I should clarify that I don't simply "think" that my concerns are consonant with Catholic teaching, I know they are. It will be up to you, I suppose, to show me where they are not.Second, it's a given that government has a necessary role in public welfare. To say that "democratically elected governments have a role to play" is true enough, but you then make the mistake of mixing legitimate duties the government has a responsibility for (i.e., helping poor and disadvantaged citizens) with the completely illegitimate notion that the government has a responsibility to "redistribute wealth fairly." That is false, and the government not only does not have a duty to interfere in that area, it has a positive moral obligation not to meddle in people's private affairs, including trying to redistribute their wealth. I have no doubt that if a duly and democratically elected government were to come to power and its legislators, supreme court justices, and president decided that it was "fair" to reach down and take a significant and unreasonable amount of your own money and redistribute it to others in a way that you did not think was fair, you'd oppose that. Similarly, the government has no right, much less a duty, to actively actively promote and fund immoral activities. This government, for example, actively promotes and finances a number of things that are directly contrary to Catholic teaching, e.g., abortion, sterilization, contraception, torture, and other violations of human dignity. Then there's the government's "disgusting bacchanalia" of reckless, wasteful spending and social engineering that it is deeply engaged in, which is also contrary to Catholic moral teaching.I could go on, but I don't think I really need to. Our government has been, in many ways, corrupt, greedy, vindictive, anti-life, and generally opposed to a great deal that the Catholic Church stands for. And this is exactly why Tuesday's election was such a rout for the erstwhile ruling party. This regime has not listened to Catholic moral teaching in many areas, it actually actively defies that teaching. And in my opinion, this is why it suffered such a sharp voter rebuke, even from voters who themselves don't give a fig about Catholic moral teaching but who, nonetheless, know that something very wrong, unjust, and aggressively secular has taken control of the agenda.Now that the complexion of the Congress and Senate has been altered so radically by Tuesday's vote — a move back in the direction of sanity and moral responsibility, or so it would appear — maybe, just maybe, we'll be fortunate enough to see this government move back toward Catholic moral and social teaching rather than away from it, as it has been for years now. We'll see.The bottom line is what I said in my original post: "Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save." God bless America.

  24. Greg

    You are, of course, right that there is much that is legitimized by governments, not just the American government, that is opposed to Catholic teaching. That does not, however, that we dismiss gov't as summarily as you seem to do. And I'm quite surprised by your rejection of the government's role in the redistribution of wealth when the Church so clearly teaches this. The phrase 'redistribution of wealth' with reference to the government (and also to private obligations) is found very frequently in Caritas in veritate, the most recent encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI. How do you read these references? Similar sentiments are found elsewhere in other encyclicals. Here are some representative quotations:"It follows from the twofold character of ownership which we have termed individual and social, that individuals must take into account in this matter, not only their own advantage, but also the common good. To define in detail these duties, when the need occurs and when the natural law does not do so, is the function of the Government" (Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno)."[T]he civil authority is entirely ordained to the common good of all…The common good concerns the whole person, the needs both of body and soul. Hence it follows that the civil authority must undertake to procure it by ways and means proportionate to it: while respecting the hierarchy of values, they should promote simultaneously both the material and the spiritual welfare of the citizens" (John XXIII, Pacem in Terris)"Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right. No one is justified in keeping for one's exclusive use what one does not need, when others lack necessities….If there should arise a conflict between acquired private rights and primary community exigencies, it is the responsibility of public authorities to look for a solution" (Paul VI, Populorum Progressio)."Government leaders, your task is to draw your communities into closer ties of solidarity with all men, and to convince them that they must accept the necessary taxes on their luxuries and their wasteful expenditures in order to promote the development of nations and the preservation of peace" (ibid.)"[C]ertain concepts have somehow arisen out of these new conditions and insinuated themselves into the fabric of human society. These concepts present profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations. This unbridled liberalism paves the way for a particular type of tyranny, rightly condemned by Our predecessor Pius XI, for it results in the international imperialism of money" (ibid.).More quotations in next post…

  25. Greg

    "Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution…hinder the achievement of lasting development" (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 32). Note that he refers to wealth redistribution as a positive and necessary thing that governments do."[I]t must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution" (ibid., 36). Again, Benedict is suggesting that central to the role of the political realm is the redistribution of wealth. And, it should be pointed out, he's saying that the market cannot be left on its own without the state coming in to provide justice for those who fall through the cracks."Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics" (ibid., 37).I admire your confidence that you "know" that your thoughts are in accord with Catholic teaching, but I do think things aren't quite as black and white as you're suggesting. I'm not partisan. In fact, I believe very much that the ideas represented by both parties violate human dignity in horrendous ways. That does not, however, give Catholics the right simply to right off the role of gov't completely. The Church doesn't allow for that, and we need to advocate not only against such things as abortion, etc., but also to advocate for just redistribution of wealth, health care for all, dignified treatment of the unemployed and impoverished, etc.I am, as always, willing to be corrected. God bless all humanity, a humanity that has an inherent divinely-given dignity that transcends political boundaries.

  26. *Linda Pinda*

    I've been looking at this image for a few days now. I've been trying to collect my thoughts on it all.The one thing that strikes me as odd in the prior comments is the assumption by a few that he is homeless. I see men that look exactly like this every day traveling back and forth to work, at the grocery store, bringing their children back and forth to school, etc. Heck… lots of folks around here can't afford Nike hats and wear the plain ones from the dollar store.And my first impression was not that he was "kneeling in the gutter" out of humility, but that he had grabbed the best spot to show the president his love for him.I could be wrong. As previously stated, none of us know the details of just what and who is captured in this photograph.I think the real message, is that either way, it's sad. And for his own sake, I would borrow from the teachings of Mother Theresa that there are worse poverties than economic. For his sake, I hope he was begging for help, and not adoring our president.

