It’s Tuesday morning. I started the day with a heavy heart. I received yet another complaint about how much we are “spending on the poor” and our parish outreach ministry. In fact, the unsigned message I received stated that the person is cutting his or her parish donation because I am “wasting [his or her] money”.
I do not think that we are wasting money or time or energy in our care for the poor. Just recently, the Church declared Pope Paul VI a saint for us to emulate in our lives. There were many reasons for his canonization, but certainly, it’s his Christian concern and advocacy for the poor and needy throughout the world that stands out. In his Encyclical Populorum Progressio, he denounced “the lack of material necessities for those who are mutilated by selfishness” and “oppressive social structures, whether due to the abuses of ownership or to the abuses of power, to the exploitation of workers or to unjust transactions.” Pope Benedict also gave us clear direction when he says that the contribution of the Church “involves the proclamation of the truth of Christ, who educates consciences and teaches the authentic dignity of the person and of work; it means the promotion of a culture that truly responds to all the questions of humanity.
In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world’s population, indifference and self‐centered isolation stand in stark contrast to the “gaze” of Christ.” (Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2006). Finally, if we truly wish to contemplate Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:35‐37)
This is not simply a call to be charitable. This is the measure of our very fidelity to Christ! From the beginning of the Order, Franciscans have tried to model St. Francis in their “solidarity with the poor”. This solidarity means welcoming the poor, making us accessible to the poor, not threatening or distant, allowing for bonds of relationship, of mutual trust and confidence.” (From the Earlier Rule #66,2) This means “reading the signs of the times in such a way so as to advocate for the common good with effective and coordinated action.” (“Pilgrims and Strangers in this World”, General Curia of Friars Minor) .
Well, it is now Wednesday and I must say that things are looking brighter! Parishioners are dropping off food and financial support for our ministry to the poor, hungry and homeless. This is the true spirit of this parish! As I close, I invite us all to reflect on our parish Mission Statement that is found on the front cover of the bulletin: “In the spirit of St. Francis, and as Catholics in a community of many cultures, we live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Strengthened by Word and Sacrament, we welcome all into God’s inclusive love. We serve the poor, care for creation and build a just and compassionate world.”
Love, — Fr. Vince Mesi, OFM – Pastor