Sarah Silverman, a comedienne whom some people claim to find funny, grabbed a lot of attention last week when a video of her October 9, 2009, appearance on HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher was posted to YouTube. Silverman trotted out one of the silliest of modern anti-Catholic myths: that the buildings, grounds, and artistic holdings of Vatican City are worth enough money to solve the problem of world hunger.
Silverman claimed that the proceeds from such a sale, which she put at $500 billion, could "feed the whole f---ing world." It could, but at less than $85 per person, one has to ask: What will they eat tomorrow?
It's hardly worth responding to such silliness, because the point, of course, is not to solve world hunger but to attack Catholicism. Silverman proved that by trotting out another anti-Catholic myth (that the Catholic Church was somehow complicit in the holocaust) and making sexually explicit remarks about Pope Benedict XVI.
Yet, on another level, this particular myth demands a response, since, as Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights points out, "the Catholic Church operates more hospitals and feeds more of the poor than any private institution in the world. It also saved more Jews during the Holocaust than any other institution in the world."
Indeed, hospitals have their very origins in monastic communities. Modern secular philanthropy, driven by big-money donations from those who can more than afford them, is simply a pale reflection of the care for the poor and the hungry and the sick and the prisoner offered through the centuries by Christians who were often only slightly better off than those they helped (and sometimes even worse off).
While world hunger is an intractable problem, the healthcare crisis in the United States today could be resolved rather quickly if more people were willing to follow the example of the immigrant priests, brothers, and nuns who founded the Catholic hospital system in the United States in the 19th century. The destruction of Christian philanthropy in healthcare, and its replacement with the desire for profit, has brought us to where we are today.
For those monks and nuns and priests and laymen who dedicated their lives to the service of others, care for the body was intimately wrapped up with concern for the soul. Yet once concern for the soul is lost in pursuit of profit, it is hardly surprising that care for the body is tossed aside as well.
If Sarah Silverman is really concerned for the poor, and not simply hoping to make a quick buck through nasty attacks on the Catholic Church, she could begin by volunteering her time at any number of Catholic hospitals, food pantries, and soup kitchens. Along the way, she might even learn that man does not live by bread alone.