I have worked and labored, often without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty and often starving; I have been in the cold without clothes. And, to leave out much more, there is my daily preoccupation: my anxiety for all the churches. When anyone has had scruples, I have had them also; when anyone is made to fall, I am tortured.
II Corinthians 11:27-29
Following Saint Vincent, who, like the Good Samaritan of the Gospel parable (Luke 10:30-37), gave effective help to the most abandoned, provinces and confreres should earnestly strive to serve those rejected by society and those who are victims of disasters and injustice of any kind. We shall also assist those who suffer from forms of moral poverty peculiar to our time.
Just as Saint Vincent was transformed by the poor, so we, as missionaries, should be shaken to our very core as we confront the almost unbelievable suffering of our age. Vincent was always ready to respond to the spiritual and material needs of others. He reached out lovingly to the sinner, the ignorant, the child, the sick, the old, the slave, the disheveled, the prisoner, the hungry. Like the apostle Paul, Saint Vincent expended his life for the Church of the little people, the simple and the needy. One could say that, after God, he owed his vocation to these “little ones”.
1. We Are Members of One Another
All are part of the Mystical Body; we are members of one another. Nowhere, not even in the animal kingdom, do we hear of one animal being insensitive to the sufferings of another. It is impossible that one part of a person’s body should be injured, hurt, or attacked without painful awareness by the other parts. It is inconceivable! All of our members are so united and interconnected that damage done to one part is damage to all. A fortiori, Christians who are members of one Body and of each other, should share the sufferings of each other. It is incongruous that one could be a Christian and not see the afflictions of a brother or sister, not weep with them, nor suffer with them. Whoever does not respond to the cries of the poor would have to be completely devoid of love, ‘Christian’ in name only, lacking even the most basic human qualities, less than an animal1.
2. Flagrant Inequalities Exist
Despite the efforts of the Church and other institutions over the centuries, we still have the poor with us and new forms of poverty appear daily. Paul VI wrote ardently:
We have had the opportunity to be in contact with the multitudes. We have gone into the crowds and have heard their appeals, their cries of distress and, at the same time, their cries of hope. In these situations, we have gotten a new perspective on the grave problems of our time. These problems, of course, are different in each part of the world, but at the same time they are common to all humanity, which questions itself about the future and about the direction and the meaning of the changes taking place. Flagrant inequalities exist in the economic, cultural, and political development of nations: while some regions are heavily industrialized, others are still at the agricultural stage; while some countries enjoy prosperity, others are struggling against starvation; while some peoples have a high standard of culture, others are still engaged in eliminating illiteracy. From all sides there rises a yearning for justice and a desire for a stronger peace guaranteed by mutual respect among individuals and peoples2.
3. We Should Surrender Ourselves Completely to Prayer
Among the many ways discussed to redeem the poor of our time, here are a few recommendations of Paul VI:
The prayer of all ought to rise with fervor to the Almighty. The human race should apply itself with intelligence and steadfastness to abolishing the misfortunes we have become so aware of. This prayer should be matched by the resolute commitment of all individuals—according to the measure of their strength and possibilities—to the struggle against underdevelopment. May individuals, social groups, and nations join hands like family, the strong aiding the weak to grow, exerting all their competence, enthusiasm and disinterested love. More than any other, the individual who is animated by true charity labors skillfully to discover the causes of misery, to find the means to combat it, to overcome it resolutely3.
- Am I doing anything to solve the problems of poverty that permeate our globe?
- Am I attached to my personal comforts while remaining indifferent to the suffering and the misery of the poor?
- Am I one who simply pays lip service to the poor without making a commitment to meet their needs?
O Lord, make us ever sensitive to the poverty of our brothers and sisters. You, yourself, inspire us and show us what we must do to alleviate their pains and sorrows. Do not allow us to remain indifferent, our arms folded, while others suffer. We pray in your name, Lord Jesus, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.