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MONDAY HOMILY: Not Just Serving, But Loving the Poor

By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds
November 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Service to the poor is not simply a question of providing material comfort, but of forging personal bonds with them, of coming to know them and understand them, and giving them to opportunity to know us.  In short, it is an encouragement to form authentic bonds of Christian community.

CATHOLIC ONLINE (Sugar Land, TX).  We come to the wedding banquet of heaven by the path of humility and charity.  When Jesus encourages his dinner hosts to share their hospitality with the sick and the poor, and not only those who can reciprocate their kindness, he is not simply giving a lesson in manners.  Jesus is revealing the way of the Kingdom of God, in which the one who would be greatest would be the servant of all (cf. Luke 22:24-27).

This is the way that Christ himself shows us.  Humbling himself to come among us as a man (Philippians 2:5-8), the Lord reveals himself as one who serves, and as the bearer of glad tidings to the poor (cf. Luke 4:18). 

This is the way that the Father has shown us down through the ages - filling the hungry, sending the rich away empty, lifting up the lowly, pulling down the proud (cf. Luke 1:52-53).

By being conformed to Christ through Baptism, his mission of service to the poor has been shared with us.  While the world sees wealth and power as the sign of material achievement, the Christian has an altogether different point of view.  God wants us to be rich, but in the things of heaven, the only things that last.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.  But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20).

The poor, the sick, and the vulnerable are among the riches that God entrusts to us.   St. Ambrose of Milan (+ 397) relates that when St. Lawrence the deacon was commanded by imperial authorities to surrender the treasures of the Church, he responded by brining the poor of Rome before the local magistrate.  Lawrence was promptly martyred.

I doubt that any of us will be martyred for serving the poor.  But what will the Lord say to us if we do not serve them?  "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me" (Matthew 25:45).  That is a demanding standard!

It is no wonder that in the Mass, we confess our sins, "in what I have done and in what I have failed to do." 

Are we, then, to begin hosting banquets for the poor and the sick?  To do so would be praiseworthy, but the Lord wants more.  When Jesus tells the Pharisee to "invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" into his home, the Lord asks the Pharisee to undergo a change of heart that will orient his life in a different way.  Jesus invites us not just to serve the poor, but also to love them.

Love for the poor "is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor.  Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to 'be able to give to those in need.'  It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2444).

It is worth noting that Jesus commands the Pharisee to show compassion to the poor by inviting them into his home.  Service to the poor is not simply a question of providing material comfort, but of forging personal bonds with them, of coming to know them and understand them, and giving them to opportunity to know us.  In short, it is an encouragement to form authentic bonds of Christian community.

When Pope Francis says, "I would love a church that is poor," he refers to this fundamental Christian orientation.  That we instinctively turn to those in need, for whom we can provide affection, friendship, material help, and the companionship of faith, and who can provide the same for us.

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Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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