Choosing to love and prefer the poor

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Nov 14, 2021 is the World Day of the Poor, and the theme of the Pope Francis’ Message is taken from the story of the anointing of Jesus in Mark 14:3-9. In his Message, the Holy Father interprets the words of Jesus to mean that Jesus is “the first of the poor, the poorest of the poor, because He represents all of them”. It is important to contextualise the Pope’s interpretation in an important Catholic Social Teaching i.e. the preferential option for the poor.

Pope St John Paul II explains that this refers to “a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity” which “applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42). In other words, our lifestyle decisions and other choices should be made especially keeping the poor in mind.

What the church is asking of us is to consider if the ways we use our resources and lead our lifestyles pay attention to the poor. Have we thought about setting things aside for those in need? Are our decisions for our communities excluding the vulnerable? Are we unintentionally making access to churches and communities difficult for those with disabilities and mental health issues?

Seen in the context of the preferential option for the poor, it is not surprising, then, that Pope Francis asks that we do not wait for the poor to knock on our doors for our help. Rather, we must reach them wherever they can be found. If the poor should be given special attention, it follows that we must put special effort into finding them, in the way we would if we were looking for Jesus, the first of the poor.

Moreover, the Pope reminds us that we do not help the poor only so that we can feel good about ourselves. Rather, just as Jesus evangelises us when we seek Him, the poor also evangelise us when we find them. Through the poor, we are enabled to see the face of God and the sufferings of Jesus in new ways. To be in the presence of the poor, then, is to be in the presence of God.

The Synod on Synodality, launched recently in Singapore, gives us a special opportunity to give the poor a preference. This Synodal Process asks us to listen attentively to one another so that we can discern what God is saying about how we can journey together as Church today. We must participate as Catholics because we are the Church, which is the Body of Christ, and this Body cannot function properly if its members refuse to act as one Body.

While this means that we should participate in and as our own communities, the teaching of preferential option for the poor invites us to use this platform to pay special attention to the voices of the poor and marginalised, even as we discern God’s will for the Church today.

First published in Catholic News. Reprinted with permission.