World Day of the Poor: “For the least and those most in need …” 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The scripture selection for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time includes Matthew 25 with its Parable of the Talents. The person in the parable distributed talents, “to each according to his ability.” The two who received five and two talents went off and traded, doubling the value of the talents. The third “dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”
We are cognizant of Jesus’ modus operandi, so we are not surprised to see that the third gets in trouble. He was afraid to invest and trade his master’s money. He is criticized for his failure to even risk.
This Gospel offers an invitation for us to look at our talents (whether it is financial or other gifts) and discover that we are to use them and not save or hoard them. The Gospel provides a good opportunity for us to look at our gifts and move away from hiding them, clutching on with a “Mine! All mine!” attitude. How do we choose to use them, thus multiplying their effectiveness?
It’s in the context of this Gospel that the Church is invited to acknowledge the initial World Day of the Poor. Pope Francis said in his June 2017 letter instituting this particular World Day: “At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need.” Francis wished to introduce a day of prayer, “which adds … an exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.”
He invites us to turn our gaze “to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity.” He goes on to say that this day is meant to “encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, and to embrace the culture of encounter.”
He goes on to express some hopes for the week leading up to this Day of Prayer. Alas! This hope and challenge has been lost on most of us. It is quite possible that we will just discover this Day of Prayer this weekend.
Check the internet and you’ll see that some groups were thinking ahead of time in terms of this expression of the fact that love in best shown in deeds, not words.
The Pope refers to the example of Saint Francis and his witness of authentic poverty. He says, “precisely because he kept his gaze fixed on Christ, Francis was able to see and serve him in the poor.” The Pope then goes on to name some victims of contemporary poverty, putting a very real face on our understanding of poverty. Here is the fifth paragraph.
We know how hard it is for our contemporary world to see poverty clearly for what it is. Yet in myriad ways poverty challenges us daily, in faces marked by suffering, marginalization, oppression, violence, torture and imprisonment, war, deprivation of freedom and dignity, ignorance and illiteracy, medical emergencies and shortage of work, trafficking and slavery, exile, extreme poverty and forced migration.
Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money. What a bitter and endless list we would have to compile were we to add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the greed of a chosen few, and generalized indifference!
Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world. Faced with this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned.
There is a poverty that stifles the spirit of initiative of so many young people by keeping them from finding work.
There is a poverty that dulls the sense of personal responsibility and leaves others to do the work while we go looking for favours.
There is a poverty that poisons the wells of participation and allows little room for professionalism; in this way it demeans the merit of those who do work and are productive. To all these forms of poverty we must respond with a new vision of life and society.
Meanwhile, it should not take us very long to think of those who are “most in need” in our own situations and cultures. They are in our midst, probably so close to us that they cause discomfort.