Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. The Second Vatican Council emphasizes a specific dimension of love that,
by the example of Christ, moves us above all towards the poorest of the
poor: "As Christ...was invited by the Father to 'give the good news to the
poor, to heal those with contrite hearts' (Luke 4:18), 'to look for and to
save those who were lost'(Luke 19:10), so the Church surrounds with
affectionate care those afflicted by human weakness and, even more,
recognizing in the poor and suffering the image of its poor and suffering
Founder, hastening to relieve them of their need, and intending to serve
Christ in them" (Lumen Gentium, 8).
Today we want to deepen the teaching of Holy Scripture on the motivation of
preferential love for the poor.
2. First of all it is clear that, from the Old to the New Testament, there
is a progression in how the poor and their situation are valued. In the Old
Testament we often see emerge the common human conviction that wealth is
better than poverty and represents the just compensation reserved for the
upright and God-fearing: "Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly
delight in His commandments...Wealth and riches are in their houses"(Psalm
112:1-3). Poverty is understood as punishment for those who refuse wise
instruction (cf. Proverbs 13:19).
But from another perspective, the poor become objects of particular
attention as the victims of perverse injustice. The denunciations of the
prophets against the exploitation of the poor are famous. The prophet Amos
(CF 2:6-15) puts the oppression of the poor among his main accusations
against Israel: "They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a
pair of sandals -- they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of
the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way" (Ibid., vv. 6-7). The
linking of poverty with injustice is also emphasized in Isaiah: "Ah, you
who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside
the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your
This connection also explains why norms in defense of the poor and of the
socially weaker abound: "Do not mistreat the widow or the orphan. If you
mistreat them, when they seek help from me, I will listen to their cries"
(Ezechiel 22:21-22; cf. Proverbs 22:22-23; Sirach 4:1-10). To defend the poor is to give
honor to God, Father of the poor. Therefore generosity on their behalf is
both justified and recommended (cf. Deuteronomy 15:1-11; 24:10-15; Proverbs 14:21; 17:5).
As the topic of poverty progressively deepens, it becomes a religious
value. God speaks of "His" poor (cf. Isaiah 49:13) who become identified with
the "remnant of Israel", a humble and poor people, according to an
expression of the prophet Zephaniah (CF 3:12). It is also said of the
future Messiah that he will take the poor and oppressed to heart, as Isaiah
explains in the well-known text regarding the shoot that will sprout from
the root of Jesse: "But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and
decide with equity for the meek of the earth"(Isaiah 11:4).
3. This is why in the New Testament the happy message of liberation is
announced to the poor, emphasized by Jesus Himself when He applied to
Himself the prophecy of the book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon
Me, because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent
Me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke
4:18; cf. Isaiah 61:1-2).
We must take on the interior attitude of poverty in order to be
participants in the "Kingdom of Heaven" (cf. Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20). In the
parable of the great banquet, the poor, together with the crippled, blind,
and lame, basically the most suffering and marginalized social categories,
are invited to the banquet (cf. Luke 14:21). St. James says that God has
"chosen the poor of the world be rich in faith and to be heirs the kingdom
that He promised to those who love Him" (James 2:5).
4. "Evangelical" poverty always implies a great love for the poorest of
this world. In this third year of preparation for the Great Jubilee we must
rediscover God as providential Father who bends down to human suffering to
raise up those afflicted by it. Our love must also translate into sharing
and human promotion, intended as the integral growth of every person.
Throughout history, evangelical radicalism has driven many of Jesus'
disciples to seek out poverty, to the point of selling their own goods and
giving them as alms. Poverty becomes a virtue here which, besides relieving
the lot of the poor, is transformed into a spiritual path thanks to which
one may procure for himself true richness, that is, an inexhaustible
treasure in heaven (cf. Luke 12:32-34). Material poverty is never an end in
itself, but a means to follow Christ, Who, as Paul reminds the Corinthians,
"though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His
poverty you might become rich"(2 Corinthians 8:9).
5. Here I cannot fail to note once again that the poor constitute the
modern challenge, especially for the well-off of our planet, where millions
of people live in inhuman conditions and many are literally dying of
hunger. It is not possible to announce God the Father to these brothers and
sisters without taking on the responsibility of building a more just
society in the name of Christ.
Always, and in a particular way in her social teaching -- from Rerum
Novarum to Centesimus Annus -- the Church has endeavored to deal with the
topic of the poorest of the poor. The great Jubilee year of 2000 must be
experienced as a further occasion for a strong conversion of the heart, so
that the Spirit may inspire new witnesses in this direction. Christians,
together with all people of good will, must, through adequate economic and
political programs, contribute to very necessary structural changes, so
that humanity may be raised up from the wound of poverty (cf. CA 57).