As I was reviewing my draft file in WordPress, I noticed the next Dies Domini post ready to go, one in which Pope John Paul II reflects on the intimate connection between the Christian, the poor, and Sunday. Just coming back from Mass in which the Holy Spirit was referred to as “the Father of the poor,” I thought I’d dive back in with commentary with a fresh perspective.
70. Ever since Apostolic times, the Sunday gathering has in fact been for Christians a moment of fraternal sharing with the very poor. “On the first day of the week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn” (1 Cor 16:2), says Saint Paul referring to the collection organized for the poor Churches of Judaea.
Is this really true? I don’t think the modern North American Catholic sees their economic sharing on Sunday as anything other than parish support, punctuated by an occasional “special” effort to bring food.
Saint John Paul is suggesting we reconnect with a wider view, a more traditional understanding:
In the Sunday Eucharist, the believing heart opens wide to embrace all aspects of the Church. But the full range of the apostolic summons needs to be accepted: far from trying to create a narrow “gift” mentality, Paul calls rather for a demanding culture of sharing, to be lived not only among the members of the community itself but also in society as a whole. (Cf. also Saint Justin, Apologia I, 67, 6: “Each of those who have an abundance and who wish to make an offering gives freely whatever he chooses, and what is collected is given to him who presides and he assists the orphans, the widows, the sick, the poor, the prisoners, the foreign visitors — in a word, he helps all those who are in need”: PG 6, 430)
And if the urging of a saint doesn’t convince, what about an apostle or two?
More than ever, we need to listen once again to the stern warning which Paul addresses to the community at Corinth, guilty of having humiliated the poor in the fraternal agape which accompanied “the Lord’s Supper”: “When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the Church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (1 Cor 11:20-22). James is equally forceful in what he writes: “If a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Take a seat here, please’, while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (2:2-4).
First Corinthians 11, is it? The same passage used to justify the barring of the divorced and remarried from the reception of Communion. It seems a difficult spot for the Church when, from top to bottom, we focus significantly on sexual conduct as a guidepost, but caritas not so much. To be sure, I do not advocate concern for the poor as another barometer for the believers. But it should indeed be part of our individual reckoning before God. I think also that faith communities are obliged to review their own practices and attitudes. None of us are exemplars of perfect charity. But Sunday beckons the disciple to concern herself or himself with the poor. There can be no doubt about this unchanging tradition.