Friday, November 27, 2009

Form Or Substance

Which is Important?

Having followed some animus from Socon or Bust about Father Michael Prieur, and Save a Family Plan, both the priest and organisation being part of St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ontario, I was struck by the eternal question of the importance of substance over form, or form over substance.

I ask that not naively, but as a life long Catholic, with a sabbatical leave for about 10 years, earlier in my life to ponder the meaning of my navel. I returned to the Church that I love before resolving that meaning, but have continued with a certain amount of navel gazing thrown into my daily life processes.

Here's what I mean about the substance/form debate if you will.

Fr. Michael Prieur has a long history of dedicated service to the Catholic Church. He is faithful to His bishop, having served under some of the finest our Diocese has had to offer, from Cardinal Carter to Bishop Sherlock, and on to Bichop Fabbro. He has been called on to make tough choices over the years, because of his work as an ethicist. From time to time, he has been criticized by some wag or another, who has skimmed over the top of some of his work, failing to ask about or to attempt to understand the depth. And it happened again recently over at Socon and at Catholic Dialogue. As Father Michael explained to me the other day, many of the issues he is asked to opine on are not simple black and white issues. There is a depth to them, and a lot of study has gone into a decision, which then is, of course, able to be scrutinized. Those who have written in condemnation of some of his work, do so from their own limited knowledge, and therefor are limited to reviewing form, since they do not know enough to examine the substance of his body of work.

The same can be said about the issue that was raised recently n Socon or Bust about Save a Family Plan. I happen to know more about the evolution of that charitable organisation than I do of the theological questions that Father Prieur has been called on to deal with. I met Father, later Monsignor Augustine Kandathil many years ago, not too many years after he had founded Save a Family Plan. Father Gus was a rare gem. He was a product of his roots in India, but was knowledgeable about the needs there, and the desire of many faithful Catholics in North America to address those needs. So, he started a charity that operated on a shoe string, and it came to rest at St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ontario, where the diocese of London provided free office space, and willing volunteers from among the London faithful and the seminarians to help in the administration of and growth of this charity.

Father Gus, though somewhat enfeabled from his personal health perspective, was tireless. He had a great heart for the poor, and did without to help them. Save a Family Plan by and large supports families of the poorest of the poor, and villages and communities of these poor in various parts of India. Like some other charities, Father Gus linked donors with poor folks to meet the needs of both, quite frankly. Father was as tight with a buck as you could possibly imagine. He squeezed each one of those suckers until they bled. He believed in giving the poor a leg up, not a hand out. Tens of thousands of families have been helped by SAFP over the years. Long ago, he was able to tap into money from CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, on a matching programme, which enabled him to expand the reach of SAFP, such that they could take on projects to make the lives of more of the poor better.

The funds generated in North America for SAFP are administered in India under the direction of Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath, the President of its Board of Trustees in India. Bishop Sebastian is every bit as holy a man as Father Gus, since deceased was. He has a wonderful heart for the poor.

The substance of SAFP is that they bring aid to the poorest of the poor, and they manage, because of cost containment in their administration costs, to send 100% of every dollar that you give to the poor. Yes, they have been able to leverage money from CIDA in their work, but they are also well aware of the call of Christ to them.

John Pacheco, over at Socon or Bust, is trying to bust them over some interpretation of his about Form. Yes, he has never spent time with them or Father Michael Prieur for that matter. it is far easier to criticize someone without attempting to step into their shoes first. I know how easy it is. I have done it myself too many times to count, and might do it again.

Is it fair? I think not. If you want to look at someone look at the body of their work, the Substance before you go bust their chops over your interpretation of Form.

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