IN my last column piece, I ventured ruminating on the evilness of poverty, stressing that the tragedy of poverty may be attributed to some wrong-doers who are causing other people’s deprivation and misery.
But, on similar vein, I also raised the contention that poverty is a blissful occasion for exercising our “preferential love” for the “least and last” ones.
If so, is the meaningfulness of poverty founded on the theological tenet (or mandate) of loving the poor? For one, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2448) proclaims a “preferential love on the part of the Church” for those oppressed by poverty.
No denying, as Pope Francis exhorted, “Poverty is at the very center of the Gospel: if we remove poverty from the Gospel, no one would be able to understand anything about the message of Jesus” (Pope Francis’ homily, June 2015).
For Pope Francis, thus, when faith does not “reach the pockets”, it is not genuine. “If you have so much richness in the heart, these great riches of zeal, charity, the Word of God, the knowledge of God – let this wealth reach your pockets – and this is the golden rule: when faith does not come with the pockets, (it’s) not a genuine faith,” admonished the Pope.
But, what’s the gospel truth about the “Blessed are the poor in spirit” beatitude?
Pope Francis beautifully explains thus: “Here is the foundation of the theology poverty: Jesus Christ, who was rich – with the richness of God – made himself poor.
He lowered himself for us. This then is the meaning of the first beatitude, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, that is, to be poor is to let oneself be enriched by the poverty of Christ, to desire not to be rich with riches other than those of Christ.”
What a treasure-trove of truth! I like to reckon that, indeed, this is what remarkably distinguishes Christian charity (read: love) from philanthropy or other humanitarian advocacies and endeavours.
Verily, for a Christian, helping or giving something to those in need is not just for the sake of giving; loving the poor is not simply for the sake of loving them – but precisely because and for the sake of Christ, for the love of Christ.
What does it take then to love the poor?
On this score, I am admittedly inspired by the life of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, acclaimed as the “Saint of the Gutters” who was canonized in 2016.
Mother Teresa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who founded the Missionaries of Charity, dedicated her whole life to helping the poorest of the poor and setting up countless soup kitchens, orphanages, a leper colony, and homes for the dying, sickly, and destitute in over 120 countries.
Here’s one inspiring incident in the life of Mother Teresa when she once visited Australia.
A young man was assigned to be her guide and “gofer” during her stay in Australia.
The young man was so thrilled and excited at the prospect of being so close to Mother Teresa. He dreamed of how much he would learn from her and what they would talk about.
But during her visit, he became frustrated. Although he was constantly near her, he never had the chance to talk to Mother Teresa. There were always other people for her to meet.
Finally, before Mother Teresa was due to fly to New Guinea, the young man had the opportunity to speak to her.
He said to Mother Teresa, “If I pay my own fare to New Guinea, can I sit next to you so I can talk to you and learn from you?”
Mother Teresa looked at him and asked, “You have enough money to pay an airfare to New Guinea?” “Oh, yes,” the young man replied eagerly.
“Then give that money to the poor,” Mother Teresa said. “You’ll learn more from that than anything I can tell you.”
Tumpak! Very well said. What does it take, thus, to love the poor? Don’t just plan or say it – do it, for Christ’s sake!
After all, at life’s end, St. Mother Teresa profoundly wrote: “At the end of life, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was naked, and you clothed me; I was homeless, and you took me in’.”