Until It Hurts
It’s often difficult to understand what is expected of us in terms of caring for the poor. Living in downtown Houston, I am challenged by the presence of the poor all the time. Am I expected to stop every time? If I have groceries or leftovers, often times I’ll share. But sometimes, I’m really looking forward to having those leftovers, and I don’t want to give them away. Is that bad? As a Catholic who is seeking holiness, what are the demands placed on me to care for the poor?
“Once the demands of the necessity and propriety have been met in your life, everything else you own belongs rightfully to the poor” (St. Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum)
This quote from St. Leo’s encyclical on capital and labor has always haunted me. Although what is necessary and proper can be debated, this doesn’t leave much room for the luxury in my life. If we’re being really honest with ourselves, this is radically challenging! I don’t know about you, but I tend to think that once money enters my bank account it belongs exclusively to me, and maybe, when I’m feeling generous, those that I love.
In the Mass readings today also, we are reminded of exactly what St. Leo is suggesting: That my resources are not mine to possess but instead are entrusted to me. In the Gospel’s language, I am made a steward over them, and once I have used what I need for my life and responsibilities, the rest belongs to the needs of the poor around me.
I know this may sound like crazy talk, or something that only applies to nuns and priests who take vows of poverty, but our long history of Catholic Social Teaching is clear: all are called to give of ourselves in service of the poor. This self-gift goes further than obligation, and into the realm of love. We all know and have experienced the level of self-gift that we are capable of with those we intimately love. This is the standard by which we are called to love everyone.
The recent canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta highlighted this kind of love for the world to see. Service for the poor that had her love for Jesus at its root . She saw Jesus in the poor clearly and was therefore able to love them radically. She also saw the different dimensions of poverty. Poverty that is spiritual and moral, as well as physical. She called her sisters to not only feed and clothe the destitute they lived among, but to hug and kiss them as well.
So what are the demands placed on me to care for the poor? Like St. Teresa, and countless people before her, whatever the circumstance, I am always challenged to give more. More of my time, my money, and my presence…until I am uncomfortable. Until it hurts.
(Photo by Manfredo Ferrari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)