Ordinary Time 06, Year C

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To you the helpless can entrust their cause (Ps. 10:14)

Says chapter 3 of Louis Evely’s That Man is You that we have been told, “Love one another,” and not, as too frequently happens, “Impoverish one another.” The author thus shows, among other things, that material poverty is an economic condition, and not a virtue, and that if material poverty automatically makes for holiness, then we would be obligated to spread it rather than try to relieve.

And it is indeed incumbent upon us to try to relieve poverty with justice and peace. The word of God, as we find it in both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, insists on it. It seems to me, however, that Christian teaching is clearer on the enigma, proposed in the beatitudes, that poverty cannot be eliminated without poverty.

This enigma—or better, mystery—is the same as that of the cross. We seek to eradicate injustice, against which the bloodstained cross of Jesus cries out to God painfully and eloquently, and we make it our commitment to prevent others from suffering unjustly and being crucified. But it appears that this goal cannot be met without the cross. We are told that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (Jn. 3:14-15). And the saying refers to a peculiar prescription for the fatal snakebite, namely: “Make a serpent and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover” (Num. 21:6-9). So then, as there is neither relief nor life without passion and death, so also there is no eradicating poverty without poverty.

As this mystery is not wholly intelligible, better indeed that its truth was demonstrated when Jesus Christ became poor to make us rich (2 Cor. 8:9). Though of high standing since he is divine, Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a slave (Phil. 2: 6-8).

Better, too, that the mystery was lived in the detachment that is supposed by the generosity shown by the first Christians, of whom it is said: “There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need” (Acts 4:34-35). In this primitive Christian community was realized, then, the Deuteronomic ideal, “There should be no one of you in need” (Dt. 15:4). And I honestly think that part of the reason why they enjoyed favor with all the people, won new members, and bore witness with great power to the resurrection that followed Jesus’ passion and death was their embodying said mystery (cf. Acts 2:47; 4:33).

Better, moreover, that in St. Vincent’s life and works shone the certainty and efficacy of this mystery. The saint, for sure, allowed himself to be comforted by the good news to the poor. For this reason, I think, all his calculations with regard to finding a benefice and retiring comfortably alongside his mother, his disappointments, anxieties and doubts all turned into trust in God, so that he saw himself blessed. Trusting in Divine Providence and seeking his strength in it—no longer in high-placed persons and connections that would vouch for his good character and recommend him to be suited for a benefice, office or position—and following Christ’s teaching, sure that what he hoped in Christ could not just be limited to this world, St. Vincent understood, at every step and ever more fully and deeply, the mystery of the beatitudes. So the Founder did not only live missionary poverty and later wrote rules governing its practice; his hunger and thirst for justice and charity and his pain on account of the afflicted were such that “there was no wretchedness of his age,” wrote Jacques Delarue, “that he did not try to relieve.” He was so concerned about the salvation of the rural poor that it disquieted him to find himself returning to Paris from a mission, knowing full well that there were yet other villages awaiting him so he could do for them what he had just done elsewhere. And having the welfare of the poor in mind, the saint did not hesitate to speak the truth to power and pleaded for peace before Cardinal Richelieu, before Queen Anne of Austria, before Cardinal Mazarin. For telling Mazarin the truth, he became his enemy, and so the lot of the genuine prophets became his.

False prophets continue to abound in our times. They unceasingly preach the religion according the ideology of unfettered capitalism that imposes meritocracy, proclaiming (cf. That Man Is You):

“God’s mighty and awesome and rich,”
“Be good, and He’ll reward you with health, wealth and
sons, and make you prosperous and fill your storerooms,”
“This misfortune’s befallen you due to some sin,”
“I’ve just inherited a lot of money. You know how it is:
God takes care of the good ....”

May true prophets be raised up from among us who would announce the good news to the poor that the remedy to poverty requires poverty. May there be true prophets who would dare to ask the more fortunate to recollect himself often, according to the wish expressed by St. Alberto Hurtado, in order to make this simple reflection: “What would I think should I find myself a servant, a renter, a worker of a boss or a landlord like me? With what ideas would my mind bubble over? What aspirations would I like realized? I pray God to bless this simple Albertine reflection, such that the more fortunate will get to empty himself and take the form of the poor, and become truly fortunate, blessed.