Opening Eyes and Hearts to Poverty
BY MARK SOEHNER, OFM
Pope Francis wrote a letter on the Feast of St. Anthony this year that marks this coming Sunday, the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, as the First World Day of the Poor. The purpose of this day, Nov. 19, is to develop “moments of encounter” with the poor, with actual moments of meeting people who are on the fringes of society. I am attaching the Pope’s message to this News Notes e-mail. It’s worth a read and then some thinking, either on one’s own or as a community about what we might actually do to make a difference.
In this message of Pope Francis, he continually refers to St. Francis as a model of change, transformation through his encounter with people on the peripheries. When we speak about Revitalization and returning to the sources, for us friars it’s hard to imagine a more authentic source than the actual poor who are among us. “If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist” (paragraph 3). I wonder if beyond simply studying our ancient documents, good as they are, we might engage in a new way of revitalization: to be taught by those in authentic poverty.
For those in the United States, this is given to us immediately before Thanksgiving, a national holiday to give thanks, but also to consider those in need. The Pope has a lot of ideas about how to go about this – including Prayer Services, Lectio Divina, etc. But he has some pointed things for religious to consider as action steps: “Every religious community, on this day, could take on an initiative such as: taking groceries to a needy family, offering a meal for the poor, purchasing equipment for elderly persons who are not self-sufficient, donating a vehicle to a family, or making a contribution to the Caritas fund for families, etc. ” (p. 84) What about putting a coffee can on the Thanksgiving table and suggesting contributions to be given “to the poor Christ”?
Our action does not need to be confined to this one day. In the next few weeks, let us know about any new encounter or experience that has happened recently with those on the edges. As Franciscans, we are on the lookout for these “moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance” with and for the poor. In our tradition as Christians and Franciscans, we know this is one way for God to touch our lives as well. It just might lead to a new revitalization.
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy World Day of the Poor!
The Pope’s message for the First World Day of the Poor is posted here.
Read the Minister General’s letter for the First World Day of the Poor here.