The preferential option for the poor



“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bond” (The Church in the Modern World, 1).

The prophetic words of Vatican II reveal the power of its vision of Church – at that time and in the present moment. The people of God – the poor and afflicted, with their joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties – reflect Jesus’ compassionate demand that the oppressed are most important in the Kingdom of God.

Our Catholic Social Teaching refers to this as the preferential option for the poor. This present moment of racial unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic are uncomfortable reminders that the people of God are suffering. This understanding is evident as we stay at home wondering when it will end, and dealing with the questions of children and teens trying to understand protests and our own anxieties.

How do we connect our Catholic faith with this experience? Our black brothers and sisters give us insight into making these connections from their experience of slavery and intentional acceptance of Jesus’ teachings to live in a time of uncertainty and unease. Black slaves embraced Jesus as the liberator from oppression. They experienced the liberating embrace of Jesus Christ, and it changed how they lived. They heard and read the Scriptures amid oppression and discovered hope and guidance in Jesus’ teachings. They chose Jesus’ teachings to guide their lives.

Listen to the spirituals and to how they expressed this discipleship. It is amazing. As a white woman who has lived a privileged life, I am inspired by this authentic encounter with Jesus Christ and the living of this encounter.

At this time, we are called to read the Scriptures from the perspective of the current events and climate. The Word of God is a living Word. We read the Gospel with the image of the long food lines we see on the news. We read the Gospel knowing that, even before the pandemic, 700 people died in poverty every day. We read the Gospel with tears as a loved one dies alone in a hospital. We read the Gospel knowing the Body of Christ is suffering, broken and in need of healing. We read the Gospel asking ourselves, “What does this mean for today and my response as a disciple?”

The teachings of the Church and lived tradition guide us and call us to honesty. Incarnation reveals Jesus in each person. The Trinity reveals our interconnectedness. What we do is not an isolated event. Diversity in community is Church. This diversity demands inclusion and respect. We are called to prayer; to worship and service; and to live and celebrate our common discipleship. Catholic Social Teaching is grounded in the foundational response to the dignity of each person. Every person is made in the image and likeness of God. This teaching must be a part of the very fiber of our being.

Connecting faith-understanding must be an everyday discipline. Discipleship requires discipline. I write this article as much for myself as for you. As the Office of Catechesis looks at how we deliver faith formation we are aware that it takes all of us and that it happens in a variety of contexts. Right now, we find ourselves in a new and complex context. It is imperative for adults to take the lead in fostering discipleship. Reading the Scriptures and having faith-based conversations at home will hold us together and must continue to be the heart of how we pass on this faith – rooted in Jesus Christ; lover of all people, and especially the poor and suffering.