Sent to the Poor

The Second Vatican Council tells us in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church that one of the ways we can participate in the glory of God is by following the poor Christ (cf. Lumen gentium 41).

“God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them… It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 2443). The Catechism of the Catholic Church also emphasizes this fact: “The Church’s love for the poor… is a part of her constant tradition… [It] is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to ‘be able to give to those in need’” (Eph 4:28, CCC 2444).

The fact that loving the poor is a constant tradition of the Church was affirmed by St. Francis of Assisi, among others. To Francis, a poor and humble evangelical life, which spoke more by witness than by words, was the first stage of a missionary life, because it showed that spiritual assets were far more valuable than material ones[1]. The Franciscan missionary spirit therefore had much in common with the Beatitudes. In their great claustrum, as wide as the whole world, the Franciscans chose to carry out their mission among the little ones, the lost and the poor. As part of their idea of living, working and being with people from the “margins of society,” and those who were abandoned because of leprosy, the friars served—not so much to show mercy—but to be one of them[2]. In this sense, Francis wanted the friars to devote their lives to “lines of work and activities that others neglect and that are more suited to a life of poverty and fraternity with humble and poor people”[3].

After St. Francis’ conversion, his life, or at least part of it, was about showing mercy. Therefore, it can be said that the life of poverty he so greatly valued was something he undertook in the service of love, because love helped him understand people who were excluded and those full of suffering, “ both in their souls (leprosy of the soul) as well as in their bodies”[4]. Francis very much wanted the friars to be men with hearts open to everyone, especially those rejected by others. He comments on this in the Earlier Rule: “They must rejoice when they live among people considered of little value and looked down upon, among the poor and the powerless, the sick and the lepers, and the beggars by the wayside” (Earlier Rule 9:2; FF 30)[5].

The Seraphic Father could be quite radical when it came to helping the poor. At least two accounts reflect this. In one, Francis gave a copy of the New Testament to a poor mother so she could sell it to care for her needs. “I believe that God will be pleased more by the giving than by the reading,” he said (2 Celano 91; FF 678). Another account of his assistance to the needy was when he allowed the altar of the Virgin Mary to be stripped and its furnishings sold: “She would be happier to have her altar stripped and the Gospel of her Son kept than have her altar decorated and her Son despised” [in the poor] (2 Celano 67; FF 653)[6].

This approach to the poor is clearly echoed in the teaching of our modern day popes. In Sollicitudo rei socialis, Pope St. John Paul II speaks explicitly about the “love of preference for the poor.” This love and “the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care and, above all, those without hope of a better future” (Sollicitudo rei socialis 42). The same pope also emphasizes that “the Church throughout the world wants to be the Church of the poor” (Redemptoris Missio 60) and that “the poor are those to whom the mission is first addressed, and their evangelization is par excellence the sign and proof of the mission of Jesus” (Redemptoris Missio 60).

Furthermore, Pope Francis says that the poor are those who cannot repay you and must always be the privileged recipients of the Church’s mission (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 48). They also have the right to “feel at home” (Evangelii Gaudium 199) in the Church and receive special spiritual care (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 200). Declaring our preferential option for poor is multifaceted commitment, as it requires us to remedy not only material problems, but also cultural problems and religious problems in particular (cf. CCC 2444).

Friar Dariusz MAZUREK,
General Delegate for Missionary Animation

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[1] Cf. M. Hubaut, Francisco y sus hermanos, un nuevo rostro de la misión, SelFr 34 (1983), 11-13.
[2] Cf. J. Garrido, La forma de vida franciscana, ayer y hoy, Oñate (Guipúzcoa) 1993, 111-112.
[3] L. Iriarte, Powołanie franciszkańskie. Synteza ideałów św. Franciszka i św. Klary, Cracow 1999, 294.
[4] R. Manselli, Św. Franciszek z Asyżu, Niepokalanów 1997, 38.
[5] Cf. K. Esser, Temas espirituales, Oñate (Guipúzcoa) 1980, 199.
[6] Cf. W. Egger, L. Lehmann, A. Rotzetter, Franciszkańska solidarność z ubogimi, w: Duchowość franciszkańska, Wrocław 1992, fascicle 20, 4.