March 12, 2021

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

In Lent, minister on behalf of the most vulnerable with love

David Bethuram

Jesus teaches that almsgiving means making the needs of others our own, especially the poor of our world. They are all around us: children and the old, the sick and the suffering, families and individuals, next-door neighbors and people in faraway lands.

Giving to the poor acknowledges and thanks God for his blessings. It also provides a tangible blessing to others. There’s still time to give this Lent. As you remember the poor, one of the best things we can do is to not objectify them.

Consideration of poverty in Catholic social teaching begins with the foundation that each person is both sacred and social, created in God’s image, and destined to share in the goods of the Earth as part of a community of justice and mercy.

From the time of the Deuteronomic laws, the covenant and the prophets, there was special mention of the poor and their privileged place in the community.

In the Old Testament, this group was primarily widows, orphans and strangers (refugees, migrants, immigrants). They were poor and powerless. Their poverty was often the result of unjust oppression. As such, they comprised “Yahweh’s poor.” The Lord frequently warned the Israelites about their duty to the poor: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan” (Ex 22:20-21).

Their special status reflected a combination of powerlessness, poverty, and systemic exclusion from the community. Care for the poor became the test of Israel’s faithfulness.

The word used to reflect the community’s duty to the poor is “justice.” Instead of being recipients of optional charity or pious generosity, the poor became the measure of Israel’s fidelity to the Lord. Believers are charged to see to it that the poor are not without the means to meet their basic needs, nor are they to be excluded from the community or its decision-making by their lack of means.

If the poor around us now are uncared for, we too cannot know the one who says, “I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Jer 31:33).

In the midst of these challenging times, our ministries have been profoundly moved by the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who implores us to be organizers of love, and by Pope Francis, who challenges us to be salt, leaven and light providing a beacon of hope to those in need. We take to heart this mandate to love and serve as we commit ourselves to minister tirelessly on behalf of the most vulnerable.

Through our ministry of charity, we seek to motivate others to want to participate in this shared vision of mercy and justice to become manifest in the communities we serve and live today.

We aspire to model the way for others, by stepping off the path to compassionately encounter those who are poor and vulnerable. We challenge the process of existing systems by advocating for more just and compassionate policies and creative practices to address poverty and isolation.

With hearts filled with Christ’s love and the power of the Spirit, we engage the hearts of our staff, volunteers, donors, policymakers, partners and especially the people we serve. And knowing that we cannot do this by ourselves, we invite you, especially during this time of Lent, to join us in care for and love for the poor.

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

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