Part 18 in a series of reflections on Pope Francis’ papal exhortation Evangelii Gaudium
Here the core of Pope Francis’ pastoral heart is most evident. “187. Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid. A mere glance at the Scriptures is enough to make us see how our gracious Father wants to hear the cry of the poor: ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them… so I will send you…’ (Ex 3:7-8, 10).”
His challenge is very direct and will raise the ire of some people: “190… Sadly, even human rights can be used as a justification for an inordinate defense of individual rights or the rights of the richer peoples. With due respect for the autonomy and culture of every nation, we must never forget that the planet belongs to all mankind and is meant for all mankind; the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. It must be reiterated that ‘the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others’.”
“195. When Saint Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was ‘running or had run in vain’ (Gal 2:2), the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor (cf. Gal 2:10). This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centered lifestyle of the pagans, remains timely today, when a new self-centered paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.”
He points to Jesus as a prime example of poverty: “197… The Saviour was born in a manger, in the midst of animals, like children of poor families; he was presented at the Temple along with two turtledoves, the offering made by those who could not afford a lamb (cf. Lk 2:24; Lev 5:7); he was raised in a home of ordinary workers and worked with his own hands to earn his bread. When he began to preach the Kingdom, crowds of the dispossessed followed him, illustrating his words: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor’ (Lk 4:18). He assured those burdened by sorrow and crushed by poverty that God has a special place for them in his heart: ‘Blessed are you poor, yours is the kingdom of God’ (Lk 6:20); he made himself one of them: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food to eat’, and he taught them that mercy towards all of these is the key to heaven (cf. Mt 25:5ff.).”
It is important that people of faith take to heart these words of Pope Francis even if they think that “a new self-centered paganism” does not apply to them. It is also a challenge of evangelization to approach people to whom this may apply with respect rather than condemnation and invite them to search their conscience for the responsibility they bear for the lost, the last, and the least. This will require humility on the part of believers and openness on the part of non-believers. It is difficult to move from a sense of entitlement to a commitment to compassion.