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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Serving the Poor, A Challenge for Deomocrats, Republicans and all of us.

The Widow's Mite
   Over the past two weeks I think that all of us have been moved by the humility of Pope Francis and by his genuine concern for the poor.  He has expressed a desire to have a Church for the poor and of the poor.  How does this translate into our everyday lives?

   I am a Franciscan and delighted by the fact that a Jesuit Pope has taken the name Francis, but I am also challenged by that fact. It makes me want to be a better Franciscan and to simplify my life even more.  The initials OFM after my name stand for Order of Friars Minor.  Even knowing that the term Friars Minor is not clear to everyone.  The minores (as opposed to the maiores) at the time of Francis were not only the very poor, but all those who were excluded from power, who had no say in things.  That included ordinary small merchants as well as lepers and beggars, all who were outsiders, as it were.  Francis wanted to be among the minores and above all let them know that they were not on the outside with God or with him and his fellow friars.  This should tell us the first thing that we need to know about serving the poor.  That service begins by being among them and knowing and understanding their struggles.  Pope Francis, as Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires did just that.  He did things like taking the bus to work.  He talked with people. He came to understand their struggles and to see things from the point of view of the ordinary person.

   I think back on my own life and realize that I have been at my best when I have been among the people, be it in the North End of Boston, mid-town Manhattan, Buffalo, NY, Camden NJ and so many of the places where I have preached parish missions.  What poor people and ordinary working people are looking for first of all is a sense that they matter, that they are not forgotten.  Yes they need and want our financial help and other assistance as well at times, but if they don't think that people form the Church or from their government, etc.(in any country) know how to walk with them and understand their struggles then anything else that is offered seems awkward, foolish or off the mark.

   I try to stay away from political commentary on this blog, but in this case I believe that a challenge can be sent to both political parties.  Republicans really do need to connect with the poor and make sure that while budget cuts are necessary they should not be made on the backs of the poor. Giving the impression that everyone who takes money form the government is a moocher and freeloader is not the way to go.  Yes, there are freeloaders, but most of the excess spending is not because of that, but because of abuses within the system of delivery of services within medicare, Social Security (which people have paid into) and other government programs. I am also upset when I go on Facebook and see requests to drug test every welfare recipient.  Welfare recipients should be treated like everyone else.  If there is reason to drug test them, fine, but don't subject all of them to this. If you have ever talked with a family that is working at two underpaid jobs and trying to make ends meet you would clearly understand this.

   And what about Democrats?  You too have to learn to walk with the ordinary people.  Many government programs are inefficient and encumbered by bureaucratic red tape. When poor folks seek help they may in fact get money, food or whatever, but they often feel degraded in the process.  Democrats these days are often accused of being socialists. That is giving them too much credit.  Most of them are just taking money from different lobbyists than the Republicans and then try to make the poor and the middle class think that they are working for them. Maybe some of the Democratic and Republican Congress people could try riding the bus to work and simply listening to what the ordinary folks have to say.

    In recent years our Catholic sisters have come under scrutiny for some of the things they have undertaken, but I believe that they, above all in the Church, are walking with the poor and the marginalized. We would do well to follow their example.

   Finally, lest I be charged with hypocrisy, I am making some cuts and simplifications in my own lifestyle and am looking for ways to better listen and spend time with the many ordinary folks that I serve as I go about preaching.

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