Tag Archives: poor

The blood of the poor

One way to keep poor is not to accept money
which is the result of defrauding the poor.
Dorothy Day, May, 1952

Saint Ignatius of Laconi, Sardinia, was a Capuchin brother who died on May 11, 1781, noted most of all for his begging. While begging he not only gave people a chance to share but he also brought about reconciliation between peoples and converted sinners.

A notorious merchant in town, Franchino, was enraged that Brother Ignatius never stopped at his door to beg alms, because the merchant had built his fortune by defrauding the poor.

Franchino complained to the guardian of the Capuchins who ordered Brother Ignatius to stop and beg from the merchant. Brother Ignatius agreed but said, “Very well. If you wish it, Father, I will go, but I would not have the Capuchins dine on the blood of the poor.”

What happened next is extraordinary – but true to the reality of the situation.

As Dorothy Day wrote:

“But hardly had Ignatius left the house with his sack on his shoulder when drops of blood began oozing through the sack. They trickled down on Franchino’s doorstep and ran down through the street to the monastery. Everywhere Ignatius went, a trickle of blood followed him. When he arrived at the friary, he laid the sack at the Father Guardian’s feet.  “What is this?” gasped the Guardian. “This,” St. Ignatius said, “is the blood of the poor.”


The quote from Dorothy Day is found in Robert Ellsberg’s By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day, pages 108-109.

Put the poor in the center

Rise up into the midst of us.
Mark 3:3

The poor and the sick are on the margins. We’d rather not see them.

In Jesus’ time, the sick, especially those with deformed limbs, were ostracized and liv dint eh shadows of society. And so, when Jesus calls on the man with the withered hand, he calls him out of the shadows and into the light of the community.

How often do I avoid the sick, those with physical or mental illness? I’d rather not see them, since their presence may make demands on me, demands of love and solidarity. They make me uncomfortable, perhaps reminding me of the unseen deformities in my life.

But Jesus calls the man with the withered hand out into the middle.

Sadly, most English-speakers will not here this message. The New American Bible translates the passage as ““Come up here before us.” The New Revised Standard Version renders it as ““Come forward.”

But the Greek is much more direct: Ἔγειρε εἰς τὸ μέσον – Rise up out into the middle.

In Spanish this is translated as “Ponte en medio” – “Put yourself in the middle.”

Only the Jerusalem Bible translation gets this: “Stand up out into the middle.”

The sick and the poor must be in the middle of our lives as followers of Christ the healer.

 

 

Sending the rich away empty

God casts down the mighty from the thrones
and raises the lowly,
fills the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty.
Luke 1: 52-53

DSC04679When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, she broke into the song we call the Magnificat. This hymn, rooted in the hymn of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10, is a revolutionary call to recognize and live the Reign of God which has begun in this world with the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of a young poor woman from the backwoods hamlet of Nazareth.

Something new has happened: God has become flesh.

Something new can begin: human beings saved by God can begin to live in the light of the Reign of God.

“God sends the rich away empty,” Mary sings.

Now that’s a bit much for some of us who have more than we need – even if we are not super-rich. It’s really a challenge to those of us who live among the poor but with all the security of a US bank account, Social Security, and more.

But what might God be saying to us?

During my canonical retreat before ordination as a deacon, the retreat director led a session on Mary. Sometime later that day, I was praying the Magnificat when this insight came to me, which I quote from my notes:

You fill the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty
so that we may experience
the emptiness that you alone can fill,
with the emptying out of ourselves for others.

We who are rich need to be emptied out of all that keeps us safe and isolated from the precariousness of existence for so many in the world.

This became very clear to me the last week. I live a comfortable, uncomplicated life here in Honduras, with easy access to what I need. But this past week the village has been digging up the road to put in a sewage line before the road is paved. It’s a major inconvenience. I cannot park my car by the house. I have to find alternative places to park the car and walk ten minutes to the house.

Yesterday, I had to travel an alternative route to get to where I wanted to go. We were going to a nearby village to celebrate Mass on their feast day – anticipating the Assumption of Mary. The truck was full – with people and with the drinks for the meal after Mass.

But even this adventure proved to be a valuable lesson in the vision of the Reign of God. Isaias helped me find a back way out of Plan Grande. But we got stuck in the mud and even four-wheel drive wasn’t enough. So almost everyone got out of the truck and tried pulling and pushing. No luck.  Sure enough, about five men from nearby came and pushed and pulled the truck. We proceeded to Mass but, as I look back, I realized that act of being pushed and pulled by the poor was also a sign of God’s presence and what God wants for us.

May God continue to empty me of my attempts to be self-sufficient and move me to serve at the table of the poor.


The photo was taken in the Cloisters Museum in New York City.

The treasures of the church

DSC07607Saint Lawrence, a deacon of Rome, was not martyred with his bishop, Pope Sixtus. The prefect of Rome knew that he was in charge of the treasures of the church and demanded that he present them to the Roman authorities.

According of one version of the legend, Lawrence, distributed all the goods of the Church to the poor, the ill, and the widows, even selling the sacred vessels. Then he gathered the poor and presented them to the Roman prefect, announcing, “Here are the treasures of the church.”

