Yesterday, we touched on the importance of the link between Sunday, the poor, and Christian belief/practice in our post on Dies Domini 70. In these two sections of Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis also looks at the relationship between the Body of Christ and the poor. First a citation from the bishops of Brazil that precedes Aparecida by five years:
191. In all places and circumstances, Christians, with the help of their pastors, are called to hear the cry of the poor. This has been eloquently stated by the bishops of Brazil: “We wish to take up daily the joys and hopes, the difficulties and sorrows of the Brazilian people, especially of those living in the barrios and the countryside – landless, homeless, lacking food and health care – to the detriment of their rights. Seeing their poverty, hearing their cries and knowing their sufferings, we are scandalized because we know that there is enough food for everyone and that hunger is the result of a poor distribution of goods and income. The problem is made worse by the generalized practice of wastefulness”.[CONFERÊNCIA NACIONAL DOS BISPOS DO BRAZIL, Exigências evangélicas e éticas de superação da miséria e da fome” (April 2002), Introduction, 2]
These bishops are right, of course. Distribution, interruptions of it, or a lack of it, are indeed a scandal. This is not an issue confined to Brazil, or Latin America. It concerns those who are in need anywhere. It concerns those who have needs beyond material considerations. It concerns directly the souls of those who possess a power to change, or even nudge affairs in favor of the needy.
This is also not some radical idea springing from the barrios. Pope John XXIII addressed this more than fifty years ago as part of a wide-reaching and more basic aspect of human existence:
192. Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”.[Mater et Magistra 3] This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.
This teaching hovers on the boundary of charity and justice, a location that can be a tangle or maze for some believers. Pope Francis is not talking about filling today’s hungry belly, but working to a method or to a multitude of systems, perhaps, that fulfills this “higher dream.” We are impelled to move away from structures in which the trickling down of “welfare and prosperity” depend on the regular intervention of those who possess it and who happen to remember to share.