Hearing the poor

I have seen the humiliation of my people in Egypt
And I hear their cry when they are cruelly treated by their taskmasters.
I know their suffering.
Exodus 3: 7

Do we, like our God, know the suffering of the poor?

In the US, today is the feast of St. Katherine Drexel, the founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who lived from 1858 to 1955.

Born into the rich Drexel family in Philadelphia, she learned to listen to the poor from her parents, especially her step-mother. Her family used to open the doors of their mansion three times a week to provide food, clothing, and money to the poor. Their parish priest who later became the bishop of Omaha, Nebraska, opened her heart to the plight of native Americans and the injustice they were suffering.

When her father died this three daughters received a large inheritance which all three used to benefit the poor. Katherine used her money to help Native American missions in the West.

But Katherine felt the call to religious life. Her parish priest urged her not to become a contemplative nun as she originally wished but to wait for God’s call.

She experienced that call and founded a religious order whose mission is to respond to the needs of Native Americans and African Americans.

Mother Katherine continued to distribute the inheritance she had received but did not use the money for the sisters. They had to depend on alms. But with the inheritance schools and missions were opened, including the establishment of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university specifically fro African-Americans.

But not content on providing alms, she also spoke out against segregation and her sisters marched in the civil rights movement that began about the time of her death.

As she once said, “If we live the Gospel, we will be people of justice and our lives will bring good news to the poor.”

I vaguely remember that in the late fifties several sisters from her congregation came to ask for support at the parish where I grew up in Darby, just outside of Philadelphia. They asked us to pray for her canonization. I didn’t pay too much attention since I didn’t know much about her life and her mission. Now I appreciate how she followed our God who hears the cries of the poor.

When she was canonized in 2000, Pope John Paul II said:

May her example help young people in particular to appreciate that no greater treasure can be found in this world than in following Christ with an undivided heart and in using generously the gifts we have received for the service of others and for the building of a more just and fraternal world.

May the example of Mother Katherine Drexel inspire us to hear the cries of the poor and open our hearts and our treasures in solidarity with them.

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