As I mentioned last week, Pope Francis has instituted a World Day of the Poor, which every year will be celebrated on the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. This first year of the celebration takes place this weekend. In conjunction with this new observance Pope Francis has written a beautiful letter to help us understand the reasoning behind this World Day of the Poor and to underscore the absolutely essential nature of the teaching of the Scriptures concerning our relationship with the poor. Last week I quoted a section of Francis’ letter; today I would like to offer another section for your reflection, edification and application.
“‘Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth’ (1Jn 3:18). These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard. The seriousness with which the ‘beloved disciple’ hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves. Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example, especially when it comes to loving the poor. The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly. It stands on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1Jn 3:16).
“Such love cannot go unanswered. Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins. Yet this can only happen if we welcome God’s grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible into our hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbor. In this way, the mercy that wells up, as it were, from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.
“‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him” (Ps 34:6). The Church has always understood the importance of this cry. We possess an outstanding testimony to this in the very first pages of the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter asks that seven men, ‘full of the Spirit and of wisdom’ (6:3), be chosen for the ministry of caring for the poor. This is certainly one of the first signs of the entrance of the Christian community upon the world’s stage: the service of the poor. The earliest community realized that being a disciple of Jesus meant demonstrating fraternity and solidarity, in obedience to the Master’s proclamation that the poor are blessed and heirs to the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3).
“‘They sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need’ (Acts 2:45). In these words, we see clearly expressed the lively concern of the first Christians. The evangelist Luke, who more than any other speaks of mercy, does not exaggerate when he describes the practice of sharing in the early community. On the contrary, his words are addressed to believers of every generation, and thus also to us, in order to sustain our own witness and to encourage our care for those most in need. The same message is conveyed with similar conviction by the Apostle James. In his Letter, he spares no words: ‘Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warm and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead’ (2:5-6.14-17).
“Yet there have been times when Christians have not fully heeded this appeal and have assumed a worldly way of thinking. Yet the Holy Spirit has not failed to call them to keep their gaze fixed on what is essential. He has raised up men and women who, in a variety of ways, have devoted their lives to the service of the poor. Over these two thousand years, how many pages of history have been written by Christians who, in their utter simplicity and humility, and with generous and creative charity, have served their poorest brothers and sisters!
“The most outstanding example is that of Francis of Assisi, followed by many other holy men and women over the centuries. He was not satisfied to embrace lepers and give them alms, but chose to go to Gubbio to stay with them. He saw this meeting as the turning point of his conversion: ‘When I was in sin, it seemed a thing too bitter to look on lepers, and the Lord himself led me among them and I showed them mercy. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of mind and body’ (Text 1-3; FF 110). This testimony shows the transformative power of charity and the Christian way of life….
“Let us, then, take as our example Saint Francis and his witness of authentic poverty. Precisely because he kept his gaze fixed on Christ, Francis was able to see and serve him in the poor. If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization. At the same time, I ask the poor in our cities and our communities not to lose the sense of evangelical poverty that is part of their daily life.
“We know how hard it is for our contemporary world to see poverty clearly for what it is. Yet in myriad ways poverty challenges us daily, in faces marked by suffering, marginalization, oppression, violence, torture and imprisonment, war, deprivation of freedom and dignity, ignorance and illiteracy, medical emergencies and shortage of work, trafficking and slavery, exile, extreme poverty and forced migration. Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money. What a bitter and endless list we would have to compile were we to add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the greed of a chosen few, and generalized indifference!
“Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world. Faced with this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned. There is a poverty that stifles the spirit of initiative of so many young people by keeping them from finding work. There is a poverty that dulls the sense of personal responsibility and leaves others to do the work while we go looking for favors. There is a poverty that poisons the wells of participation and allows little room for professionalism; in this way it demeans the merit of those who do work and are productive. To all these forms of poverty we must respond with a new vision of life and society.”
THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
With the last Sunday of the liturgical year a week away, today’s readings offer a reflection on how we can prepare for the return of the Master and the full manifestation of God’s Kingdom.
