Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium suggests that action on behalf of the poor has a focus, and as he puts it, “an attentiveness.” What does that mean? We are dealing not with structures and methods and systems, but real relationships. Some will suggest that secular assistance has ripped the soul out of efforts to assist the needy. But I’m unconvinced. Anyone can make real friends among the poor. And anyone can find excuses to avoid it.
199. Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programs of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves”.[Saint Thomas Aquinas, S. Th., II-II, q. 27, a. 2]
Pope Francis speaks of love, but he’s talking about a clear choice we make to align ourselves with people we want to understand, to walk with, and to share the essence of ourselves. It’s not about a one-way spigot of help from the enlightened to the needy:
This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: “The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely”.[Saint Thomas Aquinas, S. Th., I-II, q. 110, a. 1] The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value”,[Saint Thomas Aquinas, S. Th., I-II, q. 26, a. 3] and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest.
Saint John Paul offers his own witness, urging believers forward:
Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation. Only this will ensure that “in every Christian community the poor feel at home. Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the kingdom?”[Novo Millennio Ineunte 50] Without the preferential option for the poor, “the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications”.[Novo Millennio Ineunte 50]
I suppose I should consider myself challenged. This blog is but one drop in an ocean of words. The real effectiveness of formation is in those seeking to be formed: do these two popes convince anyone to set aside their mouse and reach out a hand in friendship?