  27. Greg

    I'm not trying to be argumentative. But I'm genuinely curious what you make of the quotations and ideas I presented above.

  28. Patrick Madrid

    No worries, Greg. I have been tied up with a pressing writing deadline until just recently and thus haven't been able to tend to the blog and respond to your comments.First, let me say "touché" for your having posted pertinent magisterial statements about "wealth distribution" which, at first glance, may seem to flatly contradict my comments above. Even so, I would content that my comments are true and not contradicted by the quotes you provided. I'll explain why.First, I understand Pope Benedict to be speaking of a legitimate type of "wealth redistribution" which comports with the gospel imperative to assist the poor and disadvantaged (e.g., Matt. 25:31-46). No argument from me on that score. However, I do not regard as legitimate or consonant with the gospel the type of redistribution of wealth that this current government has been engaged in. I see the government's actions as essentially socialistic. These actions tend to be unjust, abusive, and deleterious to the common good.A kind of reverse parallel to this can be seen in the question of “war,” which the Church condemns. It would be a mistake, though, to assert that the Church always and everywhere condemns war, because She also recognizes that at times a “just war” may be waged, under certain precise conditions (see CCC 2307-2309). Even though, almost always, war is immoral and unjust, there are certain instances in which waging war would be neither immoral nor unjust but, rather, justifiable under Catholic moral principles. Similarly, although the Church can laud the “redistribution of wealth” as a good thing, under the circumstances we are presently in, here in the US, my position is that this type of redistribution we have been afflicted with in recent years falls under the Church’s ban of that unjust kind (see below).continued . . .

  29. Patrick Madrid

    [. . .]Second, the Catholic Church does not endorse every kind of redistribution of wealth. Pope Pius XI made some crucial distinctions on this point in Quadragesimo Anno. Among other elements of his social teaching, I would draw attention to the following statements that I believe make my point on this:And therefore, to the harassed workers there have come "intellectuals," as they are called, setting up in opposition to a fictitious law the equally fictitious moral principle that all products and profits, save only enough to repair and renew capital, belong by very right to the workers. This error, much more specious than that of certain of the Socialists who hold that whatever serves to produce goods ought to be transferred to the State, or, as they say "socialized," is consequently all the more dangerous and the more apt to deceive the unwary. It is an alluring poison which many have eagerly drunk whom open Socialism had not been able to deceive (56).[N]ot every distribution among human beings of property and wealth is of a character to attain either completely or to a satisfactory degree of perfection the end which God intends. Therefore, the riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate. By this law of social justice, one class is forbidden to exclude the other from sharing in the benefits. Hence the class of the wealthy violates this law no less, when, as if free from care on account of its wealth, it thinks it the right order of things for it to get everything and the worker nothing, than does the non-owning working class when, angered deeply at outraged justice and too ready to assert wrongly the one right it is conscious of, it demands for itself everything as if produced by its own hands, and attacks and seeks to abolish, therefore, all property and returns or incomes, of whatever kind they are or whatever the function they perform in human society, that have not been obtained by labor, and for no other reason save that they are of such a nature (57).Socialism inclines toward and in a certain measure approaches the truths which Christian tradition has always held sacred; for it cannot be denied that its demands at times come very near those that Christian reformers of society justly insist upon (113). [NB: but I would argue that Pius XI did not have in mind the kind of socialism on display in the government today].Socialism, on the other hand, wholly ignoring and indifferent to this sublime end of both man and society, affirms that human association has been instituted for the sake of material advantage alone (118).If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist (120).Third, Quadragesimo Anno is nuanced in its discussion of wealth, poverty, socialism, and the Catholic’s obligation to always adhere to Catholic social doctrine. But disagreement seems to center on how a government may rightly (or wrongly) attempt to “level the playing field” within a society. Because I do not accept the premise the current government is acting consistently with Catholic social teaching on a whole host of social issues, not merely the question of the redistribution of wealth, I stand by my original comments. I appreciate yours, but I don’t think that what you have pointed out has refuted my original point.In any case, thank you for the opportunity to clarify things.

  30. Greg

    Thank you for your helpful and thoughtful response, Patrick. I think the crux of my disagreement with your stance revolves around your assessment of current government actions as socialistic. The church, as you well know, is highly critical of socialism in the same way as it is highly critical of unregulated capitalism, and I wasn't trying to suggest that the church advocated for socialism. You and I agree that it does not, and the quotations you provide above demonstrate this in the same way as my quotations demonstrate the church's criticism of unregulated free-market economics.But I can't get my head around your assessment of current gov't policies as socialistic. I'm a transplant to the United States from another country. Most people from another western country will tell you that the United States has, before and after Obama, virtually no social welfare system at all in comparison with Canada and other western European countries. You and I would undoubtedly agree about the problem of Obama's stance on abortion. But he seems to me to be quite centrist in comparison with leftist politicians in other countries. So…I really can't comprehend your assessment of the current administration.My main point above is that suspicion of gov't is a very understandable and very American position to have. It just isn't a Catholic position to have. The Catholic church is no friend of socialism. But it is also no friend of unrestrained capitalism. And the magisterial documents consistently underline that gov't has a role to play in the public welfare. It seems to me, though you would clearly disagree, that the American gov't – including this current administration – isn't doing anything nearly enough in terms of creating the kinds of policies for public welfare that the church calls for.Anyhow, thanks for the engaging and helpful discussion. I really appreciate you taking the time to dialogue.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: