Thought for the week


Why Are They Poor?

Dom Helder Camara was special. He was archbishop of Recife, in Brazil, and died around 1990. A little man with the face of an elf: he wouldn’t be out of place in Darby O’Gill and the Little People. But what a spiritual giant!

   ‘When I give food to the poor,’ he once said, ‘they call me a saint, but when I ask: “Why are the Poor,” they call me a communist.

  That saintly man (can’t understand why he hasn’t been canonised) was devoid of any romantic notions about the poor, or pie-in-the-sky when you die. Here’s what he had to say about poverty: ‘Saints may be found in the slums, but we cannot retain slums in order to make them the breeding ground of saints.’ 

   So the homily Jesus delivered that you hear in today’s gospel can be best understood against the light of Camara’s life. Jesus was not affirming poverty or hunger or sadness (you who weep now) and promising a bright future in heaven. In other words: ‘accept your lot, sunshine, you’ll win the grand lotto when you reach Paradise.

  Poverty, hunger and the pain of loss are conditions we all avoid in so far as we can. If you are poor, you will not be able to afford private health insurance, ergo, you’ll probably die younger. Most of the prisoners in our jails are from deprived parts of Dublin. Are they less moral than you or I? I think not.

   Jesus spent his short ministry bringing healing and health to those most in need. When he proclaimed: Blessed are the poor,’ he wasn’t giving his blessing to the condition of the powerless and the penniless.

  On the contrary, he was challenging all Christians who ‘are fed now’ to become conscious of those who are not. By the way, that also is Pope Francis’s core teaching.                                                                                                                                                                         Fr William