Poor

When We Choose to See Them

Beggar among a crowd, Lasse Ansaharju / Shutterstock.com

Beggar among a crowd, Lasse Ansaharju / Shutterstock.com

“Excuse me, sir. I don’t have any cash, but I have a credit card, and I’m going to that restaurant right now. If you’re hungry, I’d be happy to have you join me.”

Well, I said something like that, though my French was a little rusty, and I might not have said it quite right.

The man was sitting on the sidewalk outside the train station. I’d just arrived in Paris after an overnight ride, and I was tired and hungry. The sign he was holding caught my eye: “I’m an out-of-work architect, and I need money for rent for my son and me.”

You just never know with panhandlers and street beggars. Are they telling the truth, or have they simply figured out how to pull our heartstrings? It’s easy to choose to ignore them, or to toss them some cash and pay off a guilty conscience. Don’t stop, just toss some coins and keep rolling on by. I was living in Madrid at the time, a city of five million people. Beggars are a daily fact of life in a city like that, and you need to find a way to deal with them. Eventually they become like busy intersections, crosswalks, gawking tourists, and all the other impediments to travel.

At the same time, I couldn’t help asking what Christ would do. 

No Longer the 'Best Kept Secret'

SINCE HIS ELECTION as the 265th successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis has provided a refresher course on Catholic social teaching to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. “Catholic social teaching is no longer a secret,” says Jean Hill, director of peace and justice for the diocese of Salt Lake City. “Everything Pope Francis is saying comes from social doctrine and is about social justice.”

Through his various homilies, speeches, and meetings, Francis is “reading the signs of the times” and making practical application to the issues of the day. Some of his most powerful statements to date were made in his first pastoral document, “The Joy of the Gospel,” including this declaration: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Pope Francis is calling the faithful to be more merciful, compassionate, joyful, and centered upon the needs of the poor and vulnerable. He wants a church that sees the human person before the law and one that does not “obsess” about a narrow set of issues, but affirms both human life and human dignity. He invites

Catholics to pray, reflect, and embrace the beauty and breadth of Catholic social teaching—a rich tradition that is predicated on the dignity of the human person.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) defines Catholic social teaching as “a central and essential element of our faith. Its roots are in the Hebrew prophets who announced God’s special love for the poor and called God’s people to a covenant of love and justice.” This teaching is also founded on the life and words of Jesus. It posits that “every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family.”

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From the Archives: June 1979

AS CHRISTIANS, we affirm that God, whose presence fills every nook and cranny of the universe, is already at work in each of our neighborhoods. Even though we can’t see God, God is there, standing at the right hand of the needy (Psalm 109:31). God is hard at work rescuing the oppressed (Jeremiah 20:13), comforting the stranger (Exodus 22:21), pleading the cause of the poor (Proverbs 22:23), giving food to the hungry (Psalm 146:7), giving the desolate a home to dwell in (Psalm 68:6). God’s son Jesus is so totally identified with our neighbors who are ill-clothed, lonely, sick, or imprisoned, that when we minister to them we minister to him (Matthew 25:31-46).

Because the God of biblical faith acts in this way, we can say much about God’s will for our neighborhoods. As a loving parent, God cares deeply about all our neighbors, and wants all God’s children to be free from exploitation and to have what they need for their physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual well-being. God’s will is shalom for all. ...

As I’ve become more deeply involved personally, I’ve made friends with an isolated 82-year-old man whose last close relative died in 1917. ... As we sit together in his little room, I sometimes feel that I can say the words of one of Mother Teresa’s workers in India: “I have been touching Christ; I knew it was him.” 

Dick Taylor was coordinator of the neighborhood ministry of Jubilee Fellowship in Philadelphia when this article appeared.

Image: Unity and friendship of neighbors, winnond / Shutterstock.com

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WATCH: Fox News' 'Preferential Option for the Rich'

I don't typically watch much television. But when I can, I watch The Daily Show. Jon Stewart brings humor, satire and truth-telling to the news of the day -- qualities also characteristic of the Hebrew prophets. When I once suggested that to Stewart, he immediately denied any similarity, saying, "No, no, no, I'm just a comedian from the Borsch Belt!" But further discussion revealed a selection of topics that evoke his moral passion and even a righteous anger at political hypocrisy.

