Have you ever considered the significance of the fact that the same Jesus who promised to be with us always also told us that the poor would be with us always?
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - "The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me" (Jesus, Matthew 26:11)"And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Jesus, Matthew 28:20)
Have you ever considered the significance of the fact that the same Jesus who promised to be with us always also told us that the poor would be with us always? Perhaps it is because they are connected. Indeed, maybe they are one and the same in a way that is revealed by faith?
The face of Jesus is found in the face of the poor, at least for those who have the eyes to see Him. The word of Jesus is spoken through the poor, at least for those who have the ears to hear Him. The cry of Jesus is heard in the cry of the poor, at least for those who stop to listen.
That is the deeper meaning behind the sobering scene recounting the last judgment which is recorded by the Evangelist Matthew in the 25th Chapter of his Gospel:
"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' "
This scene follows the "Parable of the Talents" (Matthew 25: 1- 28) wherein another kind of judgment is rendered. This one is a judgment on the contrasting way of life lived between two groups of people, those who believe that what they have is their own and those who understand that all that they "have" has been given - as a gift. These two groups approach their relationship with the goods of this earth (which are all good because the Lord has made them) quite differently. The ones who were praised by the Master know the relationship they have with the Giver. They also know their obligations to bear fruit by living the call to solidarity and stewardship that are inherent in receiving those gifts.
These folks live their lives in gratitude. They look for ways to participate in the ongoing mission of the Lord. They know that He works now, through them. They understand what they truly have and they "invest" it by giving it away to others. Sadly, those who grasp on to the goods of the earth, thinking that they are "their own" and bury them, experience the barrenness of self centeredness and the hollowness of the empty pursuit of "stuff".
The point of this passage is as profound, in some respects,as the judgment scene. It participates in the same mystery. They both address matters of the heart and reveal what can be called the economy of heavenly scale. ""To anyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Matthew 25:29)
In my life I have met few folks who have grasped this mystery, or better yet, were grasped by it. I have a long way to go in entering into the implications of it myself. However, the message of the Holy Father on the World day of Peace is a clear clarion call to listen, to repent and to ask for the grace to be converted.
The beloved disciple John wrote as an old man to the early churches. They were already scattered because of persecution: "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him. The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth." (I John 3: 14-18)
Those who truly love the poor - like Jesus loved the poor- are a gift for the rest of us. They are a sign of the kingdom, making it present in their wake. They are men and women of action. Dorothy Day, a heroic witness and prophetic voice of the 20th century, grasped this mystery so well. She still calls from the grave with this challenging message, leaving her testimony in a movement called the "Catholic Worker Movement".
She gave herself away, living with the poor, because she truly understood and embraced her own poverty with such honesty. She learned to love in "deed and truth". So too her brother in that work of solidarity, Peter Maurin, once wrote with such utter simplicity and searing honesty: "We cannot imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to get all we can. We can only imitate the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to give all we can".
Another great Christian woman of our age, Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the flourishing ecclesial movement called "Focolare", expressed the heart of this call to love in deed and truth:"Yes, love makes us be. We exist because we love. If we don't love, and every time we don't love, we are not, we do not exist ("Even what he has will be taken away"). There's nothing left to do but to love, without holding back. Only in this way will God give himself to us and with him will come the fullness of his gifts.
"Let us give concretely to those around us, knowing that by giving to them we are giving to God. Let's give always; let's give a smile, let's offer understanding, and forgiveness. Let's listen, let's share our knowledge, our availability; let's give our time, our talents, our ideas, our work; let's give our experience, our skills; let's share our goods with others so that we don't accumulate things and everything circulates.
"Our giving opens the hands of God and He, in his providence, fills us with such an abundance that we can give again, and give more, and then receive again, and in this way we can meet the immense needs of many."
I once knew a woman in Virginia Beach, Va. named Brenda McCormick. She touched my life deeply and challenged me to the core concerning this truth. She was not an easy person to be around. Prophets rarely are. She went home to the Lord several years ago. She once wrote to me:
"In the end, there are two kinds of poor people: those who already know they are poor and those who don't know yet. Here is the crisis: If the latter don't discover this before they leave this planet, they are doomed to be poor forever. What can those of us who already know we are poor do for those who don't know yet? Love them."
As we enter into the last part of Advent and prepare for the season of receiving the greatest gift of all,let us ask the Lord of all Gifts to give us the grace to give. Let us reflect on what it means to love in "deed and in truth". Let us act,"opening the Hands of God" as we do.
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