The First Reading, from Proverbs, describes the good wife, using some of the imagery applied to Lady Wisdom in last week’s reading from Wisdom. The good wife works skillfully and with love—not only for her family, but also for the needy. “Fear of the Lord” has nothing to do with fright. Rather, it describes reverence toward God and obedience to God’s will.
In the Second Reading, Paul addresses a question troubling the Thessalonians—the delay of the end-time and return of the Christ. He reminds them that the end will come when people least expect it, so they need to stay alert. But because they are disciples (“children of the light”), they have what they need to prepare for this event and therefore need not fear.
In the same vein, today’s Gospel provides a parable about how we ought to live as we wait for Christ’s return. A man, before going on a long journey, gives three of his servants huge amounts of money to invest. (In biblical times, a “talent” represented thousands of dollars.) The master, representing Christ, eventually returns to evaluate the servants’ work. He praises two of them for their productive investment of the resources he left them, but the third one is severely scolded because he was fearful and did nothing while his master was away. Clearly, the master has expectations for us.
Just as, in the parable, the master expects a return on what he has given to his servants, so does the Lord expect that we cultivate our abilities and use them for good. No matter the number of a person’s talents, they are God-given and their bounty should be expanded with use. As the Catechism states: “Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of” (#2280).
The reading from Proverbs notes that the good wife fears the Lord. Not only does she work, but she “reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.” This wife’s value comes from her regard of the Lord. In Caritas in veritate, Pope Benedict XVI explains that those who are sustained by God’s love will be stimulated to work in service of others. “Openness to God makes us open towards our brothers and sisters and towards an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity” (#78).
Paul tells the Thessalonians that, being children of the light, they have an advantage over others. Though others will not escape sudden disaster, those who are children of the day have Christ to rely on. “The Church has no other light than Christ’s” the Catechism explains (#748).
For Your Reflection: Do you understand “fear of the Lord” as a reverence for the will of God? What do you depend upon for peace and security? How does God fit into your concern for security? Do you consider your talents as God-given or something you have developed?
November 23, 2017
Believe it or not, Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner. Hopefully you will be joining family members and/or friends to give thanks to God for the many blessings you have received and for a delicious meal to celebrate the holiday. Though many competing claims exist, the most familiar story of the first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth Colony, in present day Massachusetts, in 1621. More than 200 years later, President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving. Congress finally made Thanksgiving Day an official national holiday in 1941.
What better way to prepare for your family Thanksgiving Day together than to begin by everyone coming to church to celebrate the Eucharist? Our one Mass on Thanksgiving at St. Peter’s will be at 10:00 A.M., with the church opening at 9:00 and then closing at 11:00 so that the friars and the security personnel will be able to get together with their families also.
You made a beautiful world,
With sun so warm and light,
With grain and fruit to nourish us,
With streams so clean and bright.
Help us to care and keep it safe,
With wisdom thought and deed.
With respect for all it offers us
With generosity, not with greed.
We pray for those who suffer,
With lack of rain for crops,
With hunger and such poverty,
With war, grief and loss.
Guide us as we work and play,
With strength to learn and share,
With grace to enjoy all we have,
With courage to change the world.
CATHOLIC CAMPAIGN FOR HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
This weekend in all parishes throughout the United States we take up a second collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. For over 47 years the Campaign has been supporting low-income communities as they address root causes of poverty through community organizing and economic development. The belief that those who are directly affected by unjust systems and structures are best equipped to change them is central to our mission.
In the Archdiocese of Chicago CCHD works to break the cycle of poverty by awarding grants, educating about root causes of poverty, and building bridges of solidarity in Cook and Lake Counties. The annual collection is the primary source of funds for grants to support community-controlled, self-help organizations as well as transformative education. In 2016, we raised over $631,000 that was distributed among 23 projects in the Chicago metropolitan area.
A CHUCKLE FOR THANKSGIVING
Daughter: “My fiancé said I could have whatever I wanted inscribed on his wedding ring. What should I put?”
Mother: “Put what I put on your father’s ring.”
Daughter: “What does it say? I’ve never seen Daddy with it off.”
Mother: “Yes, it’s worked very well over the years. It says, ‘Put it back on!’”