In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us that we’re not talking about a liberal preference. God’s “first mercy” was preached by our previous two popes. A reminder on this “primacy,” if we need it:
198. For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. God shows the poor “his first mercy”.[JOHN PAUL II, Homily at Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples in Santo Domingo (11 October 1984), 5] This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have “this mind… which was in Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:5). Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness”.[Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 42] This option – as Benedict XVI has taught – “is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty”.[Aparecida address 3]
Go a bit deeper in that Philippians quote, and consider the whole canticle (2:6-11) and its placement as a centerpiece within a larger Pauline meditation on humility and service (2:1-18). Clearly, the example of Christ cannot include any crass oversight of the needy. The orientation for the disciple is self-emptying. Do we believe we will be treated badly for that?
And what does our current pope say?
This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.
The poor teach and evangelize the faithful. Does it rankle that this might include non-believers among them?
Note the emphasis on friendship, on listening, and on discerning the “mysterious wisdom” of God in this matter.