Summary: 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.
Thursday of the 32nd Week in Course 2016
Joy of the Gospel
As we move into the last Sunday and last week of the liturgical year, we continue to be challenged by Jesus to follow Him all the way to death. We know not what that end shall be, except that He has promised to be with us. We live for the Lord, we die with the Lord. And we shall be raised up on the last day like Jesus and Mary. That is our faith, that is our hope, if we live in charity.
The Holy Father is moving into the final third of his encyclical, the Joy of the Gospel. And, yes, I am in the third year of preaching on it. It is certainly the best of his exhortations, and I think will be the one he will be remembered for. He concentrates now on ‘two great issues which strike [him] as fundamental at this time in history. [He will] treat them more fully because [of his belief] that they will shape the future of humanity. These issues are first, the inclusion of the poor in society, and second, peace and social dialogue.
‘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.’
In the light of the recent election, we might ask ourselves if it isn’t time for us to re-envision the proper roles of government and the Church in the mission of helping the poor. The so-called Great Society was a failure. It made more poverty and larger ghettoes, and introduced population control as a means of reducing the numbers of the poor. Just prevent their children from being born. It was anti-human. The Church has always through programs of health and education been the principal means of helping the poor toward full membership in society. If government help shrinks, as it looks like it will, then someone has to take up the slack. Jesus would extend a helping hand, so in turn, we must do the same. Let’s pray that we all understand what our role will be in this mission of eliminating the structural causes of poverty and promoting integral development.