Recently, I received a wake-up call from the Holy Father. All quotations below are from paragraphs 186-201 of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel."
I've added commentary at points but, for the most part, I just want to let him speak. First, we need to hear what he's saying, really hear it. Next, we need to live it out (that's the hard part). Then we can teach it with authenticity and in a way that will change hearts.
What call is that?
"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... 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...A lack of solidarity toward his or her needs will directly affect our relationship with God... small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter."
What is solidarity?
"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... Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual."
The renewed call of solidarity with the poor begins then with a kind of mental and emotional conversion: the creation of a new mindset, new convictions, and new attitudes. (That makes sense since the teaching is as old as the Gospel)
"This message is so clear and direct, so simple and eloquent, that no ecclesial interpretation has the right to relativize it...Why complicate something so simple?...Why cloud something so clear?"
In Matthew 25, Jesus is definitely clear: whatever you did (or did not do) for the least of these, you did it (or did not do it) for me.
"We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards... Sometimes we prove hard of heart and mind; we are forgetful, distracted and carried away by the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction offered by contemporary society. This leads to a kind of alienation at every level, for 'a society becomes alienated when its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer the gift of self and to establish solidarity between people' (quoting St. John Paul II)."
I am often self-absorbed and distracted by these limitless possibilities. But Pope Francis emphasizes next that my forgetfulness and distance from the poor is really a forgetfulness and distance from the Lord.
"The savior was born in a manger, in the midst of animals, like children of poor families; he was presented at the Temple along with two turtledoves, the offering made by those who could not afford a lamb... This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have 'this mind...which was in Jesus Christ' (Philippians 2:5)."
And now for the real challenge.
"This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering of Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church's pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them." (You might want to read that again.)
Have you ever been evangelized by the poor? Many of us serve them, I think, but how many of us can truly call them our friends? How many whom society discards truly see ME as a friend? Not enough, that's for sure.
"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."
I think, personally, I harbor many (hidden even from myself) prejudices which are often in the way and create obstacles in my ability to contemplate beyond the 'mere appearances' of people who live outside of what is familiar to me, especially (I have to admit) when they haven't showered in a while. And those prejudices, I think, are precisely what Pope Francis is calling me first to admit, and then to 'crucify' in the merciful love of Christ. Sometimes, in my lingering fear and discomfort, I'd love to say that I'm not called to that kind of 'ministry,' but the Holy Father isn't buying it. Like he said, "the message is so clear and direct."
"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."
If I could summarize in a sentence what I've learned from this papal challenge, it would be this: The Preferential Option for the Poor is not merely a call to prioritize the poor when thinking about tithing, or economic structures, or other financial dimensions of life; rather, the Preferential Option calls us to prioritize Christ's poor in all things, to let their personalities permeate and change our lives, to opt for the poor not just with our finances but with our time and with our affection, in a word, with our sincere friendship.
1 - Share Yourself 2 - Know the Kerygma 3 - Pray. Especially When You Don't Have Time.
4 - Collaborate 5 - Invite. Invite. Invite. 6 - Be Cheerful 7 - Do the Task at Hand
8 - Don't Forget Recess 9 - It Begins with a Smile 10 - The Topic is Always Jesus
11 - The WIIFM Principle 12 - Recapture the Enchantment 13 - Learn to Use Youtube
14 - The Art of Accompaniment 15 - The Art of Listening
16 - Eat Food. It's Part of Evangelization 17 - Everything Leads to Liturgy
18 - Self-love Can Still Be Other-centered 19 - It Will Never Be Perfect, Don't Stress
20 - The "Student" is the Whole Family 21 - Catechesis is a MEANS of Evangelization 22 - The 5 Means of Evangelization 23 - The Christian Life is Service 24 - Doctrine is for Prayer. 25 - From Evangelization to Immanuelization 26 - Humility, Love, and 'Eucharistic' Anticipation 27 - People Change People 28 - Salvation History is Our Story 29 - Mutual Forgiveness 30 - Fraternal Correction 31 - Build-Up Families 32 - Affirmative Orthodoxy 33 - Emphasize the Mission 34 - Talk about Tithing 35 - Recognize Bondage 36 - Encourage Ignatian Discernment 37 - Be Patient. It's a Process. 38 - The Thresholds of Conversion 39 - What... or, better yet, Who is the Parish? 40 - There's no place like a Home 41 - The Etymology of Respect 42 - Connect People 43 - To Receive is to Give 44 - Be Intentional. 45 - Three Birds, One Stone 46 - The Ecclesial Method 47 - The Liturgy of the Hours