VATICAN CITY — On the first World Day for the Poor, Pope Francis said caring for the needy has a saving power, because in them we see the face of Christ. And he urged Christians to overcome indifference and seek ways to actively love the poor they meet.
“In the poor, we find the presence of Jesus, who, though rich, became poor,” the Pope said Nov. 19. Because of this, “in their weakness, a saving power is present. And if in the eyes of the world they have little value, they are the ones who open to us the way to heaven.”
“They are our passport to paradise,” he said, explaining that it is an “evangelical duty” for Christians to care for the poor as our true wealth.
And to do this doesn’t mean just giving them a piece of bread, but also “breaking with them the bread of God’s word, which is addressed first to them,” Francis said, adding that to love the poor “means to combat all forms of poverty, spiritual and material.”
Pope Francis spoke during Mass marking the first World Day of the Poor, which takes place every 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time and is being organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Established by Pope Francis at the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, the World Day for the Poor this year has the theme “Love Not in Word, but in Deed.”
In the week leading up to the event, the poor and needy had access to free medical exams at a makeshift center set up in front of St. Peter’s Square.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Council for Evangelization, led a Nov. 18 prayer vigil at Rome’s parish of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls the night before the big event. After Mass with Pope Francis, the poor were offered a three-course lunch at different centers and organizations around Rome, including the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
According to the Council for Evangelization, some 6-7,000 poor from around Europe, as well as some migrants from around the world, were estimated to attend the Mass, along with the organizations that care for them.
In his homily, Pope Francis said no matter our social condition, everyone in life is a beggar when it comes to what is essential, which is God’s love and which “gives meaning to our lives and a life without end. So today, too, we lift up our hands to him, asking to receive his gifts.”
Turning to the day’s Gospel passage from Matthew recounting the Parable of the Talents, the Pope noted how, in God’s eyes, everyone has talents, and, consequently, “no one can think that he or she is useless, so poor as to be incapable of giving something to others.”
“God, in whose eyes no child can be neglected, entrusts to each of us a mission,” he said, explaining that God also gives us a responsibility, as seen in the day’s Gospel.
Francis pointed to how, in the day’s passage, only the first two servants make their talents profitable, whereas the third buries it, prompting the master to call him “wicket and lazy.”
Asking what sin the servant had committed that was so wrong, the Pope said that “it was his omission.”
Many times we believe that we haven’t done anything wrong, and so we are content with the presumption that we are good and righteous, he said, cautioning that with this mentality, “we risk acting like the unworthy servant: [thinking] he did no wrong; he didn’t waste the talent — in fact, he kept it carefully hidden in the ground.”
However, “to do no wrong is not enough,” Francis said, adding that God is not “an inspector looking for unstamped tickets.” Rather, he is a Father who looks for children to whom he can entrust both his property and his plans.
“It is sad when the Father of love does not receive a generous response of love from his children, who do no more than keep the rules and follow the commandments,” he said, noting that someone who is only concerned with preserving the treasures of the past “is not being faithful to God.”
Instead, “the one who adds new talents is truly faithful. ... He does not stand still, but instead, out of love, takes risks. He puts his life on the line for others; he is not content to keep things as they are. One thing alone does he overlook: his own interest. That is the only right omission.”
Omission, Francis said, is also a big sin where the poor are concerned, though it has a different name: indifference. This sin, he said, takes place when we feel that the brother in need is not our concern, but is society’s problem.
The sin typically shows up in our lives when we choose to turn the other way, or “‘change channels’ as soon as a disturbing question comes up, when we grow indignant at evil but do nothing about it.”
“God will not ask us if we felt righteous indignation, but whether we did some good,” the Pope said.
Asking those present how we can please God, Pope Francis said, in the Gospel, we hear Jesus say: “When you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
These brothers, he said, are the hungry and the sick, the stranger and the prisoner, the poor and the abandoned.
In the poor, “Jesus knocks on the doors of our hearts, thirsting for our love,” he said, adding that “when we overcome our indifference and, in the name of Jesus, we give of ourselves for the least of his brethren,” only then are we being faithful.
An example of this attitude is seen in the woman who opens her hand to the poor in the day’s first reading from Proverbs, he said. In her, “we see true goodness and strength: not in closed fists and crossed arms, but in ready hands outstretched to the poor, to the wounded flesh of the Lord.”
Choosing to draw near to the poor among us “will touch our lives” and remind us of what really counts, Francis said, explaining that this is love of God and neighbor.
“Only this lasts forever; everything else passes away,” he said. “What we invest in love remains; the rest vanishes.”
Pope Francis closed his homily by saying the choice we all have before us is whether “to live in order to gain things on earth or to give things away in order to gain heaven.”
“Where heaven is concerned, what matters is not what we have, but what we give,” he said. “So let us not seek for ourselves more than we need, but rather what is good for others, and nothing of value will be lacking to us.”