Category Archives: poor

A poor and powerless church

From the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has shown a deep concern for the poor and an identification with their cause.

But this is not just responding to the poor. It is even more than identifying with the poor and going out to meet them. In his message for the 2017 World Day of the poor, Pope Francis has noted that we are required to have “a fundamental option” on their behalf.

But it is even more than that. As he said at his inaugural Mass, “How I would like a poor church for the poor.”

What is a poor church? It is not only a church that identifies with the poor, but it is not attached to power. It recognizes the power of the Cross, not the power of military, political, and economic might.

It is a church that takes seriously this phrase from the Pact of the Catacombs, an agreement made by several bishops during the Second Vatican Council.

In our behavior and social relations, we will avoid everything that could appear to confer privilege, priority, or even preference to the rich and powerful (for example in banquets offered or accepted, in religious services). See Lk 13:12-14, 1 Cor 9:14-19.

It is a church that takes seriously these words of the Orthodox bishop and theologian, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozk – Bishop Anthony Bloom), who died on August 4, 2003:

“It seems to me, and I am personally convinced, that the Church must never speak from a position of strength. [These are shocking words.] It ought not to be one of the forces influencing this or that state. The Church ought to be, if you will, just as powerless as God himself, which does not coerce but which calls and unveils the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them. As soon as the Church begins to exercise power, it loses its most profound characteristic which is divine love [i.e.] the understanding of those it is called to save and not to smash…”

A man who was poor

Yesterday at a workshop for our parish missionaries, based on the theme of the family, our pastor had us share in groups of five some memories of our childhood.

In our group, one man shared, simply and straightforwardly, without any self-pity, memories of his childhood poverty. In particular, he noted how poor his clothes were.

As he spoke I could only think of him – and of others – who were clothed in rags. As I look back, I realize that at that moment I also felt a strong sense of compassion rising up within me. I had not thought much of this man, but now I have a deeper sense of his life, then and now.

From his sharing about his childhood poverty,God opened me to love.

This morning I thought of the words of St. Peter Faber, SJ, on a holy card I’ve had since 1967:

Christ in so great poverty, I in so great wealth.

Lord, give me compassion. Help me to feel with the poor and lovingly accompany them.

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Rich and poor

we want to make “the rich poor and the poor holy,”
and that, too, is a revolution obnoxious to the pagan man.
Dorothy Day, November 1949

Servant of God Dorothy Day was born on this day, November 8, 1897.

In today’s Gospel, Mark 12: 38-44, Jesus is contrasting the religious leaders and the rich with the poor, especially a poor widow.

The religious leaders “devour the houses of widows.” In the days of Jesus, the Roman and the temple taxes would have made life difficult for the widow who had little or nothing to live on and depended on her children and the kindness of others.

But, according to Jesus, the religious leaders often do not note the poor.

But Jesus does, sitting in a place in the Temple where he can see how people give.

In this he notes the poor widow who gives just two small coins. “She, from her poverty, has given all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Whether she was giving because she had to and was thus using up all her resources, which were being devoured by religious leaders or whether she was giving all she had out of her sense of gratitude to God for all she had received – little though it may have been, Jesus sees her as a sign of the reign of God.

She is the one who gives all she has and, hopefully, lets God and the community support her.

Would that we who have much can learn that poor widow – how to give to God all we have and all we are, trusting in the providence of God and finding in the community the source of all we really need.

In such a way we can change from being the rich who devour the homes of widows to being the “poor” who share all we have.

Encountering the lowly

Do not be haughty
but associate with the lowly.
Romans 12: 16

 Today’s lectionary reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans (12: 5-16b) is full of extraordinary advice for us who seek to follow Christ. But it is the final verse that struck me, “associate with the lowly” partly because of my situation here and partly because that is what Pope Francis calls us to do.

Pope Francis has, from the start, called for a “culture of encounter” (The Joy of the Gospel [Evangelii Gaudium], ¶ 220).

Giving to the poor and even advocating for justice on their behalf are not enough. For, as Pope Francis also wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 88:

…the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face to face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

We are called to encounter the lowly, to associate with them, because that is what Jesus has done. He became flesh to associate with the poor and the lowly, those at the margins.

Jesus normally does not heal from a distance but touches the sick, speaks with them, and calls them to new life.

This is not easy but it is possible when we open ourselves, as Pope Francis has noted, to encounter Jesus.

But it has to be personal.

In Bolivia Pope Francis spoke to the World Meeting of Popular Movements and noted the importance of this face-to-face solidarity:

As members of popular movements, you carry out your work inspired by fraternal love, which you show in opposing social injustice. When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when we see the faces of the endangered campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person, the exploited child, the mother who lost her child in a shootout because the barrio was occupied by drug-dealers, the father who lost his daughter to enslavement…. when we think of all those names and faces, our hearts break because of so much sorrow and pain. And we are deeply moved…. We are moved because “we have seen and heard” not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh. This is something quite different than abstract theorizing or eloquent indignation. It moves us; it makes us attentive to others in an effort to move forward together. That emotion which turns into community action is not something which can be understood by reason alone: it has a surplus of meaning which only peoples understand, and it gives a special feel to genuine popular movements.

