Pope Francis talks a lot about the poor. So much so that a reporter asked him recently why he never discusses the middle class.
The Holy Father acknowledged it’s an omission and said he needs to “delve further into this magisterium.”
But he also noted that he speaks about the poor so often “because they are at the heart of the Gospel. And, I always speak from the Gospel on poverty — it’s not that it’s sociological.”
References to “the poor” in Scripture conjure images of helpless widows, lepers in rags, people missing limbs sitting at the synagogue entrance. Jesus paid attention to them.
When we hear the word in a modern context, in the news perhaps, who comes to mind? Do they compel our attention?
It’s easy to feel compassion for, say, a single mother working two jobs to provide for her family.
But how do we respond to others, who we judge to be less worthy of our sympathy, such as those recovering from drug addictions or women who receive financial assistance from the government — often derided as “welfare mothers?”
The truth is, as Catholics, we are called not to judge whether or not someone deserves our compassion. We are called to offer it unconditionally.
The church does this on our behalf all over the world. Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas aid organization, has projects around the globe assisting people in dire poverty.
Sister Visitor Center, part of Catholic Charities, helps people burdened by poverty in West Louisville, primarily those in the Portland, Shawnee and Russell neighborhoods.
Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services offers assistance to newly arriving refugees who typically arrive in Louisville with nothing.
Catholic Charities also aids people who have been trafficked, such as women and girls who have been forced into prostitution. Where once the world saw criminals, we now see victims. And Catholic Charities is providing the help they need to recover.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers a variety of services for people in poverty, from addiction recovery programs to a soup kitchen.
Parish St. Vincent de Paul Conferences around the Archdiocese of Louisville provide food and emergency financial assistance to those who knock on their doors for help.
What none of them ask is this: Do you deserve our help?
Because our willingness to help, to show compassion, to lift them in their need, has nothing to do with why someone is in need. As followers of Christ, we give our attention to our impoverished brothers and sisters.
As Archbishop Kurtz often reminds us, we don’t help people because they’re Catholic or because they earned it somehow.
We help because we are followers of Christ.