Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

05 September 2015

Option for the Poor

In his epistle, Saint James urged us to “show no partiality as you adhere to the faith.” He gave the example of showing partiality to the rich over the poor—something he must have noticed in Christian communities. The witness and teaching of Jesus demonstrates a certain preference for the poor as “heirs of the kingdom.” Any charity—or neglect—toward “the least of my brothers,” Jesus says (Mt 25:40), is done to Him. The Catholic Church has articulated such a preference in her social teaching: public policy and personal conduct alike must seek out ways to alleviate the burdens of the most vulnerable persons among us.

Our offerings of Christian Charity toward the needy fulfill the extensive prophetic writings on the Messianic age, when God will bring sight to the blind, sound to the deaf, speech to the mute, food for the hungry, and refreshment to the thirsty.

Specific public policies toward the needy are a source of profound division—especially, one may notice, among Christians of good will. Persons of some means don’t want to be taxed more so that their money could go to the poor. Critics are quick to denounce examples of lavish spending in transportation, clothing, and entertainment that take place alongside the use of public funds for food. Anyone can become guilty of exploitation and misuse of resources. I couldn’t begin to devise ways to foster supportive relationships among the rich and poor, ways to encourage mutual responsibility and generosity. We always do well to start at home with whoever and whatever is before us.

How about a preferential option toward the spiritually and emotionally burdened, toward persons of physical disability or mental illness? What if we started to be on the lookout for ways to help them? We might become easily discouraged when our efforts are rebuffed, or don’t seem to do any good, or if we were burned in the past.

Let’s face it: service to the poor (poverty of whatever sort) can be an uncomfortable thing. It can stretch our finances, our time, our emotions, and more. Jesus’ encounter with the man in the Gospel was rather gritty, with His groaning, spitting, and touching His tongue. Jesus’ acts of healing rankled people in power to the point that they sought His life. Maybe it was because He healed on the Sabbath; maybe His opponents simply felt uncomfortable because Jesus did something for those people while they remained idle. Whatever the case, Jesus’ every word and action is a model for us, and we are all His poor beneficiaries.

But most of all, can we recognize our own blindness and deafness and lameness, our own hesitancy, that Jesus wants to heal in us, so that we can be of better service to His people? But if expected Jesus’ healing to set in before we tried to serve, people all around us would start to shrivel and die—and so would we.

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