We can follow the example of these secular movements and join with them in real solidarity with the poor and humble, following in the footsteps of a God who became poor.

Today, fittingly, is also the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, the mixed-race Dominican lay brother who served the poor in Lima, Perú, and was known as “the father of the poor.” He is also the patron of social justice – a quite fitting reminder of the admonition of St. Paul to “associate with the lowly.”

Will the poor forgive me?

Pope Francis in his trip to the United States has given us an example of God’s love for and identification with the poor and the marginalized – visiting places where the poor are fed and where the marginalized are put into prison.

He often speaks of the culture of encounter. We are not only called to be on the side of the poor, we are called to be with them in person – in the manner in which we can do this, meeting them as persons.

It is easy to love the poor as a group and to advocate for them. It is not so easy to be with them. It can be threatening – we don’t know what to expect.

But to accompany the poor means that we let ourselves be challenged by the poor, to learn from them, and to be with them without a sense of superiority.

Otherwise our charity becomes a way of proving ourselves superior to the poor or to those who do not “help” the poor as we do.

How ought we to practice charity? With gratitude, with love, with respect, with openness to the other.

But this is not easy.

As Dostoevsky wrote, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared to love in dreams.

St. Vincent Depaul, who died on September 27, 1660, and whose feast is celebrated today, once wrote, in a similar vein:

You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.

Will the poor forgive me as I live here? Will they recognize their dignity and their capacities in my presence? Will they recognize how they are truly children of God and my sisters and brothers? Will they forgive me?

A martyr to give us hope

Dorothy-StangTen years ago today, a 73-year old US Sister of Notre Dame de Namur was gunned down on a rural path in the state of Para in Brazil. Sister Dorothy Stang had spent almost forty years as a missionary in Brazil.

She worked with the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission and had worked for many years with the rural villagers and workers, accompanying them as they faced the onslaughts of ranchers, loggers, and other powerful economic interests. She recognized that this was a struggle not only for the land, the environment, but also for the people on the land.

She had received death threats as early as the 1990s but she continued her work, accompanying the people and denouncing the injustices they were suffering.

She knew that it was dangerous but she felt that God called her there.

I don’t want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest.  They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment.

The story of her death seems to come out of the early stories of martyrs.

She was on her way to a meeting in a rural community when her path was blocked by two hired gunmen. She took out her bible and began to read the Beatitudes. At that point she was shot and killed. She had to know that they were going to kill her, but she responded with such peace –

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice…

Blessed are those who have the spirit of the poor…

I pray and hope that I may have the same peace and presence that she had when she faced death.

I think the way that I can prepare myself is to pray as she did:

I light a candle and look at Jesus on the cross and ask for the strength to carry the suffering of the people. Don’t worry about my safety. The safety of the people is what’s important.

I do believe that accompanying the people and looking to the suffering Savior are keys to peace and to a life of love.

So today I want to celebrate the death of a modern martyr – with a renewed commitment to mission.

I do it with joy, and hope, realizing that Sister Dorothy was killed near a settlement named Boa Esperança – Good Hope.

——–

A short biography of Sister Dorothy can be found on her congregation’s site: here.

Faith that does justice

On February 5, 1991, Jesuit father Pedro Arrupe died. A Basque like St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, he first studied medicine before joining the Jesuits. Sent to Japan, he witnessed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and he and other Jesuits attended to the victims of that atrocity in their seminary, four miles from ground zero.

In 1965 he became Father General of the Society of Jesus and led the congregation until he resigned in 1983 after suffering a disabling stroke in 1981. During his last two years as Father General the pope had appointed an acting father general, overlooking Father Arrupe’s choice. He accepted this with a great equanimity.

Beside this, perhaps his greatest legacy was the Thirty-Second Congregation of the Society, December 1974 to March 1975. The fourth decree set the direction of the society to a “faith that does justice.”

As the decree stated:

“Our faith in Jesus Christ and our mission to proclaim the Gospel demand of us a commitment to promote justice and enter into solidarity with the voiceless and the powerless.”

This is not something new – but it brought the society into a more profound encounter with the world of the poor. The Jesuits were often considered to be the elite order of the church and to concentrate their efforts on the education of the elite. But now they felt called to be with the poor.

The Gospel calls us to accompany the poor, to listen to the voiceless and powerless. It can, at times, call us to become poor or to be in solidarity with the poor in such as way that we find ourselves also marginalized.

But it comes from an encounter with Jesus, the poor man of Nazareth, the God who emptied himself to become flesh like us – and from an encounter with the poor.

Today, in memory of Father Pedro Arrupe, is a good day to remember this and renew our commitment to God and to the poor.