Summary: The practical love we show to the poor is critical for our discipleship.
Thursday after Epiphany 2016
Joy of the Gospel
As we celebrate this day after Epiphany, we continue the readings from St. John that ornament our Christmas-Epiphany season. We also continue our review of the Pope’s long letter, the Joy of the Gospel, and we do so in this Holy Year of mercy. What a great conjunction, rather like the conjunction of stars or planets seen by the Magi.
The mercy of God has to be manifest in our conduct with each other. God loved us first, and He also showed us mercy first. We, then, must show love and mercy to all those we encounter. Jesus, in preaching good news to the poor, insisted on mercy and forgiveness. In His teaching of the great prayer he gave us, the only petition He commented on was “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” He wasn’t talking about a bank loan. He told us a story with a pretty stark moral: if we do not forgive those who have wronged us, the Father will not forgive us our sins either. That’s practical love of the brethren.
You may recall that before the Christmas season, the pope’s encyclical was giving practical guidance on our preferential option for the poor. He gets pretty stern in paragraph 207: ‘Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.
‘If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite apart from any personal interest or political ideology. My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth.
‘Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth. But the current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favour an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life.
‘It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ, even if this appears to bring us no tangible and immediate benefits. I think of the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others. Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all. For this reason, I exhort all countries to a generous openness which, rather than fearing the loss of local identity, will prove capable of creating new forms of cultural synthesis. How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralyzing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development! How attractive are those cities which, even in their architectural design, are full of spaces which connect, relate and favor the recognition of others!’
Over the holidays I had the privilege to check out the new quarters for St. Vincent de Paul at the Haven for Hope down off Frio street. Actually, I didn’t get past the gate, but I was treated with courtesy and saw the dignity of their clients being acknowledged. The facility is very well organized and constructed. If you had seen how that area of town looked maybe ten years ago or more, you’ll know that Christians and others have done a very good job of systematically done some of what the Pope is asking for. More needs to be done, but let’s pray that we keep moving in the right direction. Socialist schemes are doomed to fail, but the free market is not the total solution to the problems of poverty. We all have to work to make charity weave with justice and restructure society so that everyone is treated with the dignity of the children of God.