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Generosity — an innate aspect of a merry Christmas

12/18/2013, 12:07 p.m.
“That’s for the rich folks who have no concern for the poor”

A major theme of Christmas is to exalt the spirit of human generosity. In Charles Dickens’ oft-told story “A Christmas Carol,” even the miserly pinchpenny Ebenezer Scrooge had to yield to that innate impulse. But it did not come easily. Scrooge had to be frightened by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley. In a surprise pronouncement, Pope Francis declared that the generosity of the well-to-do is a human requirement, not just an act of noblesse oblige.

Scrooge resisted when it was suggested that as a Christmas gift he “should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.” Scrooge’s first reaction was to be assured that the prisons and the workhouse were still operating to restrain those who might misbehave because of their poverty. Once assured of the soundness of the institutional security systems, Scrooge was ready to become more responsive to the spirit of the season.

Christmas has become considerably more flamboyant since Scrooge’s time in 1843, but concern for “the poor and destitute” is still woefully deficient. With the approval of Republicans, the budget for food stamps was cut by $39 billion as of Nov. 1. At the same time, farm subsidies primarily for large agribusiness corporations have been increased. Both programs are part of the same agriculture budget.

During the season to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the founder of the Catholic Church, it is appropriate for the pope to speak out on behalf of those who are financially less fortunate. In the past there was a blessing for the poor and an admonition for those who are more affluent to be generous in their charity.

Now Pope Francis has intensified the message. His recent apostolic exhortation has attacked “unfettered capitalism” as “a new tyranny.” He criticized the “idolatry of money” and he beseeched politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and health care.”

Pope Francis went on to declare that economic tyrants could be guilty of murder. He stated, “just as the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

As might be expected, some business leaders and financiers are upset by the pope’s remarks, which go well beyond the requirement to be honest in business affairs. Pope Francis is now holding businessmen responsible for the social consequences of their otherwise honest activities. Business leaders must assure that the benefits of the enterprise reach all those involved.

The pope has rebutted the angry accusations that he is advocating socialism. He points out the long-held views of the church that require concern for the wellbeing of the people. He clearly does not agree with the position of many American conservatives that those who fail to prosper are lazy and undisciplined.

The well-publicized statement of Pope Francis was a valuable Christmas gift for all humanity. According to the pope, the yuletide display of human generosity is more than the simple requirement of the well-to-do. It is, much more profoundly, a human entitlement of one to another as we share the common experience of life.

In that spirit, regardless of one’s religion, may we all enjoy a very, merry Christmas.