T&T cricketers shine
November 15, 2019
33rd Sunday in OT (C)
November 15, 2019

See the face of Christ in the poor

Q: Archbishop J, really? A world day of the poor?

Yes really! The scandal of poverty in our world today is no longer felt and seen with righteous outrage.

  • Just one per cent of the world’s richest persons control more wealth than the other 99 per cent
  • The eight richest persons in the world control as much wealth as the poorest half of the planet
  • In 2018, Oxfam reported 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth
  • The top one per cent of the world earned 82 per cent of the wealth generated in 2017
  • Billionaire wealth has risen by an annual average of 13 per cent
  • Heavily indebted countries like Barbados are asked to pass the burden of debt onto their poorest citizens
  • Some 116 countries across the world have debts beyond critical thresholds and rising

We all owe a debt to the poor. St John Paul II said, “All private property has a social mortgage”. The consistent Catholic teaching is that the goods of this earth were not given to us individually, they were given as a common patrimony, to be held in trust to ensure all people have what is required to live a life of dignity. The disparity of wealth and plight of the poor needs to be everyone’s concern.

World Day of the Poor

The Holy Father Pope Francis inaugurated World Day of the Poor in 2017, following publication of his Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et misera (Mercy with Misery), November 2016, marking the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

This, therefore, is our third World Day of the Poor, which is always celebrated on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. It is an opportunity for the whole Church to reflect again on our fidelity to the gospel in relation to the poor.

The Church and all humanity are being judged by the poor; by what we do and don’t do; by our concern and our lack of concern. We are judged not so much by what we give, but by how we relate, befriend, listen and affirm the humanity of the poor.

Many times, we give things, but we deny the poor what is most precious, human contact. We fail to see the person, to touch him or her and affirm that this person too is a child of God. This is most precious.

World Day of the Poor 2019

The theme chosen for this year’s World Day of the Poor is: The hope of the poor will not perish for ever (Ps 9:19). It reflects hope and a sense of judgement that, in the end, God will vindicate the poor.

Commenting on the psalm, Pope Francis says:

The Psalmist describes the condition of the poor and the arrogance of those who oppress them (cf 10, 1–10). He invokes God’s judgement to restore justice and overcome evil (cf 10, 14–15). In his words, we hear an echo of age-old questions. How can God tolerate this disparity? How can he let the poor be humiliated without coming to their aid? Why does he allow oppressors to prosper instead of condemning their conduct, especially in the light of the sufferings of the poor?

This is a sobering reflection. Remember Lazarus and the rich man? It was the rich man’s indifference that caused his judgement and punishment. Are we becoming indifferent? Intolerant? Xenophobic? Afraid?

In his letter Mercy with Misery the Holy Father says:

The Son of God hangs naked on the cross; the soldiers took his tunic and cast lots for it (cf Jn 19:23–24). He has nothing left. The cross is the extreme revelation of Jesus’ sharing the lot of those who have lost their dignity for lack of the necessities of life. Just as the Church is called to be the “tunic of Christ” and to clothe her Lord once more, so She is committed to solidarity with the naked of the world, to help them recover the dignity of which they have been stripped. Jesus’ words, “I was naked, and you clothed me” (Mt 25:36), oblige us not to turn our backs on the new forms of poverty and marginalisation that prevent people from living a life of dignity (19).

Distressing disguise of the poor

Recently in one of our churches a poor man came and sat in the church. The congregation, who usually sat around that spot, moved to another part of the church, offended by his smell. Then others came and moved him out of the church. This is a scandal.

They, the “good Catholics” wanted to protect the church from Jesus. That was Jesus who appeared to them that day and they did not recognise Him. We did not recognise Him!

I went to another parish recently where after Mass the food ran out. The priest opened the presbytery to the ‘Spanish Community’ (they asked not to be called migrants) who did not get food.

He took all the food he had and began serving them whatever was available. They sat at his table, they ate and spoke and laughed and celebrated. That parish recognised Jesus when He appeared.

In the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, we have not yet made the celebration of World Day of the Poor a main event that all of us can recognise. It should be as big as Corpus Christi. It is an encounter with the broken body of Jesus Christ. We will work towards that for 2020.

For this year, let us all do something to engage with one poor person and recognise the face of Christ through his/her face. This will be a proper preparation for the celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Key message: Poverty is a scandal and we should be outraged by the growing poverty in our world and in T&T. We should see in the poor the face of Christ

Action step: Reach out to one poor person or family. Spend time listening to their story, give them love as you help them with their material needs.

Scripture reading: Psalm 9