Father Stefan reflects on Pope Francis ‘Joy of the Gospel’ The special place of the poor in God’s People

Pope Francis writes, “God’s heart has a special place for the poor. so much so that he himself ‘became poor.'(2 Cor 8:9) The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor. Salvation came to us from the  ‘yes’ uttered by a lowly maiden from a small town on the fringes of a great empire. The Savior was born in a manger, in the midst of animals, like the children of poor families; he was presented at the Temple along with two turtledoves, the offering made by those who could not afford a lamb (Lk 2:24; lev 5;7) he was raised in a home of ordinary workers and worked with his own hands to earn his bread. When he began to preach the Kingdom, crowds of the dispossessed followed him, illustrating his words: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.'(Lk 4;18) He assumed those burdened by sorrows and crushed by poverty that God has a special place for them in his heart: ‘Blessed are you poor, yours is the kingdom of God.'(Lk 6:20) he made himself one of them: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food to eat; and he taught them that mercy towards all of these is the key to heaven. (Mt 25;5)

Saint Vincent de Paul writes, “Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearance nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor….It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and ti offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God, Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. Since she is a noble mistress, we must do whatever she commands. With renewed devotion, then we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our master and patrons.”

I have always found this quote from Pope Benedict, ‘God is Love’ powerful, “But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be ‘devout’ and to perform my ‘religious duties’ then my relationship with  God will also grow arid. It becomes merely ‘proper’ but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love make me sensitive to God as well.”

 Imagine being devout but loveless. This is an image of the person who is only concerned with making sure all the religious boxes are checked. When we see the poor homeless man on the street we catch a glimpse of our inward poverty. I am a beggar before God. St Francis saw beautifully that we are beggars before God.  St Francis explains that when we receive communion in the hand we are receiving Jesus as a beggar. We know that we are not worthy to receive the Eucharist but we hold out our hands the way a beggar would and Jesus in his love feeds us. 

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