For your sakes Christ became poor (cf. 2 Cor 8:9)
1. “Jesus Christ… for your sakes became poor” (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). With these words, the Apostle Paul addresses the first Christians of Corinth in order to encourage their efforts to show solidarity with their brothers and sisters in need. The World Day of the Poor comes this year as a healthy challenge, helping us to reflect on our style of life and on the many forms of poverty all around us.
Several months ago, the world was emerging from the tempest of the pandemic, showing signs of an economic recovery that could benefit millions of people reduced to poverty by the loss of their jobs. A patch of blue sky was opening that, without detracting from our sorrow at the loss of our dear ones, promised to bring us back to direct interpersonal relations and to socialising with one another once more without further prohibitions or restrictions. Now, however, a new catastrophe has appeared on the horizon, destined to impose on our world a very different scenario.
The war in Ukraine has now been added to the regional wars that for years have taken a heavy toll of death and destruction. Yet here the situation is even more complex due to the direct intervention of a “superpower” aimed at imposing its own will in violation of the principle of the self-determination of peoples.…
2. What great poverty is produced by the senselessness of war!…Millions of women, children and elderly people are being forced to brave the danger of bombs just to find safety by seeking refuge as displaced persons in neighbouring countries. How many others remain in the war zones, living each day with fear and the lack of food, water, medical care and above all human affections?…How can we respond adequately to this situation, and to bring relief and peace to all these people in the grip of uncertainty and instability?
3. In this situation of great conflict, we are celebrating the Sixth World Day of the Poor. We are asked to reflect on the summons of the Apostle to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, who “though he was rich, yet for [our] sakes became poor, so that by his poverty [we] might become rich” (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). During his visit to Jerusalem, Paul met with Peter, James and John, who had urged him not to forget the poor. The community of Jerusalem was experiencing great hardship due to a food shortage in the country. The Apostle immediately set about organizing a great collection to aid the poverty-stricken. The Christians of Corinth were very understanding and supportive. At Paul’s request, on every first day of the week they collected what they were able to save and all proved very generous.
From that time on, every Sunday, during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we have done the same thing, pooling our offerings so that the community can provide for the needs of the poor. It is something that Christians have always done with joy and a sense of responsibility, to ensure that none of our brothers or sisters will lack the necessities of life. We find a confirmation of this from Saint Justin Martyr, who wrote in the second century to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and described the Sunday celebration of Christians. In his words, “On Sunday we have a common assembly for all our members, whether they live in the city or in the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time… The Eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent. The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the presider, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, imprisoned, or away from home. In a word, care is provided to all who are in need” (First Apology, LXVII, 1-6).
4. As for the community of Corinth, after the initial outburst of enthusiasm, their commitment began to falter and the initiative proposed by the Apostle lost some of its impetus. For this reason, Paul wrote them, asking in impassioned terms that they relaunch the collection, “so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means” (2 Cor 8:11).
I think at this time of the generosity that in recent years has led entire populations to open their doors to welcome millions of refugees from wars in the Middle East, Central Africa and now Ukraine. Families have opened their homes to make room for other families, and communities have generously accepted many women and children in order to enable them to live with the dignity that is their due. Even so, the longer conflicts last, the more burdensome their consequences become. The peoples who offer welcome find it increasingly difficult to maintain their relief efforts; families and communities begin to feel burdened by a situation that continues past the emergency stage. This is the moment for us not to lose heart but to renew our initial motivation. The work we have begun needs to be brought to completion with the same sense of responsibility.
5. That, in effect, is precisely what solidarity is: sharing the little we have with those who have nothing, so that no one will go without. The sense of community and of communion as a style of life increases and a sense of solidarity matures. We should also consider that in some countries, over the past decades, families have experienced a significant increase in affluence and security. This is a positive result of private initiatives and favouring economic growth as well as concrete incentives to support families and social responsibility. The benefits in terms of security and stability can now be shared with those who have been forced to leave behind their homes and native countries in search of safety and survival. As members of civil society, let us continue to uphold the values of freedom, responsibility, fraternity and solidarity. And as Christians, let us always make charity, faith and hope the basis of our lives and our actions.
6. It is interesting to observe that the Apostle does not desire to oblige Christians to perform works of charity: “I do not say this as a command” (2 Cor 8:8). Paul is instead “testing the genuineness of [their] love” by earnestness of [their] concern for the poor (ibid.). Certainly, Paul’s request is prompted by the need for concrete assistance; nonetheless, his desire is much more profound. He asks the Corinthians to take up the collection so that it can be a sign of love, the love shown by Jesus himself. In a word, generosity towards the poor has its most powerful motivation in the example of the Son of God, who chose to become poor….
7. Where the poor are concerned, it is not talk that matters; what matters is rolling up our sleeves and putting our faith into practice through a direct involvement, one that cannot be delegated. At times, however, a kind of laxity can creep in and lead to inconsistent behaviour, including indifference about the poor. It also happens that some Christians, out of excessive attachment to money, remain mired in a poor use of their goods and wealth. These situations reveal a weak faith and feeble, myopic hope.
We know that the issue is not money itself, for money is part of our daily life as individuals and our relationships in society. Rather, what we need to consider is the value that we put on money: it cannot become our absolute and chief purpose in life. Attachment to money prevents us from seeing everyday life with realism; it clouds our gaze and blinds us to the needs of others. Nothing worse could happen to a Christian and to a community than to be dazzled by the idol of wealth, which ends up chaining us to an ephemeral and bankrupt vision of life.
It is not a question, then, of approaching the poor with a “welfare mentality”, as often happens, but of ensuring that no one lacks what is necessary. It is not activism that saves, but sincere and generous concern that makes us approach a poor person as a brother or sister who lends a hand to help me shake off the lethargy into which I have fallen. Consequently, “no one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles…None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice” (Evangelii Gaudium, 201)….