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Reflections on World Day of the Poor Homily

This past Sunday was WORLD DAY OF THE POOR the Holy Father gave a homily that weaved a message about how we should concentrate upon the things that last and the need to acknowledge the poor.


Pope Francis states that “we must not follow the alarmists who fuel fear of others and of the future, for fear paralyzes the heart and mind.” Yes, fear must be confronted if we are to have a courageous faith. I have seen people freeze in their tracks because they are frightened or anxious. The apostles demonstrate in the garden that those who are afraid often try to run away or go into hiding. Of course, none of us can escape the gaze of God. Today we are fearful about many things. We worry about paying our bills, about the lessening state of our health, about what will become of our children, and about the negative changes and confusion in the world and in the Church around us

It may be we often have just cause to be fearful of the future, just as the Holy Father has presumed in terms of the environment. Have not many become alarmists about pollution, global warming and the extinction of species. The desired response here is not to come to a grinding halt; but to act in a sensible way to avoid cataclysm and to insure a better tomorrow. It seems to me that many have their hands dirty if this “haste and fear” about the future is a always a negative temptation.

The Pope goes on to say:

“Yet how often do we let ourselves be seduced by a frantic desire to know everything right now, by the itch of curiosity, by the latest sensational or scandalous news, by lurid stories, by the screaming those who shout loudest and angriest, by those who tell us it is ‘now or never.’”

I am not sure what to say about this. One has to wonder as to whom this is directed. The desire to know the truth is a noble conviction. Many of us have a profound trust in revelation and in the long-standing teachings taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We appreciate that the Pope and the Magisterium is not the master of these truths but rather their divinely-inspired interpreter or servant. No man stands above the Word of God, only under it. I would hope that the Pope intends no judgment against those offended by the abuses during the Amazonian synod (false worship and idolatry) or who insist that any pastoral “accompaniment” must also respect the traditional moral laws (amendment of life for adulterous unions).

157358893444805185 (9)The Pope is correct in his assessment that many today are “considered disposable.” He asks, “How many elderly, unborn, disabled and poor persons are considered useless?” He links the theme of haste to wealth arguing, that gaps are increasing, that the greed of a few is adding to the poverty of many others.” The parable of the rich man and Lazarus comes to mind. However, is the cause for the list of maladies here simply a love of riches? It seems to me that there is a deeper complexity here: the hardness of hearts, the development of the welfare state, an improper formation of values, the worship of youth, the failure of families to care for elders, the high cost of healthcare, etc.

Is it greed and the accumulation of wealth that principally fuels the reduction of persons as commodities? The false love of Satan certainly depersonalizes others. I know few people of wealth who deliberately and directly want to make life hard for senior citizens, or to turn a blind eye toward those with special needs and challenges, or to hurt and kill children or to oppress the poor. Indeed, many of them are very generous and charitable. Our Lord said that we will always have the poor among us. Is this “poverty” not a symptom of a broken world and original sin? The irony is that many so-called political champions of the poor seek to perpetuate the dependency of the poor rather than to expand opportunity and upward mobility. While a desire for inordinate wealth is often a problem, many who are rich use their resources to help others and to improve the world around them. The solution is not to make everyone poor or to punish ingenuity and hard work.

Pope Francis says that Jesus proposes “perseverance.” He defines it as a gift that preserves other gifts, keeping our eyes set on the Lord and neighbor and not passing things. The definition is a tad unusual. Persistence is usually understood as “doing something despite difficulty or opposition.” It is closely aligned to endurance. While such is definitely a theme in the Sunday Gospel, I do think that the Holy Father is forcing a number of themes into the Scripture passage. Awe at the sight of the physical structure of the temple is not really a love of wealth. Further, the theme of “perseverance” is not only about Christ’s “single-mindedness.” It is most fundamentally his instruction to take up our crosses and to follow him. We read:

“They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

I would contend that this “perseverance” is more than “single-mindedness.” Rather, it is principally a profound dedication to the truth. We are to take up the work of Christ. We are to witness by word and action. When our Lord encountered Pilate, he told him, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).

The Pope interprets Christ’s warning not to follow the many that will come in his name as a warning against “self-centeredness.” I would view this as the danger of deception. We are warned not to fall astray. There will need to be a measure of spiritual discernment. He is right that it is not enough to wear the label “Christian” or “Catholic.” There is much going on right now that feigns true faith. Orthodoxy is questioned. A false compassion has taken root.

Pope Francis uses the Gospel reading to discuss the tension between the rich and the poor. While it is quite true that the Church regards the poor as her treasure for which to care and protect; the reading really says nothing about this topic. Nevertheless, intricately linked to the Gospel passage or not we should note his words:

“The poor are valuable in the eyes of God because they do not speak the language of the self: they do not support themselves on their own, by their own strength; they need someone to take them by the hand. The poor remind us how we should live the Gospel: like beggars reaching out to God. The presence of the poor makes us breathe the fresh air of the Gospel, where the poor in spirit are blessed (cf. Mt 5:3).”

It is true that the poor remind us that we all play the part of the poor man before God. Everything is a gift. We are utterly dependent. However, do they necessarily “not speak” the language of self? There are many poor in the slums who are consumed by penthouse dreams. They may be materially poor but they are NOT always “poor in spirit.” I would not idealize the minds and hearts of the poor. A few become desperate and turn to crime. Many are angry at God and the world. A good number feel ashamed and want an opportunity to work and raise themselves out of abject poverty. Others feel abandoned and it is here we need to let them know that they are loved by God and the Church. The Church illumines this love as real by her intervention.

157358893444805185 (10)

Pope John Paul II stated:

“As individuals and as a nation, therefore, we are called to make a fundamental ‘option for the poor’. The obligation to evaluate social and economic activity from the viewpoint of the poor and the powerless arises from the radical command to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Those who are marginalized and whose rights are denied have privileged claims if society is to provide justice for all. This obligation is deeply rooted in Christian belief” (Economic Justice for All, paragraph 87).


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