Musings On Walking With And Helping The Poor: “Not A Fad But A Theological Requirement”
MUTC just posted last month about the celebration of the World Day of the Poor, which is being done every 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (normally mid of November), in line with Psalm 34:7 of the Scriptures which states: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles”. This basically tells us about the importance of helping those in dire need, whatever form of help that is. Poverty is one of the fabrics of God’s teachings, i.e. to love our neighbors especially those in need. As Christ’s followers, Pope Francis is urging us to genuinely hear the cries of the poor and grow in solidarity with them. Briefly, we are bound duty to genuinely respond to the cries for help of our neighbors especially those in dire need by blending with them, knowing and understanding their situation, and responding with faith to serve and advocate for their cause, for the glory of God. Let us be reminded that Jesus himself lived in poverty and in fact walked with the poor, he helped and defended them, including the suffering, oppressed and the weary. And for sure, this is not easy as it may seem. We have to have the time, the treasure and the talent to be with them.
Globally, there are more than 1.89 billion living in extreme poverty deprived of basic needs and services: education, food, health, shelter (some are living in congested accommodation while others are homeless). In the Philippines, 16.6% of the population are still living below the poverty line (In Eastern Visayas region alone, around 3 in every 10 families are poor whose income are below the poverty threshold). Did you know that even in the United States, there are roughly 40 million people in poverty? But they are the more fortunate poor people because they at least receive monthly funding assistance, free meals, free shelters, free medicines, etc. from their Government. But how about those poor people from the poorer nations?
As such, this call to walk with the poor is perfectly just in time to show our support and concern for the poor, especially by listening to their cries particularly this Advent season. Indeed, there are already large humanitarian and non-government organizations helping the poor around the globe, but we can be a part of the solution in our own little way. Advent, as we all know, is a wonderful time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, one way is to help the poor. However, this does not apply only to the economically poor but also those facing spiritual bankruptcy before God.
When we stop from our hectic daily schedules, step back and ponder on our life’s journey, we normally realize that there is no such perfect life. There will always be twists and turns which gives us lessons in life, and eventually makes us more stronger, mature and cautious in our future paths. Sure, we are blessed when we stay on course, when we obey what has been prescribed to us by God. But the difficult part is when we fail to battle those twisted ways and times, succumbing to temptations. But God is waiting for us to rise up, and it is always in the end that all our justifications and alibis lead us back to God. At least, we are able to turn back to God and stay on the right path, i.e., the path of love , including the love for our neighbors.
There is no fast and easy way to help someone shrug off life’s challenges, but being a true “neighbor” to those who need most is the best way to walk with them. Genuinely walking with the “poor” does not only involve sharing some of our treasures (money) but also our time, either alone or in groups, embracing them like good friends.
I experienced a wonderful journey in my life to help poor kids in one of the slum areas (along the Pandacan area) in Metro Manila. My friends and I looked forward to visiting our young friends on weekends and these kids apparently felt the same. I went inside their homes, mingled and conversed with the parents as if we’ve known each other for so long, as if I was a far distant relative to them, always welcoming me with a smile on their faces. Probably, that was their response in exchange for the little things we did for their children who are deprived of some good things in their young lives, tutoring them about their homework and and most importantly teaching them about God. During December, my friends and I would bring these kids to the park for their Christmas party, played with them, treated them with packed lunches and goodies as gifts for them and some for their parents. You can see the happiness in their eyes; their playful grins and smiles made our day, and everything seemed great. We didn’t focus much about the unfortunate situation where they live, their physical appearances, but on how they felt the happiness, and their kind gesture and gratefulness, and all these were worth it. That was one of the notable and valuable moments in my life!
The said incident is just one example on how to help the poor walk not just on Advent but on some other days as well. There are so many ways to help the poor, one of which is volunteering either in the community, or in the parish church where we belong or in organizations that cater to help the poor, the weak, and our suffering brothers and sisters. This is our chance to connect with some of them to offer our time and services to be of help to the “poor” during this time of the year. But if we cannot be physically present in their midst because of this pandemic, there are other means on how to do it. There are charitable institutions who are accepting donations basically for the needs of the poor. If we are not financially able to make donations, we can offer other means (spiritual, emotional, etc.) for them. As you know, the Advent and Christmas seasons are the happiest times for most of us, but it could also be the sad and gloomy moments for some of us, particularly the sick, the lonely, the brokenhearted, those who have just lost a loved one or those who have faced misfortunes in life. As such, giving them our love and prayers to comfort them would be of big help.
Pope Francis stated in one of his messages that Advent is the time for “paying attention to the needs of others”. The Holy Father likewise indicated that to live our faith is to be in contact with those in need. He said helping the poor is not a “fad” but a theological requirement. He made it clear that the “poor” is his priority, thus encouraging the Catholic church to be poor and be for the poor. He urged them to share the journey with the poor, learn more about each other, and create bonds of hope since “The cry of the poor is also a cry of hope that reveals the certainty of future liberation. This hope is grounded in the love of God, who does not abandon those who put their trust in him (cf. Rom8:31-39)” (no. 9).
We love giving and receiving gifts from our loved ones and friends especially during Christmas time. Perhaps, some of us are guilty of giving gifts only to those who can give us, as if engaging into a business deal with a quid pro quo terms. But that should not be the case. There is real joy when we give something freely, not expecting any returns, and when we are of service to others, especially to those in need. And when we truly hear the cries of the poor, that gives meaning to life, the joy of the Gospel, the joy of the Lord.
Saint Mother Teresa is one classic example of the saints who had the capability of living with the poorest of the poor. She walked with the poor not only during Advent but everyday of her life. She was able to touch people from all walks of life because of her love for them, transforming them and urging them to be good children of God.
On this Advent season, we pray to our loving God, our Lord Jesus Christ, to grant us the capability to truly walk with the poor, offering them our help not with empty words but with words of life which can leave a positive huge impact on them. Dear Lord God, please grant us genuine comfort to others by bringing good news for the poor especially during this Advent and Christmas seasons. Amen.