Social Justice: Creating real relationships with those who are poor
By Barbara Budde
For more than a decade the U.S bishops have asked us to become more aware of our brothers and sisters who live in poverty particularly during the month of January. Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has raised his voice in calling on the church to attend to the needs of our sisters and brothers living in poverty. It should come as no surprise that “the inclusion of the poor in society” is one of the sections of his exhortation “Evangelii Guaduim,” or “The Joy of the Gospel,” promulgated on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 24, 2013. I encourage all of us to read not just this section, but the whole document.
In this exhortation, Pope Francis calls all Catholics to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel with joy and excitement. We are a loved and redeemed people, our God is a God who loves all and showers infinite mercy on all. This is the Good News and we need to be filled with joy and hope because of it and we need to share that hope and good news with others.
In Chapter Four the pope makes the connection between the proclamation of this Good News and social relationships. “The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others” (177). Our Holy Father goes on to point out that this demands engagement of all of us with the poor and engagement in transforming society. He writes, “Reading the Scriptures also makes it clear that the Gospel is not merely about our personal relationship with God. Nor should our loving response to God be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of “charity à la carte,” or a series of acts aimed solely at easing our conscience. The Gospel is about the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society” (180).
It is not acceptable for us to ignore the physical sufferings and needs of the poor in our midst, promising them a better life in heaven. The Gospel calls us to address their needs now, both their immediate needs and the structures that cause those needs. The pope writes: “…we can understand Jesus’ command to his disciples: “You yourselves give them something to eat!” (Mk 6:37): it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter” (188).
Perhaps the most challenging call, however, is to listen to the poor, to know them and to know their stories. The love of God active in us calls us to love others concretely. “This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good” (199). In other words, the Gospel calls us to a relationship beyond service to the poor to real love and relationship with our brothers and sisters.
During this month of January, take time to meditate on these few passages from Pope Francis. If possible, read the entire document and ask yourself whether your life is shaped by knowing real persons who are poor. How have they effected your life? What have they inspired you to do? Find opportunities to get to know people who are poor by volunteering with your parish, with Catholic Charities of Central Texas, the Ladies of Charity, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Find ways to let these ministries help you to be in real relationship with people who are poor –– not just in serving them, but in knowing and loving them. In this way we can be good news for each other!