Over the past year we have been journeying with the Evangelist Luke. Luke repeatedly reminds us that we must not forget the poor. Parable after parable the poor and those on the peripheries take center place in Jesus teaching. The reminder that we must live our lives for others. We must seek out the lost for they are cause for joy. Jesus speaks to us and to them and says“My friend come up higher.” There is a decision required if we are truly to be men and women who can and are willing to be a poor church to serve a poor Church for the poor. Not forgetting the poor but placing the poor and those on the peripheries at the center of ecclesial life.
Only 6 years ago in the Conclave of 2013 Cardinal Hummes of Brazil a Franciscan and Archbishop of Sao Paulo Whispered in the ear of Jorge Mario Bergoglio after being elected Pope, , “Don’t forget the poor!” This a Jesuit priest then takes the name Francis, to directly identify with the poor. ‘Pope Francis has made this his priority. He has become and is “The Pope of the Poor walking on the Peripheries! He stands on the side of the poor, he speaks for the poor, he serves the poor, and values and includes the poor. He is shaping the Church to be a church of and for the poor.
Responding to Christ message we must be deliberate on how do the poor take on the priority in our ministry, as I mentioned in previous article on the Church of the poor. The rich and wealthy have a profound and deeply necessary role in serving and evangelizing those on the peripheries. Those with great wealth are crucial for the Church to be able to be a church of the poor and serve those most marginalized and on the peripheries. Through their wealth and means they directly assist the church in providing for the poor through gifts and seeking to simplify their lives for others. They are partners in mission and they to walk on the Peripheries to meet those marginalized and in need. They offer guidance and expertise is ways to confront unjust systems, they can sit at corporate and government tables as advocates for justice and equality. Although their help in ministry of mercy is needed, an even greater task is their leadership in the ministry of justice alongside ecclesial leadership.
Let’s look at what happens in the Gospel of Luke 16th chapter starting with
verse 19. Jesus is teaching a parable. Three principle characters and a couple supportive background participants. A Rich man who eats, drinks and dresses lavishly each and every day. So not only is he Rich but he’s extravagant in his living every day. Then there is poor Lazarus sitting by the door begging for scraps from the table. Now Lazarus is not alone. His only background participants are licking his sores, namely the dogs.
They both die, Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham in heaven, and the rich man to the place of pain, torture and fire. Now we need to be clear. The rich man is not in the place of fire and pain because he’s rich, nor is he there due to the means by which he may have become wealthy, he is condemned to eternal fire and pain because he failed to recognize Poor Lazarus and he failed to help him. He stepped right over him as though he wasn’t there. He was of no importance, unvalued and just didn’t matter. He disregarded him and didn’t even distinguish him from the dogs at the door. The Rich man failed to see His need and didn’t respond by helping him and raising him out of his misery.
As we look at all that is happening we are reminded that we must be “Apostles of the Poor”. Disciples who walk amongst those on the peripheries, welcoming the poor, feeding the hungry, standing with the powerless, speaking for the voiceless, proclaiming and speaking truth to power. Recognizing the dignity of every human being and making them feel welcome. We cannot just wait for them to get themselves together to “tow line.” We serve the poor not because they are Catholic but because we are! We have to receive them and embrace them where they are now in their lives, in their pain, anger, confusion and in their illnesses . They may be lost so welcome them, they may be confused so teach them, they feel unloved so let’s love them, they may be sick and ill let’s heal them, they may be sad, angry and despondent let’s become a blessing to them and bring them the joy of Jesus.
I once heard a young priest say “we are John Paul II priest”. The heart of John Paul’s thought was Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and imprisoned and you visited me.” So if they truly want to be John Paul II priest fully embrace his teaching. Take off the lace, Role up the sleeves of their cassocks, and serve the poor, walk with those on the peripheries and be apostles of the poor.
As a Small Poor Parish we use every resource, every gift, all that we can muster to pull together what we need to serve the poor, to welcome, feed them, provide opportunities to bring them moments of joy. We walk the neighborhood and simply let them know that they matter, that they are valued and that we stand with them on the Peripheries and share with them the love of Jesus Christ. We are known as “the Church that Cares”. We role up our sleeves and work with our people. The people even call us the “Cathedral in the Hood”. So I told our bishop he’s got to come back as soon as he’s feeling better to his people here as their shepherd. To all of us, “Don’t forget the poor,” be an Apostle on the Peripheries!