There has been a great deal of conversation with the election of Pope Francis. It seems that he is going to be taking the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches in a new direction. People are speculating on the many changes that may be coming and affecting the entire Christian Church based on the outreach and conversation about the poor and most vulnerable.
However, these actions of Pope Francis are not new at all. Rather, they are rooted in who we are as Christians and how we are called to live our lives. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus places us in the heart of the message to journey with the poor and most vulnerable. The interesting part of this message is that he condemns the secular humanistic view of service and lifts up the Christian understanding of being one with the poor.
The difference lies between recognizing the person instead of only the need. If we place the need before the person, then the person is purely an object that will make us feel good when we "help." If we recognize the person, then addressing the need is done out of love and not pity or selfish desire.
St. James, chapter 2, addresses to the early Church the concern for the poor and vulnerable, the fact that we cannot sit idly by and wait for "someone else" to walk with the poor. It is our call as Christians to walk with them and share with them. And to think that this is only a Christian message would be a mistake. With over 100 citations in the Hebrew Scripture, the care for the poor permeates the Hebrew understanding of hospitality. It is a reminder of the times of Egyptian slavery. These passages serve as a reminder for Jewish brothers and sisters, as well as for Christians and Muslims, of the times God was faithful in the desert, providing all that they would need to survive as "wondering Arameans."
In more modern times, the care for the poor and most vulnerable was summarized in the Seven Tenants of Catholic Social Teaching. These seven principles begin with the Sanctity of Human Life and the Dignity of Each Person. This flows to the Family and the Participation in a Community which is against individualism. Within this community we have Rights AND Responsibilities to our fellow human beings and most especially to the Poor and Vulnerable. Finally, there is Dignity in Work through which everyone, in Solidarity, contributes in order to Care for God's Creation and all life.
My friends, Pope Francis is not beating a different drum; he is just playing an old drum more loudly in order for us to follow the beat. If you would like to learn more about these views check out the following websites: www.crs.org or www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/seven-themes-of-catholic-social-teaching.cfm and locally stop by St. Anthony's Center on E. Willow St. and say hello to Sr. Henry for a more personal view of this way of life.
Finally, HAPPY EASTER! May the joy, peace, and mission of the Risen Lord enliven you to live His Divine Mercy!
- Van Fossen is the pastor at the Parish of St. Joseph the Worker in Williamsport