July 26, 2019


Loving the poor as Jesus did

​“Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members” (Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel”).

St. Teresa of Calcutta, foundress of the Missionaries of Charity religious order, showed charity to everyone without distinction, but in union with the Church she showed a preference for the poor. St. Teresa recognized the face of Christ, whom she loved with her entire being, in everyone she met, but she was especially conscious of his presence in the poorest of the poor.

In 2010, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of her birth, Pope Benedict XVI said, “To those who ask why Mother Teresa became as famous as she did, the answer is simple: because she lived humbly and discretely for and in the love of God. She herself said that her greatest prize was to love Jesus and serve him in the poor. Her diminutive figure, her hands joined in prayer or caressing the sick, a leper, the dying, a child, was the visible sign of an existence transformed by God. In the night of human pain, she made the light of divine love shine and helped many hearts to find the peace which only God can give.”

“We thank the Lord,” the Holy Father added, “because in Teresa of Calcutta we all see how our lives can change when we meet Jesus; how they can become a reflection of the light of God for other people. To so many men and women who experienced poverty and suffering, she gave the consolation and certainty that God never abandons anyone, ever.”

Poverty is a sign of the fundamental dependency of the human condition. The rich, whose basic needs and desires 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 and cold, wind and rain, and the treachery of those who would do us harm.

“You will always have the poor with you,” Jesus said (Mt 26:11; cf. 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 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 the bishops of Indiana wrote in their 2015 pastoral letter, “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana”: “All disciples of Jesus Christ are called to love the poor as he did. As people of faith, we are invited to see the poor, to allow the Word of God to illuminate the reality of poverty, and to respond with transformed hearts.”

St. Teresa of Calcutta took this teaching seriously. She united her devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist with her care for the poor and destitute in the streets. As a result, she found her Lord in the poor she served every day.

May her example inspire us to do our part to care for our sisters and brothers in need out of gratitude for all the material and spiritual blessings we have received, and in solidarity with the whole Church.

—Daniel Conway

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