Deal W. Hudson
In the midst of Valentine’s Day sentiment, it’s refreshing to hear someone who speaks plainly about love. At a White House briefing on February 6, Jim Towey, the new Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives, said something that ought to be heard–“government cannot love.”
Towey, who is Catholic, knows something about the institutions that do works of love and compassion. He led Florida’s health and social service agency, with 40,000 employees, later leaving to found an organization called Aging with Dignity. But perhaps his most self-sacrificial work came as a full-time volunteer in Mother Teresa’s Washington, D.C. AIDS hospice.
They first met on August 20, 1985. Towey was touring refugee camps in Southeast Asia for Sen. Mark Hatfield when he decided to return through Calcutta to meet Mother Teresa. “I didn’t want to be around poor people, but I wanted to meet Mother Teresa, so I promised myself a five-day trip to Hawaii for the effort.”
He never got to Hawaii. Instead he says he “met Jesus Christ in bed forty-six” when one of the sisters asked Towey to clean a man with scabies. Having planned to “give the sister a twenty dollar bill and leave,” Towey ended up working for the Sisters of Charity as legal counsel for the next twelve years, including during his year-long stint in Washington, D.C.
Towey’s view of the faith-based initiative is animated by the example of Mother Teresa’s integration of love for the Eucharist and service to the poor. Thus, he doesn’t view his job as a simple matter of administering civil rights. “The whole issue resolves around relieving the misery of the poor and recognizing the God-given human dignity of the poor.”
Towey knows well that people love people. However, an abstraction like government, albeit made up of laws and those administer who them, cannot love. President Bush, himself, has made this observation on a number of occasions, yet I’ve never seen anyone comment on it. That’s a shame, since the view is clearly influenced by the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.
Subsidiarity means that social problems should be treated at the most local level possible. In other words, the most effective way of fighting poverty begins with the people living in the same community–where the people who help and the people in need can look each other in the face.
Government can’t love but government can encourage the corporal works of mercy of those people who can. Fortunately, the program of the faith-based initiative answers the question, “What’s the government going to do about it?” by providing resources to people motivated by the earnestness of faith.
As President Bush said at the annual prayer breakfast on Thursday, January 31, “Faith shows us the way to self-giving, to love our neighbor, as we would want to love ourselves. In service to others, we find deep human fulfillment. And as acts of service are multiplied, our nation becomes a more welcoming place for the weak, and a better place for those who suffer and grieve.”
This is the lesson Jim Towey learned from the man in bed forty-six.