Needless to say, the prefect was not impressed and proceeded to have Lawrence martyred on a gridiron. The saint seems to have had a sense of humor. After some time over the flames he told his executioners to turn him over since he was done on that side. (Does this qualifying St. Lawrence as the patron saint of barbecues?)

All kidding aside, Lawrence knew what was important – the glory of God and the poor.

The glory of God is shown when we gather around the table of the Lord, rich and poor, sharing the Body and Blood of the Lord.

The glory of God is also shown when we gather around the table of the poor where all have a part, where all share the goodness of creation, where, in the words of the Salvadoran martyred Jesuit Rutilio Grande, everyone has a place, a stool, around a long shared table.

The servant of God serves God at the table of the Eucharist and the table of the poor – both are part of our mission, our identity.

Recalling the absolute equality around the Lord’s table, where there are no divisions, we gather around a table where those who have more share so that all may experience the abundance of God’s creation.

This may call for sacrifices, for selling what we have, even what we think we need. It might even mean, as it meant for St. Lawrence, selling the goods of the church to feed the poor.

This is not all that radical. It was mentioned by Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis  [On Social Concern], # 31:

Thus, part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation – she herself, her ministers and each of her members – to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her “abundance” but also out of her “necessities.” Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. As has been already noted, here we are shown a “hierarchy of values” – in the framework of the right to property – between “having” and “being,” especially when the “having” of a few can be to the detriment of the “being” of many others.

That is the witness of St. Lawrence, as it is the witness of many saints, recall the example of St. Dominic who sold his books to feed the poor in time of famine.

The question then is how can we truly serve God and the poor, recognizing the real treasures of the Church.


The image is from a holy card designed by Ade Bethune. A collection of her works is at St. Catherine University.

 

 

The poor, ointment, and diamond rings

There should be no poor among you.
Deuteronomy 15:4

Today’s reading about the anointing of Jesus by Mary in Bethany (John 12: 1-6) has been twisted so much that we may find it hard to see Jesus in it.

Mary shows her great love by an extravagant gesture – anointing the feet of Jesus with aromatic nard. It is a gesture of love a gesture of giving to the Beloved.

Judas objects that the oil could have been sold and the returns given to the poor.

Jesus responds that “the poor you have always with you…”

A good Jew would know that this quote from Deuteronomy 15:11 is part of a longer passage which entails obligations to the poor. In fact, the full quote of verse 11 (from the New American Bible translation) reads:

The needy will never be lacking in the land, that is why I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy kinsman in your country.

The verse could be considered a condemnation of the failure of a nation to care for the poor. It is not a call to resignation in the face of the needy.

As I reflect this morning on poverty and extravagance, I recall the story of Dorothy Day that is related by Jim Forest, in an article.

A donor visited the Catholic Worker and gave Dorothy a diamond ring. Later a woman who was a regular visitor to the Worker came in and Dorothy gave her the ring.

As Forest notes:

Someone on the staff said to Dorothy, “Wouldn’t it have been better if we took the ring to the diamond exchange, sold it, and paid that woman’s rent for a year?”
Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity and could do what she liked with the ring. She could sell it for rent money or take a trip to the Bahamas. Or she could enjoy wearing a diamond ring on her hand like the woman who gave it away. “Do you suppose,” Dorothy asked, “that God created diamonds only for the rich?”

I wonder if what Jesus wants us to do is to anoint the feet of the poor with anointment. Their feet are worn and cracked as are the feet of this man who carried a cross in our parish Stations of the Cross last Friday.

DSC07193

How can we be extravagant in our love for each poor person – not for a nameless mass of poor people, but for a real poor person we can meet, embrace, and share love with each other?

A prayer, facing Lazarus

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores…
Luke 16: 19-20

DSC04712

Lord, give me eyes to see the poor and needy around me.

Lord, give me ears to hear the cries for help and assistance.

Lord, give me a tongue to speak words of comfort to those in need and words of challenge to us who have all we need.

Lord, give me hands to share what I have with those in need.

Lord, give me feet to walk among the poor.

Lord, give me a mind to know how to respond to those in need.

But above all, Lord, give me a heart open to all your poor.

————————————————–

The image above is found at St. Francis of Assisi Church, New York City.

Tough words of rejected prophets

When St. John Bosco told his mother, a poor widow, that he planned to become a priest, she told him, “If you have the misfortune to get rich, I shall not set foot in your house again.”

When Thomas Merton, in 1949, wrote to the class of Sister Marialein Lorenz,

“I believe sometimes that God is sick of the rich people and the powerful and wise men of the world and that He is going to look elsewhere and find the underprivileged, those who are poor and have things very hard; even those who find it most difficult to avoid sin; and God is going to come down and walk among the poor people of the earth, among those who are unhappy and sinful and distressed and raise them up and make them the greatest saints and send them walking all over the universe with the steps of angels and the voices of prophets to bring his light back into the world again.”

When Jesus spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth of the mercy of God even for a foreign widow from Sidon and a foreign general from Syria (Luke 4: 21-30), his hearers wanted to throw him off a cliff.

The foreigners, the widows, the poor hold a special place in God’s love. We who are rich need to be more carful and caring, opening our hearts (and our pocketbooks) to the poor, being with them, sharing their joys and sorrows.

Isn’t this what real love, God’s love, is all about.

———–

Today is the feast of Don Bosco who died in 1888 and the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton in 1915.