ARTICLE FAMILY MATTERS magazine No 3 2017
“Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). ”
Empty words contrast with concrete deeds. The Lord is our example; especially in loving the poor. This message rests on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).
Such love is unconditional, asking nothing in return. It sets hearts on fire resulting in a response in love, despite our limitations and sins. The mercy welling up from the heart of the Trinity can draw out our hearts, will and emotions. As it shapes our lives it brings forth works of mercy for our brothers and sisters in need.
From the start, in the Acts of the Apostles the disciples recognised the ministry of caring for the poor who are blessed and are heirs to the Kingdom. Some followers sold their possessions and distributed them to those in need. In every generation disciples are addressed to respond with their own witness. The apostle James wrote, “what does it profit if a man says he has faith but has not works? 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 warmed and filled”, without giving them the things needed for the body; what does it profit? Faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead’ (2:5-6.14-17).
Christians have not fully heeded this and have assumed a worldly way of thinking but the Holy Spirit has not failed to call them to what is essential. He has raised up men and women who have devoted their lives to the service of the poor in utter simplicity and humility with generous and creative charity. St Francis of Assisi is the most outstanding example, even staying with the lepers through which he experienced a change from bitterness to sweetness in mind and body.
We may think of the poor simply as beneficiaries of occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life. This gives rise to joy and peace of soul, because we touch with our own hands the flesh of Christ. If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist.
We are called to draw near to the poor, meet their gaze, embrace them and let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is an invitation to us to step out of our certainties and comforts and acknowledge the value of poverty in itself as a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty. This requires a humble heart, and the attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness. Poverty creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace. Understood in this way it is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and build relationships that are not selfish nor possessive (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45)
To 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.
It is hard for our contemporary world to see poverty clearly for what it is. 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 list we would have to compile if we add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the greed of a few, and generalized indifference! Ostentatious wealth accumulates with a privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and exploitation of human dignity.
There is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world:
Poverty that stifles the spirit of initiative of many young people by keeping them from finding work.
Poverty that dulls the sense of personal responsibility and leaves others to do the work while we go looking for favours.
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.
Blessed are the open hands that bring hope, that reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion and nationality, and pour the balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity.
Blessed are the open hands that ask nothing in exchange; they are hands that call down God’s blessing.
I invite the whole Church, and men and women of good will everywhere, to turn their gaze to those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity. This Day is meant, above all, to encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, towards the culture of encounter. Everyone, of any religious affiliation, is invited to openness and sharing through concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity.
It is my wish that, in the week before the World Day of the Poor on the 33rd Sunday Christian communities will create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance. They can invite the poor and volunteers to take part together in the Eucharist on this Sunday, for an even more authentic celebration of the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, Universal King, on the following Sunday. The kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha. Jesus’ complete abandonment to the Father, nailed to the cross, poor, naked and stripped of everything, incarnates and reveals the fullness of God’s love and the power of the Love that awakens him to new life and Resurrection.
This Sunday, if there are poor people where we live who seek assistance, let us draw close and welcome them as honoured guests at our table. They can be teachers helping us live the faith more consistently. With their trust and readiness to receive help, they show us in a quiet and often joyful way, how essential it is to live simply and to abandon ourselves to God’s providence. At the heart of the concrete initiatives carried out on this day there should always be prayer. The Our Father is the prayer of the poor. It is said in the plural: “our” bread” which entails sharing, participation and joint responsibility.
The Church can make this new World Day a tradition for evangelisation, a powerful appeal to our consciences as believers. We can grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel. The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practise, in our lives, the essence of the Gospel. Francis.
“BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT” From Matthew 5. A reflection and sharing activity.
THE PROCESS. The story below can be used as a starter for the activity. Spend some time to read, reflect and answer the questions in the story for yourself.
Together read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 and in Luke 6:20-26. Catholic Social Teaching includes the “preferential option for the poor” and working towards “the common good.’ A principle of Pope Francis is “reality is greater than ideas.”
Share in families or small groups on your responses to the questions, to the Scripture passages and your own views about poverty. Also study and reflect on Pope Francis message for the 1st World Day for the Poor 2017.
Discuss the issue of poverty more deeply. Finally consider possible action that could be taken and end with some moments of prayer focusing on all aspects of poverty in families and society as a whole.
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“Blessed are the poor in spirit…….” These words struck a chord with the parish Bible sharing team that had been developing small reflection sheets for use by parish groups as well as families at home.
“The beatitudes are a good source for reflection. Everyone knows them.” Agnes said.
Tony added. “Yes but what do they mean to us, in our different groups and different types of life situations?” As Justice and Peace rep he was most into poverty issues.
“Surely it is about spiritual poverty too, not just material poverty?” The religious education coordinator added.
“Does Jesus really want us to be poor or is it all back-to-front? Are we saying poverty is good?”
Fr Ray gathered their thoughts together. “Mother Teresa spent her life working for the poorest of the poor, but she also spoke of poverty in relationships, the lack of love in homes and society. Those are certainly not good, nor are hungry people. Our parish is very mixed with some pretty wealthy people but mostly middle-class working people, though some have lost their jobs. There are poor, also poor migrant people, and on the fringe there is the informal settlement. I don’t see many people from there coming to church, but they might feel embarrassed. Let us use this reflection time to try to bring everyone in touch with one another or at least with their own views on poverty. Hearing from others might help them grow towards greater understanding of the Beatitudes as the teaching of Jesus about the Spirit of the Kingdom.”
