The Lord hears the cry of the poor. Jesus came “to bring good news to the afflicted.” Luke 4: 18 (NJB). Even before his birth, Mary proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. “He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1: 53 (NJB). Jesus says, “How blessed are you who are poor: the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry now: you shall have your fill.” Lk 6: 20a-21b (NJB).
First World Day of Peace
Tomorrow, November 19, is the First World Day of the Poor. So just as the Lord hears the cry of the poor, we too should listen. The pope invites us to look to “those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity. They are our brothers and sisters, created and loved by the one Heavenly Father.” Everyone “is invited to openness and sharing with the poor through concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity.” Message, First World Day of the Poor (Message) ¶ 6. Pope Francis reminds us, however, that prayer should be at the heart of these concrete signs.
Let us not forget that the Our Father is the prayer of the poor. Our asking for bread expresses our entrustment to God for our basic needs in life. Everything that Jesus taught us in this prayer expresses and brings together the cry of all who suffer from life’s uncertainties and the lack of what they need. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he answered in the words with which the poor speak to our one Father, in whom all acknowledge themselves as brothers and sisters. The Our Father is a prayer said in the plural: the bread for which we ask is “ours”, and that entails sharing, participation and joint responsibility. In this prayer, all of us recognize our need to overcome every form of selfishness, in order to enter into the joy of mutual acceptance.
Message ¶ 8.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus
Too often, however, we do not hear the poor because we do not listen. We do not see the poor because we do not look. We accept poverty as a condition of life.
“There was a rich man,” Jesus tells us. The rich man wore fine clothing, and ate good food. “And at his gate there used to lie a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores”. Lazarus “longed to fill himself with what fell from the rich man’s table.”
Later, when the two men died, the angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s embrace. But the rich man went to the netherworld, and cried out to Abraham. “[S]end Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue”. The rich man continued, “I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham replied he could not do this. “My son, remember that during your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony.” Lk 16: 19-31 (NJB).
Accepting poverty is a sin
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached that the rich man’s sin was not that he was wealthy. Rather, his sin was that he accepted inequality. “The sin of [the rich man] was that he felt that the gulf which existed between him and Lazarus was a proper condition of life. … He adjusted himself to the patent inequalities of circumstance.” The Impassable Gulf
Jesus said, “You have the poor with you always, but you will not always have me.” Mt 26: 11 (NJB). The Church teaches that it is an illusion to believe that poverty will be eliminated completely. “This will happen only upon Christ’s return, when he will be with us once more, for ever. In the meantime, the poor remain entrusted to us and it is this responsibility upon which we shall be judged at the end of time (cf. Mt 25: 31-46): ‘Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.'” Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church ¶ 183, quoting Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶ 1033 (emphasis in the original).
Preferential option for the poor
Jesus commands us, “[L]ove one another as I have loved you.” Jn 15: 12 (NJB). Therefore, as the Lord hears the cry of the poor, we must do likewise. We must give a preferential option to the poor. Saint Pope John Paul II said:
This option is not limited to material poverty, since it is well known that there are many other forms of poverty, especially in modern society—not only economic but cultural and spiritual poverty as well. The Church’s love for the poor, which is essential for her and a part of her constant tradition, impels her to give attention to a world in which poverty is threatening to assume massive proportions in spite of technological and economic progress.
Centesimus annus (CA) ¶ 57. We must “speak for the voiceless, … defend the defenseless, … assess life styles, policies, and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor.” Economic Justice for All (EJA) ¶ 16.
Evaluate tax reform by its impact on the poor
Recently, the President and Congress turned their attention to tax reform. The policies they choose may profoundly affect the poor. The chairman of the U.S. bishops‘ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development identified six principles to guide Congress:
1. Care for the poor
The impact of the tax system on the poor should be continually evaluated. The risks associated with tax policy ought not be borne by the most vulnerable. Adequately fund programs to lift the poor out of poverty must be adequately funded.
2. Family formation and strengthening
Those services which society offers its citizens are not a type of alms, but rather a genuine social debt with respect to the institution of the family, which is foundational and which contributes to the common good. Instruments of the tax code that benefit the family such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit are especially important. These credits should be increased, and those increases be made refundable so that the benefits can reach the poorest families, including the working poor.
3. Progressivity of the tax code
Tax burdens should be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing. The common good and the stability of society require that the tax code include progressive elements designed to recognize the means of individuals and families, as well as the economic inequality present in society, and apportion tax burdens accordingly.
4. Adequate revenue for the sake of the common good
The tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor.
5. Avoiding cuts to poverty programs to finance tax reform
Programs that serve those most in need should not be cut to make up for the loss of revenues created by tax cuts.
6. Incentivize charitable giving and development.
The present tax code strongly incentivizes charitable giving. Removing these incentives to give to charities, while also cutting anti-poverty programs would doubly burden the most vulnerable members of our communities.
The Eucharist compels us to seek justice for the poor
The Eucharist embodies God’s message “of hope to the poor and oppressed”. “The body of Christ which worshipers receive in Communion is also a reminder of the reconciling power of his death on the Cross. It empowers them to work to heal the brokenness of society and human relationships and to grow in a spirit of self-giving for others.” EJA ¶ 330. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, “The Lord Jesus, the bread of eternal life, spurs us to be mindful of the situations of extreme poverty in which a great part of humanity still lives: these are situations for which human beings bear a clear and disquieting responsibility.” Sacramentum Caritatis (SacCar) ¶ 90. As I noted in an earlier article, Benedict says, “The relationship between the Eucharistic mystery and social commitment must be made explicit.” SacCar ¶ 89.
We sing hymns as we process to receive communion. “The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor” is a popular hymn in many parishes, including my own. It affirms God’s love for the lowly and the vulnerable.