Frédéric Ozanam – living the option for the poor

On September 8, 1853, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam died. A well-known and respected professor with degrees in law and literature, he was an expert in Dante. But he is more well-known for his work with the poor, initiating with others the Confraternity of charity which later became known as the Society of St. Vincent De Paul.

Not content to work with the poor, he also wrote in response to the trials of the poor of his day and to the various solutions being put forward in his day.

He saw the divide between rich and poor as the source of conflict, “the battle of those who have nothing and those who have too much; it is the violent collision of opulence and poverty which makes the earth tremble under our feet.”

And so when the 1848 revolution hit the streets of Paris and was violently suppressed, Frédéric Ozanam defended the justice of their cause, even as he regretted their violent means. For this he found himself isolated from the more conservative Catholics of his time.

In some ways he expressed the option for the poor that we can find in the Gospels and the early church – and is now central to Catholic Social Teaching. The poor were for him “messengers of God to test our justice and our charity, and to save us by our works.”

And so where should the Church be?

“The Church would do better to support herself upon the people, who are truly the ally of the church, poor as she, devout as she, blessed as she by all the benedictions of the Savior.”

In the midst of political campaigns in the US and in Honduras, where will the Church stand? Will we be on the side of the poor, working with them and advocating with them for real justice, for real changes of the systems that oppress them?

This post is based in large part on the short biography found in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time,which I heartily recommend.


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