IV World Day of the Poor

By: Pope Francis

“Put your hand on the poor” (cf. Yes 7.32)

“Reach out to the poor” (cf. Yes 7:32). Ancient wisdom has formulated these words as a sacred code to follow in life. Today they resonate with all their meaning to help us also to look at the essentials and overcome the barriers of indifference. Poverty always assumes different faces, which require special attention in each particular situation; In each of them we can find Jesus, the Lord, who revealed to us to be present in his weakest brethren (cf. Mt 25:40).

1. Let us take into our hands the Ecclesiastical, also known as Sirácida, one of the books of the Old Testament. Here we find the words of a wise teacher who lived about two hundred years before Christ. He sought the wisdom that makes men better and able to deeply scrutinize the vicissitudes of life. He did so at a time of harsh trial for the people of Israel, a time of pain, mourning and misery caused by the dominion of foreign powers. Being a man of great faith, rooted in the traditions of his ancestors, his first thought was to turn to God to ask him for the gift of wisdom. And the Lord helped him.

From the first pages of the book, the Sirácida sets out his advice on many specific situations in life, and poverty is one of them. He insists on the fact that in anguish one must trust in God: “Straighten your heart, stand firm and do not be distressed in times of adversity. Stick to him and don’t part, so you’ll be startled in the end. Anything that come upon you, accept it, and be patient in adversity and humiliation. For in the fire gold is tested, and those who please God in the furnace of humiliation. In disease and poverty put your trust in it. Trust him and he will help you, straighten your ways and wait on it. Those who fear the Lord, wait for His mercy, and do not deviate, let us not fall” (2:2-7).

2. Page after page, we discover a precious compendium of suggestions on how to act in the light of an intimate relationship with God, creator and lover of creation, just and provident with all his children. However, the constant reference to God does not prevent us from looking at the concrete man; on the contrary, the two things are closely related.

This is clearly demonstrated by the passage from which the title of this Message is taken (cf. 7:29-36). Prayer to God and solidarity with the poor and suffering are inseparable. To celebrate a worship that is pleasing to the Lord, it is necessary to recognize that every person, even the most destitute and despised, bears the image of God in itself. From this attention derives the gift of divine blessing, attracted by the generosity that is practiced towards the poor. Therefore, the time devoted to prayer can never become an alibi to neglect the neighbor in need; but quite the opposite: the Lord’s blessing descends upon us and prayer accomplishes its purpose when it is accompanied by service to the poor.

3. How current is this ancient teaching, also for us! Indeed, the Word of God goes beyond space, time, religions and cultures. The generosity that sustains the weak, comforts the afflicted, relieves suffering, restores dignity to those deprived of it, is a condition for a fully human life. The option to dedicate themselves to the poor and to meet their many and varied needs cannot be conditioned by time available or private interests, or by pastoral or social projects that are unraged. The power of God’s grace cannot be stifled by the narcissistic tendency to always put oneself first.

Keeping an eye on the poor is difficult, but much needed to give our personal and social lives the right direction. It is not a question of using many words, but of specifically compromising life, moved by divine charity. Every year, with World Poor Day, I return to this fundamental reality for the life of the Church, because the poor are and will always be with us (cf. Jn 12:8) to help us to welcome the companionship of Christ into our daily lives.

4. Encountering a person in poverty always provokes and interrogates us. How can we help eliminate or at least alleviate their marginalization and suffering? How can we help you in your spiritual poverty? The Christian community is called to engage in this experience of sharing, with the awareness that it is not allowed to delegate it to others. And to support the poor it is essential to live evangelical poverty in the first person. We cannot feel “good” when a member of the human family is left out and becomes a shadow. The silent cry of so many poor people must find God’s people on the front line, always and everywhere, to give them voice, to defend them, and to stand in solidarity with them in the face of so much hypocrisy and so many unfulfilled promises, and invite them to participate in the life of the community.

True, the Church has no general solutions to propose, but she offers, with the grace of Christ, her testimony and her gestures of sharing. It also feels obliged to present the demands of those who do not have what is necessary to live. Reminding everyone of the great value of the common good is for the Christian people a commitment to life, which is made in an attempt not to forget any of those whose humanity is violated in fundamental needs.

5. Reaching out first, to those who do so, that within us there is the ability to make gestures that give meaning to life. How many hands you reach each day! Unfortunately, it happens more and more often that haste drags us into a maelstrom of indifference, to the point that we no longer know how to recognize all the good that is done daily in silence and with great generosity. Thus it happens that, only when events that alter the course of our lives occur do our eyes become able to glimpse the goodness of the saints “from the door next door”, “of those who live near us and are a reflection of the presence of God” (Exhortation ap. Gaudete et exsultate, n. 7), but of which no one speaks. Bad news is so plentiful in newspaper pages, on websites and on television screens, that we are convinced by the evil sovereign queen. It’s not like that. It is true that evil and violence, abuse and corruption are always present, but life is woven with acts of respect and generosity that not only make up for evil, but push us to go further and be filled with hope.

6. Reaching out is a sign: a sign that immediately recalls proximity, solidarity, love. In these months, when the whole world has been overwhelmed by a virus that has brought pain and death, discouragement and bewilderment, how many hands we have been able to see! The lying hand of the doctor who cares about each patient trying to find the right remedy. The lying hand of the nurse and nurse who, far beyond their working hours, remain to care for the sick. The lying hand of the one who works in the administration and provides the means to save as many lives as possible. The pharmacist’s lying hand, who is exposed to so many requests in risky contact with people. The priest’s stretched hand that blesses with a torn heart. The volunteer’s lying hand helps those who live on the street and those who, despite having a roof, have no food. The lying hand of men and women working to provide essential services and safety. And other hands stretched out that we could describe until we compose a litany of good deeds. All these hands have defied contagion and fear to give support and comfort.

