November 9, 2018

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

True Christian charity points not to us, but to Christ

David BethuramAsk anyone what comes to mind when they think of Pope Francis, and most will point to his love for the poor. This concern for the least among us has been one of the hallmarks of his pontificate. It should come as no surprise, then, that he has dedicated a World Day of the Poor.

Pope Francis declared the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 18, as the World Day of the Poor. As we enter the holiday season, the timeliness of this day could not be more relevant. The pope has chosen to add this “world day” as a permanent extension of the Jubilee of Mercy.

The Holy Father intends for this day to call our attention to the plight of the poor and to the many kinds of poverty that exist in our world. He also wants to “encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, and to embrace the culture of encounter.”

The World Day of the Poor is meant to remind us of Christ’s love for the poor and for us to reflect on how we can better assist the poor both in prayer and action.

Pope Francis is asking all Christians to reflect on these two points:

  • Serving the poor is a sure path to a deeper union with Christ.
  • The World Day of the Poor is part of the Church’s evangelizing mission.

Serving the poor is a sure path to a deeper union with Jesus. For Christians, this service is not optional. The Gospel assures us that we will be judged according to what we did—or did not do—for the least among us, and insists upon a call to a lifelong focus on the poor. That should shake us up, but not be viewed as a burden. In serving the poor, we honor Christ and have an opportunity to draw very close to him.

God’s passionate and unconditional love for us is so unlike our conditional love for each other. It demands that we welcome his grace and mercy into our hearts so we can then extend the same to those in need.

The World Day of the Poor is part of the Church’s evangelizing mission. This may seem strange, but Pope Francis specifically notes in his World Day of the Poor message that he wants this to be “a tradition that concretely contributes to evangelization in today’s world.” How?

Our service to the poor must address not only material needs, but the deeper spiritual problems that so often accompany those in material destitution.

The Church is not just any well-meaning non-profit or social service organization. We are the Body of Christ. We bring not only food, clothing, shelter, job training—we bring the light of Christ, the one who can heal our brokenness and weakness.

There is a deep connection between service and evangelization. We are not only to provide for the material needs of those we serve, we are to share with them our relationship with Christ so that they might be drawn into the same relationship.

That is what makes the difference in a truly Christian charity. Love evangelizes. It points not to us, but to Christ.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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