By Sr Melissa Dwyer
“Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)
Pope Francis has declared November 19th 2017 as the first ever World Day of the Poor. The theme he has chosen, let us love not with words but with deeds, is a timely reminder of the need to ‘walk the talk’, putting our faith into action and complementing the many meaningful words we speak with concrete actions that show our love for God by lives of loving service.
Jesus reminds us, ‘the poor will always be with you’. (Matthew 26:11) Just as Jesus reached out to the sick and sinners, the poor and the marginalised, the challenge of following Jesus in 2017 necessitates that we have a preferential love for those in need. Pope Francis reminds us, “We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude”.
Dare I suggest that we are missing out on the completion of our Christian vocation if our expression of faith remains personal and doesn’t motivate us to an awareness of the sufferings of others, coupled with a concrete response to those who are marginalised within society. Granted, this concrete response will take different forms for each of us, yet encountering the poor is an attitude of the heart that each one of us can nurture. Living love in action, urges us to go deeper in reaching out to those in need, that they might see the face of Christ in our gratuitous self-giving
Throughout his life, Jesus demonstrated this selfless love, a love without counting the cost or expecting anything in return. It is this love of Jesus, especially towards those who were poor, which becomes our measuring stick. Jesus is our exemplar of a love which goes beyond barriers and reaches out to others without judgement or distinction. Jesus’ life was coherent with what he preached. In the same way we need to guard against moments when there can be a contrast between empty words on our lips and the concrete deeds that mirror the real quality of our love in action.
Our Church is full of many “saints”, both canonized and still living, who served the poor in response to their love for God. They lived a love in action which bore witness to the reality that a deep personal relationship with Jesus cannot be contained in the walls of a chapel. Their love for God led them out to the poor, to stand with them as though they were standing with Christ. One that springs to mind is Blessed Frederic Ozanam, Founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Ozanam was not satisfied just to give a hand out to the poor, but wanted Vincentians to study the conditions that the poor were living in, so as to bring about long term change to their situations.
In the same way, our service of the poor shouldn’t be just regulated acts of kindness that help us feel good about ourselves. Our reaching out to those in need must motivate us to change our lives and raise our awareness. It must lead us to passionate advocacy for making lasting impacts rather than just providing momentary relief.
The poor are not a societal problem that we need to fix. They don’t need a band aid solution. We have much to learn from those suffering from poverty in our world. In addition, let us join with Pope Francis who reminds us, “The poor are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practice in our lives the essence of the Gospel”.
Conscious that there is no substitute for an authentic, Christ-centred love, may our words and more importantly our deeds, be a testimony of who God is for us. In so doing, may the radicality of our love in action enable us to be the hands and feet of Christ, in a world where some have plenty and others struggle to survive.
Sr Melissa Dwyer is a religious sister of the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Brisbane