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Care for the Poor

Twice in the space of three days we hear the passage from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the Jerusalem community of Christians and their care for each other’s needs. I remember a particular Bible study class that I conducted at St. Peter’s in the Loop of Chicago for more than twelve years. On one occasion, after I had explained the background for this reading, someone in the class commented, “Of course that wouldn’t work today.” The comment caught me completely off guard.

After a short pause, I simply asked, “Why not?” I am sure that you can imagine the various responses that were offered. It was one of the clearest examples I have ever experienced of how people with a Western mind set are far more concerned about themselves as individuals than as members of the group or of a community. The Middle and Far Eastern cultures are far more communally minded than the people of Europe and North America.

It is this mindset that also fails to understand the concept of communal sin. When we read the Gospel of St. Matthew’s account of the return of Jesus, he points out that Jesus will judge the nations. Our vision of the final judgment, I suspect, is far more personal.

Pope Francis released a new document yesterday entitled, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” “Rejoice and be Glad.” In this document, he attempts to place the universal call to holiness in a modern setting. I have not read the entire document as of yet, but the part that I have read places great emphasis on the care of the poor and the migrant as a constitutive part of the pursuit of holiness. One cannot be holy without being concerned for the poor. It is evident from our reading of the Acts of the Apostles that the early Christian community understood this.

While there may be some who would rather that holiness simply be a matter of my own intimate relationship with God, we cannot in any way exclude the notion of living a common life as part of our faith and as a part of the pursuit of holiness.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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