7. This pandemic came suddenly and took us unprepared, leaving a great sense of disorientation and helplessness. However, the hand reached out to the poor man did not come suddenly. Rather, she bears witness to how we prepare to recognize the poor to sustain him in the time of need. One does not improvise instruments of mercy. It is necessary to have an everyday training, which comes from the awareness of how much we need, the first of us, from a hand reached towards us.

This moment we are experiencing has put many certainties in crisis. We feel poorer and weaker because we have experienced a sense of limit and restriction of freedom. The loss of work, the most beloved affections and the lack of the usual interpersonal relationships have suddenly opened horizons that we were no longer used to observing. Our spiritual and material riches were called into question and we discovered that we were afraid. Locked in the silence of our homes, we rediscover the importance of simplicity and keeping our eyes fixed on the essentials. We have matured the demand for a new fraternity, capable of mutual help and mutual esteem. This is a favorable time to “feel again that we need each other, that we have a responsibility for each other and for the world …. We have already had a long time of moral degradation, mocking ethics, goodness, faith, honesty… This destruction of every foundation of social life ends up confronting each other to preserve one’s own interests, provokes the emergence of new forms of violence and cruelty and prevents the development of a true culture of caring for the environment” (Letter enc. Laudato si’, 229). In short, serious economic, financial and political crises will not cease as long as we allow the responsibility that each one must feel towards others and for each person to remain lethargic.

8. “He reaches out to the poor” is therefore an invitation to responsibility and a direct commitment from all those who feel part of the same destiny. It is a call to bear the burdens of the weakest, as St Paul recalls: “Through love, put yoursing yoursing at the service of one another. For the whole Law finds its fulness in one precept: Thou art to love thy neighbour as thyself. […] Carry each other’s burdens” (Gal 5:13-14; 6.2). The Apostle teaches that the freedom that has been given to us with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is for each of us a responsibility to put ourselves at the service of others, especially the weakest. This is not an optional exhortation, but conditiones the authenticity of the faith we profess.

The book of ecclesiastical comes again to our aid: it suggests concrete actions to support the weakest and also uses some evocative images. At first he takes into account the weakness of those who are sad: “Do not avoid those who mourn” (7:34). The period of the pandemic forced us into forced isolation, even preventing us from being able to comfort and remain close to friends and acquaintances afflicted by the loss of their loved ones. And the sacred author goes on: “Do not stop visiting the sick” (7:35). We have experienced the impossibility of being close to those who suffer, and at the same time we have become aware of the fragility of our existence. In short, the Word of God never leaves us alone and continues to stimulate us to good.

9. “Tend your hand to the poor” highlights, by contrast, the attitude of those who have their hands in their pockets and do not allow themselves to be moved by poverty, of which they are often also complicit. Indifference and cynicism are his daily food. What a difference from the generous hands we have described! In fact, there are hands tended to quickly rub the keyboard of a computer and move sums of money from one part of the world to another, decreeing the wealth of narrow oligarchies and the misery of crowds or the failure of entire nations. There are hands tended to accumulate money by selling weapons that other hands, including children, will use to sow death and poverty. There are laid hands that in the shadows exchange doses of death to enrich themselves and live in luxury and ephemeral debauchery. There are hands laid out that underneath exchange illegal favors for easy and corrupt profits. And there are also lying hands that, in hypocritical puritanism, establish laws that they themselves do not observe.

In this picture, “the excluded are still waiting. In order to sustain a lifestyle that excludes others, or to be able to get excited about that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without warning, we become unable to sympathize with the cries of others, we no longer weep at the drama of others and we are not interested in caring for them, as if everything is a responsibility of others that is none of our business” (Exhortation ap. Evangelii Gaudium, n. 54). We cannot be happy until these hands that sow death become instruments of justice and peace for the whole world.

10. “In all your actions, keep your end in mind” (Yes 7:36). This is the expression with which the Sirácida concludes his reflection. The text lends itself to a double interpretation. The first makes it clear that we must always keep in mind the end of our existence. Remembering our common destiny can help us lead a more attentive life for those who are poorer and have not had the same chances as us. There is also a second interpretation, which rather demonstrates the purpose, the goal towards which each tends. It is the end of our life that requires a project to be carried out and a way to go without getting tired. Well, the purpose of each of our actions can be nothing but love. This is the goal we’re headed for and nothing should distract us from it. This love is sharing, it is dedication and service, but it begins with the discovery that we are the first loved and moved to love. This end appears at the moment when the child encounters the smile of the mother and feels loved by the very fact of existing. Even a smile we share with the poor is a source of love and allows us to live in joy. The hand reached out, then, can always be enriched by the smile of those who do not weigh their presence and the help it offers, but only rejoices in living in the style of Christ’s disciples.

On this journey of daily encounter with the poor, we are accompanied by the Mother of God who, in a particular way, is the Mother of the poor. The Virgin Mary knows closely the difficulties and sufferings of those who are marginalized, because she herself found herself giving birth to the Son of God in a stable. Because of Herod’s threat, with Joseph her husband and little Jesus fled to another country, and refugee status marked the sacred family for a few years. May prayer to the Mother of the poor gather her favorite children and all who serve them in the name of Christ. And may this same prayer transform the hand reached out into a embrace of communion and renewed fraternity.

Rome, in St. John Lateran, 13 June 2020, liturgical memory of St Anthony of Padua.


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