The First Year of the Pope’s Revolution

giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis greets people in St. Peter's Square in the Pope mobile. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

A year ago yesterday — March 13, 2013 — Pope Francis officially became pope. Since then he has fascinated the world. 

He didn’t don the snazzy red shoes and fancy papal attire. He chose a humble apartment rather than the posh papal palace. He washed the feet of women in prison. He touched folks that others did not want to touch, like a man with a disfigured face, making headline news around the world. He has put the margins in the spotlight. He refused to condemn sexual minorities saying, “Who am I to judge?” He has let kids steal the show, allowing one little boy to wander up on stage and stand by him as he preached. 

On Scripture: A Hard Word to Hear This Winter (Isaiah 58: 1-9a)

Photo Courtesy of the Odyssey Networks

A Hard Word to Hear This Winter (Isaiah 58: 1 – 9a). Photo Courtesy of the Odyssey Networks

This has been a hard winter — from Minnesota to Alabama. It’s been a very hard winter for Tanya and Red and Jamie and Andre and Adrian and Mercy. They are my neighbors here in New York City. It’s not that the heat was shut off in their apartments because they didn’t pay their bills. They have no apartments. Since last fall, they have made their beds on the steps of Riverside Church, under the scaffolding at Union Seminary and on the benches near Grant’s Tomb.

“Will you be warm enough tonight?” I asked Tanya. “Oh, we’ll be plenty warm,” she said as she showed me their outdoor bedroom: the first layer was carpeting, then stacks of blankets for padding and many more blankets for covers. “Once you’re in here,” said Red, “it’s too hot to keep your jacket on.” I was grateful to hear that because, well, then I wouldn’t feel so terrible going inside my warm apartment.

What Kind of World Is This?

Child alone in a tunnel,  hikrcn / Shutterstock.com

Child alone in a tunnel, hikrcn / Shutterstock.com

SNAP began in 1964 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Food Stamp Act as part of his unconditional “War on Poverty.” In his remarks upon signing, Johnson said: “I believe the Food Stamp Act weds the best of the humanitarian instincts of the American people with the best of the free enterprise system. Instead of establishing a duplicate public system to distribute food surplus to the needy, this act permits us to use our highly efficient commercial food distribution system.”

Johnson continued: “It is one of many sensible and needed steps we have taken to apply the power of America's new abundance to the task of building a better life for every American.”

Imagine. Fifty years ago the Food Stamp Act was viewed not as charity, but rather as an ingenious utilization of American enterprise in order to help “build a better life for every American.”

And it is genius.

The Justice of Eating

Hands holding rice, imanhakim / Shutterstock.com

Hands holding rice, imanhakim / Shutterstock.com

Many of us may not know what it is like to be hungry, to regularly miss meals, or to consume a diet void of essential nutrients to live a healthy life. Poet, diplomat, and politician Pablo Neruda captures this feeling well in his poem “The Great Tablecloth.” Just before the holidays, millions of Americans learned what some aspect of hunger felt like as they saw a reduction in their SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits.

On Nov. 1, every SNAP household saw its grocery budget reduced when an $11 billion cut went into effect — the equivalent of 10 million food stamp meals a day. And the program isn’t out of the woods yet. The House and Senate have begun to finalize a farm bill that will impact vital anti-hunger programs. A compromise proposal expected in the coming weeks could further cut SNAP by as much as $8 billion, at a time when lawmakers need to protect and strengthen it.

Pope Francis' Message for Washington

giulio napolitano/Shutterstock

Pope Francis waves to a crowd at St. Peter's Basilica. giulio napolitano/Shutterstock

"Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words" is a quote widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It also seems to be the motto of Pope Francis. Instead of just talking about abstract doctrines, he consistently lives out his beliefs in public ways that have grabbed the world's attention. His example of humility, compassion, and authenticity resonate powerfully in Washington, where cynicism is rampant, pride remains even after the proverbial falls, and an ideology of extreme individualism has overtaken a significant faction within our politics.

The Pope's words and deeds fascinate us because they are genuine and selfless. How could a leader of global significance spend time cold calling pregnant women in distress, kissing the feet of young Muslim inmates, or embracing a disfigured man? What sorts of values motivate such behavior? These stories touched our hearts, but they appeared irrelevant to our politics.

Then the Pope started talking about our wallets, which, according to a several commentators on the far right, instantly transformed him into a threat to capitalism itself.

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