A big-city pastor’s prayer for the gift to love the poor

One of the Catholic blogs I follow faithfully is the one co-written by Msgr. Charles Pope on the website of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. He’s the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Church, described as a vibrant African-American parish in the nation’s capital. 

Msgr. Pope is white and middle aged. He’s balding, bearded and bespectacled. His undergraduate degree is in computer science. He’s hardly what you’d think of as “prophet” material. And yet he’s discovered a powerful prophet’s voice. 

One test of that is if what he says can make you squirm and a little uncomfortable to look too carefully in the mirror. 

Consider one of his latest columns, which was an extended reflection on the poverty of the First Christmas. 

“Do you love Jesus, Mary and Joseph?” he writes. “Let me ask it another way: Do you love the poor, the homeless, the vulnerable, the despised, the refugee, the immigrant? Don’t turn Jesus, Mary or Joseph into an abstraction, for this is what they were in human terms at this crucial moment of their lives. Perhaps they knocked on doors and sought lodging or resources. Perhaps Joseph longed for, and sought work, perhaps Jesus needed clothes. Jesus’ life was threatened by infanticide just as today, poor infants, needy infants, physically deformed infants, are threatened with abortion.” 

Msgr. Pope says this is an important question to ask ourselves because it is pretty clear from Scripture that God has “passionate concern for the poor and how we treat them.” He cites eight Scripture passages backing up that assertion, but notes that there are literally a hundred more that all attest to the same thing. No Catholic who is serious can read those and remain unchanged. 

“There are many debates about how best to care for the poor,” he notes. “Is it the government’s duty? Is it the private sector’s duty? Is it families and churches? It is all of these. 

“But even more, it is your responsibility and mine. Otherwise the ‘charming’ Christmas story of no room in the Inn comes ‘home’ to roost in our own living room, and the injustice of that moment is ours, not some rude and insensitive inn keeper of 2,000 years ago. ... 

“But how to do it? How will we ever make the right choices and get the balance right? How will we ever address the complicated social conditions that give rise to poverty? How do we decide who is most deserving in the face of limited resources? A thousand questions come to mind. But it begins simply here: Love them. Ask for a deep affection and an abiding love for the poor. And not a pitying love, but a respectful love that understands the special esteem God has for them and the close self-identification Jesus makes with them (see Mt 25:41). A love that understands that, though they may need us now, we will need them in the age to come at the judgment,” Msgr. Pope said. 

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