The team set out to prepare a simple set of questions for reflection, sharing and discussion, with a reminder too of the rules for sharing. After reflecting sharing requires openness in speaking and acceptance of people’s thoughts and feelings without comment. Discussion can be more robust later and hopefully will lead to action.
Groups started working. The Justice and Peace team had done their own reflection on poverty using Catholic Social Teaching the writings of Pope Francis especially Evangelii Gaudium. They could see that people understood somehow, but they found that it had maybe not yet touched people’s hearts. Were they, the not so poor, feeling too challenged, and were the poor resentful towards others? The Family team was sensitive to this aspect.
A simple format was developed that would ask people to begin with a look into their own lives and listen and reach out to others. Passages from the Beatitudes and Pope Francis’ writings and prayer are included.
1. What do you have to be thankful for? What brings you joy in your family? In other areas of your life?
2. How do you experience any lacks in your life? What makes you distant from God? Do you blame others? If appropriate decide to ask for forgiveness and pray for healing.
3. Think about the graces you may need for the way forward and ask God to grant you these.
4. Now focus on other people, thinking of their joys, their lacks and pray about this aspect too.
In families and groups people started reflecting and shared their own stories. James shared how grateful he felt towards his mother. As a sickly child, often out of school, he had few friends and felt emotionally poor. But she had always been there encouraging him. That had made him choose a career where he could help others.
One grandmother shared how thankful she was for the memories of their early years on their farm when all the family would really be together. They were forced to sell and move to town and she still found that difficult.”I feel poorer in very many ways now,” she said.
Thabo too shared memories of farm life. As poor farm workers who also had to leave his was a very different version, but still one where their extended family had been around and children had enjoyed their carefree days.
Stephen also spoke of emotional as well as material poverty which resulted from losing his job. His gratitude was for the way his wife had stood by him. As she had the better job they had worked out together that he would care for the children.
Martha, a refugee from the DRC, spoke of her own experience and also her knowledge of the lives of other refugees and migrant people. Losing husbands, wives, children and older family members, losing one’s house and possessions, possibly being raped or abused are enormously traumatic. She concluded, “I did not lose hope and although we were materially destitute I am grateful that there were people of faith along the way who supported me. Thank God that my children are now doing well, and I love my little granddaughter, even though she is half South African,” she added with a smile. “And I pray all the time for peace in my country and in the world.”
Many thoughts went through all their minds as they listened to one another. Material success of one member of an extended family is a challenge. Do we share enough even within a family? Do we share material goods as well as time, talents and real concern for one another?
As the sharing went around there was disappointment, sadness and frustration at the lacks they experienced but gratitude too for what they did have. Materially there was unemployment and some complained of poor service delivery that contributes to keeping people in poverty. HIV/AIDS had led to illness, financial insecurity and death for some. Substance abuse was becoming a great concern.
As they came to discuss the situation around them they realised that many families lack cohesion and unity and poor discipline does result in poorer relationships. A child grant alone is no real way out of poverty for teenagers, nor is abortion. They agreed that education, not just for good jobs, but for good relationships is an absolute must.
In spite of deep concern about the levels of poverty there was also an amazing degree of acceptance, of faith, hope and trust in God’s providence. “Is this what being spiritually poor is really all about?” the group leader asked. “When all is said and done, for me the key is love. Just think how the love in a family makes people really sacrifice for one another. What mothers and, not quite as frequently, fathers and grandparents as well, do for kids is wonderful. What siblings do for one another is sometimes amazing, but at other times so sad. I do believe that love is home-grown first of all. If I was really able to love and care for others as I love and care for my own family I would be one of those who Jesus says is happy or blessed. Come to think of it I would love Jesus, and love as Jesus loves. That is what he asks of us. If we could all just develop that attitude could we not beat world poverty? Could we not make the kingdom of heaven come a little closer here on earth?” Martha added, “I can picture the image Pope Francis presents of open hands, asking hands and giving hands reaching out to touch.
That was the message on that Sunday, the First World Day for the Poor that Fr Ray gave to the congregation. He said, “We, in our families, rich and poor, confront poverty in different ways. We should do more to overcome it. We should be able to rely on outside resources too which is good and necessary, but not demand what is unreasonable The words of Jesus, “blessed are the poor in spirit” are a definite challenge. Is Jesus saying poverty is good? Then why are we fighting it all the time? Is there an inner conflict between the idea of fighting or trying to end poverty and being poor in spirit? Is it not a question of balance? Is the happiness of the spiritually poor not in having the attitude of acceptance and gratitude for what we do have, rather than constantly spending much of our time and energy wanting more?
And yet, most beautiful, I believe is the fact that God has built into us this great ability to love and care for one another firstly as families and so we value life here and, from that, all life. Is it not that love and our love for God and our neighbour that can be the energy to drive the struggle against the abject poverty in the world? This should not be the condition of so many other families in our world.