A King poor and naked

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Last week we commemorated World Day of the Poor for the first time. It is an initiative of Pope Francis who wishes that we observe it every year the Sunday before the Solemnity of Christ the King, as he explains in the following excerpts from his message.

“Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth”.  These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard.  The seriousness with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves.  Love has no alibi.  Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor.  The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly.  It stands on two pillars: God loved us first, and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life.

Such love cannot go unanswered.  Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins.  Yet this can only happen if we welcome God’s grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible into our hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbor.  In this way, the mercy that wells up – as it were – from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need…

“This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him”.  The Church has always understood the importance of this cry.  We possess an outstanding testimony to this in the very first pages of the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter asks that seven men, “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (6:3), be chosen for the ministry of caring for the poor.  This is certainly one of the first signs of the entrance of the Christian community upon the world’s stage: the service of the poor.  The earliest community realized that being a disciple of Jesus meant demonstrating fraternity and solidarity, in obedience to the Master’s proclamation that the poor are blessed and heirs to the Kingdom of heaven…

Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.  It means walking behind him and beside him, a journey that leads to the beatitude of the Kingdom of heaven.  Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel omnipotent and immortal.  Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness.  Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace.  Poverty, understood in this way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive…

We know how hard it is for our contemporary world to see poverty clearly for what it is.  Yet in myriad ways poverty challenges us daily, in faces marked by suffering, marginalization, oppression, violence, torture and imprisonment, war, deprivation of freedom and dignity, ignorance and illiteracy, medical emergencies and shortage of work, trafficking and slavery, exile, extreme poverty and forced migration.  Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money.  What a bitter and endless list we would have to compile were we to add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the greed of a chosen few, and generalized indifference!

I invite the whole Church, and men and women of good will everywhere, to turn their gaze on this day to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity.  They are our brothers and sisters, created and loved by the one Heavenly Father.  This Day is meant, above all, to encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, and to embrace the culture of encounter.  At the same time, everyone, independent of religious affiliation, is invited to openness and sharing with the poor through concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity.  God created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences, betraying the original gift meant for all humanity, with none excluded…

The kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha, when the Innocent One, nailed to the cross, poor, naked and stripped of everything, incarnates and reveals the fullness of God’s love.  Jesus’ complete abandonment to the Father expresses his utter poverty and reveals the power of the Love that awakens him to new life on the day of the Resurrection.”

Fr. Roberto M. Cid