November 14, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Recognizing Jesus in the faces of the poor

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinSt. John Paul II once wrote, “The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich.” As a relative newcomer to the state of Indiana, I have been challenged to be more attentive to the ways in which poverty has an impact on the individuals, families and communities that I am called to serve here in central and southern Indiana.

The effects of the severe economic downturn that began in 2008-09 have caused many Hoosiers to experience the despair of poverty. Many of our small towns and rural communities have experienced a serious loss of jobs due to a stagnant economy.

The social and economic conditions caused by poverty in these communities, as well as in our larger cities, have had serious consequences, including an increase in the manufacture, sale and use of drugs; violence in our homes and in our streets; and the resulting increase in our state’s prison population.

Multigenerational poverty, measured by the number of individuals in economic stress whose parents, grandparents and perhaps great-grandparents also suffered severe economic instability, is a very serious issue. Its impact on human dignity, family stability and healthy communities is immeasurable.

Individual family members who experience multigenerational poverty are far less likely to possess the internal, intangible resources that will allow them to realize their hopes and dreams, or to pursue and acquire the education, life skills and employment opportunities that are available to other members of their communities and that are critical to breaking the cycle of poverty. Without the skills and experiences necessary to make positive personal and employment decisions, poor choices appear predetermined and the vicious cycle of poverty remains unbroken.

The Gospels show us that our Lord had a special love for the poor. He recognized their suffering, and he had compassion for their loneliness and fear. He never looked away from their plight or acted like it didn’t concern him. Always, our Lord stood with the poor—comforting their sorrows, healing their wounds and feeding their bodies and their souls.

All disciples of Jesus Christ are called to love the poor as he did. We are invited, and challenged, to see the poor, to illuminate the reality of poverty and to respond with transformed hearts.

We believe that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God; that each life is sacred, from conception to natural death; and that human dignity comes from who we are as persons rather than from what we do or what we possess.

We believe that all people should enjoy a quality of life commensurate with the demands of human dignity. That’s why the social teaching of our Church welcomes the poor and oppressed as members of the family of God, who deserve a voice in their future. Christ taught that those with the greatest need should be attended to first. By his words and example, he showed us that caring for the poor is both a matter of justice and of charity.

Catholics in all regions of our archdiocese are deeply committed to serving those who are in immediate need through our Catholic Charities agencies and our parishes, schools and health care organizations. The generosity of our people is extraordinary, making possible thousands of hours of love and service every week in all regions of our archdiocese. As archbishop, I recognize and applaud the goodness of diverse people and institutions throughout southern and central Indiana, and I thank God for the love and compassion shown to so many of our brothers and sisters in their time of serious need.

I also know that much more is needed. What can you and I do to help alleviate poverty—both now and in the future? We can “storm heaven” with confidence that our prayers will be heard and answered. We can work to strengthen families. We can advocate for economic vitality and for access to affordable, top-quality education and health care. And we can support Catholic Charities through generous and sacrificial gifts of time, talent and treasure!

As Christians, we are called to recognize Jesus in the face of the poor. Seeing our brothers and sisters as they are—members of God’s family who have gifts to share with us and who compel us to share our gifts in return—is an essential element of Christian charity. Seeing ourselves as stewards of all God’s gifts is integral to authentic Christian discipleship.

Let’s acknowledge the poverty all around us. Let’s respond with open and generous hearts to the immediate and long-term needs of our brothers and sisters. And let’s recognize Christ in all who are poor, vulnerable and in need of our love. †

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