Our nation is one of the wealthiest on the earth, and yet we do not have to look beyond our borders to find the ravages of poverty. There are the homeless in the streets of our cities, destitute families in rural and urban areas, and neglected children. The causes of poverty are many, but they all call forth the compassion of the Church—through her members and through her various structures, such as Catholic Charities and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
On his death bed, St. Vincent de Paul (1580–1660) was asked by a novice what was the best way to serve the poor. He responded by telling the novice that the most important thing is to love them because loving them makes it possible for the needy to forgive those who give food to them. St. John Chrysostom said this about ministry to the poor: “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 theirs, not ours” (Homily on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man).
Jesus teaches us, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Lk 3:11). St. James reinforces this truth. “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (Jas 2:15-16).
Acts of charity for the poor are a good way to start living the Church’s social teaching. Personal contact with those who need our help fulfills Christ’s command to love the poor most effectively. But we are called to heal not only the symptoms of poverty and injustice but also their causes. This requires participation in political and social processes to correct unjust laws and structures of injustice.
You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
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