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World Day of the Poor

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Ask anyone what comes to mind when they think of Pope Francis, and most will point to his love for the poor. This concern for the least among us has been one of the hallmarks of his pontificate. It should come as no surprise, then, that he has dedicated Nov. 19, 2017, as the first World Day of the Poor. There are many “world days” on the calendar of the Church, such as the World Day of the Sick, of Vocations, and of Marriage. Pope Francis has chosen to add this one as a permanent extension of the Jubilee of Mercy.

This is not a celebration of poverty in the way that World Youth Day is a celebration of young people. Pope Francis intends for this day to call our attention to the plight of the poor and to the many kinds of poverty that exist in our world. He also wants to “encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, and to embrace the culture of encounter.”

The World Day of the Poor is meant to remind us of Christ’s love for the poor and for us to reflect on how we can better assist the poor and keep them in prayer.

I ask that you consider three points in your own reflection:

1) We are all poor;

2) Serving the poor is a sure path to a deeper union with Christ;

3) The World Day of the Poor is part of the Church’s evangelizing mission.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all very poor.

No matter what we possess in earthly goods, we are in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace. We could not even draw breath were it not for His breath of life. Every single man and woman is at every moment being loved into existence.

We stand constantly in a posture of profound need of God, and we are called to empty ourselves as Jesus emptied Himself through the Incarnation and on the Cross.

This idea is countercultural to our polished, self-reliant, image-conscious culture. We sometimes flee from weakness and poverty. This spiritual poverty, however, is nothing of which to be afraid. It is a fundamental mark of the disciple of Jesus. It is a great gift, for as St. Paul says, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Spiritual poverty is the path to salvation.

Second, serving the poor is a sure path to a deeper union with Jesus.

For the Christian, this service is not optional. The Gospel assures us that we will be judged according to what we did — or did not do — for the least among us, and insists upon a call to a lifelong focus on the poor. That should shake us up but not be viewed as a burden. In serving the poor we honor Jesus and have an opportunity to draw very close to Him.

God’s passionate and unconditional love for us is incomprehensible! It is so unlike our conditional love for each other. It demands that we welcome His grace and mercy into our hearts so that we can then extend the same to those in need.

Lastly, the World Day of the Poor is part of the Church’s evangelizing mission.

This may seem strange, but Pope Francis specifically notes in his World Day of the Poor message that he wants this to be “a tradition that concretely contributes to evangelization in today’s world.” How?

Our service to the poor must address not only material needs but the deeper spiritual problems that so often accompany those in material destitution. The Church is not just any well-meaning non-profit or social service organization. We are the Body of Christ. We bring not only food, clothing, shelter, job training — we bring the light of Christ, the One who can heal our brokenness and weakness.

There is a deep connection between service and evangelization. We are not only to provide for the material needs of those we serve, we are to share with them our relationship with Jesus so that they might be drawn into the same relationship. That is what makes the difference in a truly Christian charity. Love evangelizes. It points not to us, but to Him.

For more information on how the Diocese of Arlington is observing World Day of the Poor Nov. 19, go to arlingtondiocese.org/2017worlddayofthepoor.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017