Practical Evangelization Tip #18
Love & Serve the Sick and the Poor
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“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 creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” Matthew 25:34-46 RSV-CE
Why it Works:
We do not have the time to look in depth at the social justice issues here, ranging from income inequality to access to adequate medical care. The Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church is online and available to read for free. It is enough to say that Christians have an obligation to serve the sick and the poor as best as they are able to. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, St. Maximillian Kolbe, St. Vincent de Paul, and hundreds of other saints have gone before us to show us the evangelistic power of serving the sick & the poor. The Catholic Church is the most charitable organization in the history of the world and evangelization teams through St. Paul Street Evangelization have a special solidarity with our brothers & sisters who find themselves in the street.
Despite being born to one of the most influential families in Italy Blessed Frassati spent seven years before his death ministering to thousands of impoverished people throughout Italy. His parents were startled when the city streets were lined with thousands of people at his funeral. His simple, quiet service had impacted their lives and drawn them closer to Jesus Christ.
The saints serve as models of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. By feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, educating children, helping widows & orphans, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, healing the sick, and so on the Church shows its special love and care for all mankind and the unique dignity each individual has, having been created in the image and likeness of God.
St. Paul Street Evangelization teams throughout the world are building bridges of trust between the street and the Catholic Church. As faithful Catholics we can connect people to the charities of the Church. The Church, as a social institution, can sometimes be hard to navigate because we offer so much assistance. You can serve as that first point of contact. When we evangelize and when you serve it is important that we see Jesus Christ in each person we help, no matter how broken they are. It is our duty to love as we have been loved, to give our lives as a gift to others as Christ gave his life as a gift to us.
The Principle of Solidarity
Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work. It also presupposes the effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled by negotiation…Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this. The virtue of solidarity goes beyond material goods. In spreading the spiritual goods of the faith, the Church has promoted, and often opened new paths for, the development of temporal goods as well. And so throughout the centuries has the Lord’s saying been verified: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (CCC 1940-1942)
The Principle of Subsidiarity
Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”
The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order. CCC 1883, 1885
As we meet the temporal needs of others, they will be drawn to our Catholic community. There are a myriad of ecumenical and secular charities available today. The difference between all other organizations and the Catholic Church is that we have the fullness of the faith. We can deliver not only temporal help, but all of the graces necessary or the salvation of their souls. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that outside of the Church there is no salvation. It is the measure to which we are united to the one Church that Jesus founded that we can go to heaven.
A false dichotomy has existed for the past decades in the Church between “progressive social justice Catholicism” and “conservative pro-life Catholicism”. Each camp would focus on one particular area of social concern to the neglect or even rejection of the other. We cannot offer charitable help for the sake of only offering charitable help. It is gravely unjust to only care for the body without caring for the soul. We cannot only feed the poor, we must announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not in a way that is manipulative or pushy, but proclaimed boldly and in full charity.
Tips for Success:
- St. Paul Street Evangelization offers ideas for “help sheets” that connect people to local charities and “homeless packs” to give to homeless people to help them get through the next week. Consider exploring these option.
- When you consider how to evangelize decide how much of your time you can give to social concerns in the Church. Find areas of ministry in your parish or diocese that need your help and commit to giving them that time. Be sincere when giving of your time.
- St. Paul Street Evangelization is an important apostolate and your evangelization team can in and of itself help fulfill your obligation to serve the sick and the poor.
- Your team should ask itself how it is both proclaiming the Gospel clearly and directly while also fulfilling the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
From the Catechism:
St. John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” “The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity”:
When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.
The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God:
He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none and he who has food must do likewise. But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?
“In its various forms – material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death – human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least of his brethren. Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere.” CCC 2446-2448
From the Spiritual Masters:
“Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathise with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men.
Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbors’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.
It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. Since she is a noble mistress, we must do whatever she commands. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.” St. Vincent de Paul
From the Church:
“Jesus says: “You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Mt 26:11; cf. Mk 14:7; Jn 12:8). He makes this statement not to contrast the attention due to him with service of the poor. Christian realism, while appreciating on the one hand the praiseworthy efforts being made to defeat poverty, is cautious on the other hand regarding ideological positions and Messianistic beliefs that sustain the illusion that it is possible to eliminate the problem of poverty completely from this world. 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”.
The Church’s love for the poor is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, by the poverty of Jesus and by his attention to the poor. This love concerns material poverty and also the numerous forms of cultural and religious poverty. The Church, “since her origin and in spite of the failing of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defence and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere”. Prompted by the Gospel injunction, “You have received without paying, give without pay” (Mt 10:8), the Church teaches that one should assist one’s fellow man in his various needs and fills the human community with countless works of corporal and spiritual mercy. “Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God”, even if the practice of charity is not limited to alms-giving but implies addressing the social and political dimensions of the problem of poverty. In her teaching the Church constantly returns to this relationship between charity and justice: “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice”. The Council Fathers strongly recommended that this duty be fulfilled correctly, remembering that “what is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity”. Love for the poor is certainly “incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use” (cf. Jas 5:1-6).” Compendium of Social Doctrine 183-184
For Discussion Groups & Teams:
- What does it mean to serve the sick and the poor? Were you familiar with the corporal works of mercy before reading this article?
- How is our parish doing at serving the sick & the poor? When we offer charitable assistance, do we proclaim the Gospel clearly and directly?
- Has the charitable work brought non-Catholics into an encounter with Jesus Christ? Are people joining the Church?
- How can our evangelization team offer something tangible to people in need?
© 2014 St. Paul Street Evangelization. Written by Adam Janke, Program Director.