Sermons

Summary: 'No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas.'

Thursday of 2nd week in Advent 2015

Joy of the Gospel

The passage from Isaiah we just heard is from what is often called “Second” Isaiah, probably a disciple of the original Isaiah who wrote during and immediately following the Babylonian exile. It is full of hope; from this we find many of the verses that we by faith realize are written about Jesus. The Hebrew exiles were probably called vermin by their captors–hence the ironic phrase: fear not, you work Jacob, you men of Israel. But they are not worms for fishing lines, they are called to be much more. The agricultural imagery is of victory, of harvesting and threshing and winnowing out the trash. God promises great times, full of wealth. And in Jesus, who is the heir to the kingdom of God, we too can be spiritually wealthy beyond our imagining. It is the Church that begins that enrichment of Her people on earth. Nobody needs to be poor.

The Holy Father continues in this vein: ‘Since this Exhortation is addressed to members of the Catholic Church, I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.

‘No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles. While it is quite true that the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel, none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: “Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbour, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone”. I fear that these words too may give rise to commentary or discussion with no real practical effect. That being said, I trust in the openness and readiness of all Christians, and I ask you to seek, as a community, creative ways of accepting this renewed call.

‘The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of its urgency for the good order of society, but because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises. Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.

‘The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies. At times, however, they seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for true and integral development. How many words prove irksome to this system! It is irksome when the question of ethics is raised, when global solidarity is invoked, when the distribution of goods is mentioned, when reference in made to protecting labour and defending the dignity of the powerless, when allusion is made to a God who demands a commitment to justice. At other times these issues are exploited by a rhetoric which cheapens them. Casual indifference in the face of such questions empties our lives and our words of all meaning. Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.’

There are many who think that Pope Francis is a socialist. But Pius XI taught definitively that it is incompatible to be Catholic and socialist. The government can’t own the means of production without corrupting both government–which needs no additional corruption–and business. But if the hearts of business owners is closed to our social obligations to others, if incomes continue to be stagnant for the middle and lower classes, the system itself has become corrupt. So the pope’s words are exactly right: we serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all. By the grace of God.

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