January 26, 2024

Christ the Cornerstone

The Church follows Christ in loving, serving the poor

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

On Saturday, Jan. 27, our Church observes the memorial of St. Angela Merici, founder of what became the Order of St. Ursula (Ursulines). Born in the Lombardy region of Italy in 1474, Angela felt called to a life of holiness and service.

In a vision, the Lord revealed to Angela that she was to found a company of women who would devote their lives toward the religious training of young girls. These women were bound together by their dedication to education (especially for the poor) and by their commitment to Jesus Christ and service to his Church.

Like many other holy women, including our own Anne-Thérèse Guérin (known locally as St. Mother Theodore but officially as St. Theodora), Angela Merici recognized the importance of education as a means of helping young people break the cycle of poverty. She and her sisters dedicated their lives to helping young women grow spiritually and intellectually through schools and other ministries that began in her native Brescia, Italy, and eventually spread throughout Europe, to the United States and other regions of the world.

The Ursulines, like many other teaching orders, have had a powerful impact on the poor. Poverty is a clear sign of the fundamental dependency of the human condition. The rich (and that includes all of us whose basic needs are provided for) can maintain the illusion of independence and self-sufficiency.

The poor have no such illusions. They know that by ourselves we can do nothing. Everything we have (and all that we are) comes from the grace of God, the Creator who made all things—material and spiritual—and who alone is responsible for the bread we eat, the clothes we wear and the shelter that protects us from heat, cold, wind, rain and the treachery of those who would do us harm.

“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said (Mt 26:11; Mk 14:7; Jn 12:8). Yet he lavished his attention on the poor. He fed them; he healed them; he preached to them the good news of hope and salvation. And he told us, his disciples, that we will be judged not by our words but by what we have done for others—especially the “least” of them, our sisters and brothers.

In a very real way, our Lord entrusted the poor to us—to our special care—until he comes again. He warned us that we will be separated from him on the last day if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the vulnerable (“the little ones”) who are Christ’s family in a truly special way.

The Church’s love for the poor is inspired by the Gospel of the beatitudes, by the poverty of Jesus and by his attention to the poor. This love concerns material poverty and also the numerous forms of cultural and religious poverty.

The Church never ceases to serve the poor, to work for their relief, to defend their basic human rights and to seek to eliminate the root causes of poverty, especially in the attitudes, customs and laws of human society. Why? Because our Lord commanded us to care for one another and because he showed us by his example what it means to love and serve and even die for the least of these, his sisters and brothers.

As we bishops of Indiana wrote in our 2015 pastoral letter “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana”: “The Catholic Church is strongly committed to education and, particularly, the education of the poor. More than two centuries of experience convince us about the powerful role that education plays in breaking the cycle of poverty and helping families, producing thriving citizens, workers and professionals.”

St. Angela Merici taught that our need to care for those who are poor and vulnerable outweighs their need for our ministry to them. We dare not appear to be condescending in our acts of charity. The spiritual and material gifts that we share with others—especially the poor—are not our property; they were given to us by God.

As responsible stewards of God’s gifts, we are required to nurture responsibly and share generously with our sisters and brothers in need. In fact, our Lord has made it abundantly clear that he expects us to care for one another, especially “the least of these” (Mt 25:31-46).

We honor St. Angela Merici and her sisters because their ministry to the poor and their devotion to Christ remind us of our abundant blessings and of our need to care for others. Through the intercession of St. Angela, may we serve the poor faithfully through our commitment to follow Jesus on the way of self-sacrificing love. †

Local site Links: