Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: The Church has a responsibility in justice to help the poor.

Thursday of 31st week in course 2015

Joy of the Gospel

We call this month of November the month of the poor souls in Purgatory, and are rightly encouraged to pray for them. Not much is known from Scripture about what I call the state of washing up before entering the presence of God. When I teach adolescents, I remind them of what the great Protestant writer, C.S. Lewis, thought. He said when confronted with the Protestant refusal to believe in Purgatory, “I’d rather be cleaned up first.” In other words, when we die, there are few of us prepared to enter the fiery embrace of the Trinity. We have attachments to bad habits, unrepented venial sins. When you melt silver in a crucible, any imperfection–anything that is not silver–either burns up or comes to the surface and must be scraped off. It’s the same with our souls. I compare it to a very, very vigorous car wash, inside and out. So are the poor souls really poor? They are about to inherit the kingdom of God. That is the kind of poverty I long for.

The Holy Father in his encyclical now turns to the truly poor here on earth: ‘Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members. Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid. A mere glance at the Scriptures is enough to make us see how our gracious Father wants to hear the cry of the poor: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them… so I will send you…” (Ex 3:7-8, 10). We also see how he is concerned for their needs: “When the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer” (Jg 3:15). If we, who are God’s means of hearing the poor, turn deaf ears to this plea, we oppose the Father’s will and his plan; that poor person “might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt” (Dt 15:9). A lack of solidarity towards his or her needs will directly affect our relationship with God: “For if in bitterness of soul he calls down a curse upon you, his Creator will hear his prayer” (Sir 4:6). The old question always returns: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 Jn 3:17). Let us recall also how bluntly the apostle James speaks of the cry of the oppressed: “The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts”

‘The Church has realized that the need to heed this plea is itself born of the liberating action of grace within each of us, and thus it is not a question of a mission reserved only to a few: “The Church, guided by the Gospel of mercy and by love for mankind, hears the cry for justice and intends to respond to it with all her might” In this context we can understand Jesus’ command to his disciples: “You yourselves give them something to eat!” (Mk 6:37): it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter. The word “solidarity” is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.’

There is a dangerous tendency among Catholics in the U.S. to think that the free market will automatically provide the mechanism to lift all boats. Those of us who listen to talk radio a lot may adopt what is essentially a Calvinist mindset that looks on poverty as a result of some kind of moral weakness. Now I do agree that the way our poverty programs are set up actually works against a poor person leaving the welfare system. But moving to a totally laisse faire system is a sure path to making things like they were in the age of the robber barons. We need to remember that Jesus’s statement that we would always have the poor with us is a challenge to action, not an endorsement of the status quo.

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