Summary: It’s ironic that when dealing with these positive commandments, we don’t ever come to a point when we can say, “I have fulfilled them.”
Thursday before Epiphany 2017
Joy of the Gospel
St. John teaches us today in both Epistle and Gospel: “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” When we read this kind of language regarding our treatment of the poor, we realize just how unified the Gospel of Christ is. That last line sounds like it comes from St. James’ letter, or several of St. Paul’s. Why? Because they learned it from the first Apostle of Love, who is God’s Love embodied in flesh, Our Lord. He knows the human heart, and He knows that the thing we fear the most, but need the most, is to personally help those who are no longer able to help themselves. The old slogan–which is not in the Bible–is true: God helps those who help themselves, and the way God helps them is through us, His disciples.
The Holy Father now turns to the manner of our commitment to the poor: ‘Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves”. This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: “The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely”. The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value”, and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest. Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation. Only this will ensure that “in every Christian community the poor feel at home. Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the kingdom?” Without the preferential option for the poor, “the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications”.
‘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 pope doesn’t let anyone off the hook. All of us have a role in both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. It’s ironic that when dealing with these positive commandments, we don’t ever come to a point when we can say, “I have fulfilled them.” You can fulfill the negative commandments like “Thou shalt not kill,” by avoiding violent confrontations and plotting mischief against others. Not doing evil is pretty easy to find a limit to. But doing good, by its definition, is never complete. So we must, then, do all we can, and then pray for more resources so that we can do even more. Not a bad calling for us, because Jesus is our model, and He gave every last drop of blood for us.