August 21, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Our response to poverty in Indiana

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

For most of this summer, I have been writing about poverty using the Indiana bishops’ recent pastoral letter, Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana. Writing about poverty is one thing, but actually doing something to help alleviate the pain and degradation caused by poverty is a lot harder. Eliminating poverty, once and for all, seems impossible.

Fortunately, we believe in miracles. We believe that what is impossible in human terms can be accomplished by the power of God’s grace. Simply stated, we believe that if our faith, hope and love were strong enough, no one would have to be poor.

What can we do to help alleviate poverty in Indiana? What actions can we take that will make a difference in the lives of our fellow Hoosiers, who suffer from the immediate and long-term effects of poverty?

In our pastoral letter, we outline four basic actions that we believe will make a difference:

  • “First, as a community of faith, we believe in the power of prayer. We trust that our cry for ‘daily bread,’ is heard and answered by our heavenly Father. However, prayer is also attentively listening to what God has to say to us. If we ask God to help us better serve the needs of the poor, whom he loves, surely he will show us the way.”
  • “Next, we can work to strengthen families. Starting with our own families—our spouses, children, grandchildren and extended families—we can show that family comes first. We can work to set aside some of the distractions promoted in contemporary culture in order to spend time with family, supporting and encouraging those whom we love most in the world. Reaching beyond the limits of our own families, we can share our time and talent with our neighbors, our fellow parishioners and members of our communities. We can support legislation and public policies that are pro-marriage and pro-family. We can work to elect public officials whose actions really do speak louder than their words when it comes to protecting and enhancing family life.”
  • “Then, we can advocate for economic vitality and access to affordable, quality education and health care. Employment, education and health care are critical means for alleviating the long-term effects of poverty in our state. To this end, we bishops strongly urge all individuals, families, and Catholic institutions to speak on behalf of comprehensive and just legislation and social policies in these crucial areas. We invite all people of good will to join us in finding and implementing both immediate and long-term solutions to the problems faced by those who are poor and vulnerable in our communities.”
  • “Finally, we can support Catholic Charities and other social service agencies in our state through generous stewardship of our time, talent and treasure. As stewards of all the gifts we have each received from God, we are invited and challenged to respond to the Lord with increased gratitude and generosity.”

We know that nothing is impossible for God. We also know that we are called to cooperate with God’s grace to serve the needs of our brothers and sisters who are poor. If we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, caring for the poor is not optional.

Our Lord’s words to his disciples—to you and me—are hard to hear:

“ ‘For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me’ ” (Mt 25: 41-46).

And yet, these harsh words are also words of hope. The Lord tells us that whatever we do for our sisters and brothers in need, we do for him. He is with us. If we trust in him, he will show us the way.

Please join me in praying for an end to poverty in Indiana. Please do whatever you can to advocate for the needs of those who are most vulnerable in our society. And please support the charitable work of our parishes and of Catholic Charities agencies.

Whatever you and I can do for our brothers and sisters who are poor, we do for Jesus and for the salvation of our souls. †

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