“If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization.”
Pope Francis has declared the Sunday before Christ the King Sunday the World Day of the Poor. This year, it occurs on November 19.
Let us make sure that we—both individually and as communities—observe this day meaningfully. As we will explain just now, it is not simply a question of praying for the poor!
Here are the salient points of the Pope’s letter, with short explanations.
- The Christian community enters the world through faith in Jesus and service of the poor. The Christian faith was linked from the beginning with the service of the poor—something that was new in the understanding of religion in Greece or Rome.
- Sharing our possessions is essential to our faith. Pope Francis quotes St. James, whose message is direct and clear: “Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, and drag you into court? … If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body; what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead” (2:5-6.14-17).
- Christians have done much for the poor. In fact, even today, when there is any natural disaster or man-made suffering, Church groups are among the first to reach out and help—whatever the religion or nationality of the needy. But we can, and need to, do more. We have not done enough. All of us can do a lot more.
- The Pope quotes St. Francis of Assisi, and how living with the poor changed him. St. Francis was not satisfied with embracing lepers and giving them alms. He went to stay with them. He saw this as the turning point of his conversion: “When I was in my sins, it seemed a thing too bitter to look on lepers, and the Lord himself led me among them and I showed them mercy. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of mind and body.”
- Occasional acts of charity to appease our conscience are not enough. We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounterwith the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life. In sharing the life of the poor, we touch the flesh of Christ. We touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor.
- Essential extension of the Eucharist: The Christ we meet in the Eucharist is the Christ we need to serve in the poor. As Saint John Chrysostom admonishes us, “If you want to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness” ( in Matthaeum, 50.3: PG 58). We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.
- The interior attitude of poverty lies in following Jesus in his poverty: “Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel omnipotent and immortal. Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness. Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace. Poverty, understood in this way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45).
- Today’s challenges: Many types of poverty and accumulation of wealth by a few: It is hard for our contemporary world to see poverty clearly for what it is. Poverty challenges us daily, in faces marked by suffering, marginalization, oppression, violence, torture and imprisonment, war, deprivation of freedom and dignity, ignorance and illiteracy, medical emergencies and shortage of work, trafficking and slavery, exile, extreme poverty and forced migration. Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money. To face the growing inequalities and exploitation, we need a new vision of life and society.
- The poor belong to the church by right: All the poor – as Blessed Paul VI loved to say – belong to the Church by “evangelical right,” and require of us a fundamental option on their behalf. Blessed, therefore, are the open hands that embrace the poor and help them: they are hands that bring hope. Blessed are the hands that reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion and nationality, and pour the balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity. Blessed are the open hands that ask nothing in exchange, with no “ifs” or “buts” or “maybes”: they are hands that call down God’s blessing upon their brothers and sisters.
- World day of the poor: Here are ways of celebrating it meaningfully:
(1) Moments of friendship and help, of solidarity, e.g., table fellowship with the poor of our neighbourhood.
(2) Prayer: The “Our Father” teaches us to think of us, not just me. Is our prayer changing us in this direction?
(3) Make this World Day of the Poor a tradition. Prepare for it in the spirit of Jesus. Celebrate it in a way that helps us to be with the poor and for the poor.
Pope Francis adds: “Sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel. The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practise in our lives the essence of the Gospel.”
- How will I personally observe the World Day of the Poor?
What will we do as a family / religious community / parish / seminary / youth group?
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