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Doctrines & Morals
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The great seventeenth-century French Bishop Bossuet once preached a sermon to King Louis XIV and his court on the eminent dignity of the poor, his main argument being that "the poor were necessary in order to give the wealthy an opportunity to practice charity" (Daily Meditations for Ordinary Time, p. 286). This presumes and implies that both the rich and the poor created in the image and likeness of God are to care for and treat each other as equals in the eyes of their Creator, Abba! Status, wealth-background, education-background, religious, ethnic, tribal or political affiliation, make no criterion in Christianity since Christianity in its originality intentioned by God Himself and guided by Jesus His Son, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, tolerates no partiality or favouritism. Whoever makes a distinction between persons is not a Christian as willed by Jesus Christ. The letter of James is very categorical on this point. He strongly objects to any kind of favouritism for the rich over against the poor. "My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory" (Jas. 2:1). Pope Francis has been providing Christians with a model for living out such a text as this one in its practical terms. Whether in Rome or travelling about the world, he never neglects or overlooks the poor. For him, "Wealth ensures nothing. Indeed, once we think we are rich, we can become so self-satisfied of our brothers and sisters, or for the enjoyment of the most important things in life. In this way, we miss out on the greatest treasure of all. That is why Jesus calls blessed those who are poor in spirit, enter with his perennial newness … In fact, being poor of heart: that is holiness" (Gaudette et Exsultate, nos. 68-70). St. James and Francis both contradict the cultures of the world that instinctively defer to status and wealth. Linking sharing with the spirit of 'no partiality in Christianity', in his Apostolic Exhortation ‘The Joy of the Gospel,' Pope Francis emphatically states: "There indeed we find true healing, since the way to relate to others which truly heals instead of debilitating us, is a mystical fraternity, a contemplative fraternity. It is a fraternal love capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbour, of finding God in every human being, of tolerating the nuisances of life in common by clinging to the love of God, of opening the heart to divine love and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does" (No. 92). It is sadly amusing that at many Church celebrations – which mainly and mostly take place after the liturgical celebration - when mealtime comes, separate places are set or specifically reserved for 'Clergy,' 'Religious,' and 'Christians' (or the 'crowd', the 'Laity'). 'Church and Society' seem to take different and uncompromising directions. James 2:1 expresses an unwitting reminder that social discrimination is not "Christian." We can give a million reasons why to have such a system in those functions. Perhaps the clergy and religious have a weaker claim than the laity to be called "Christians" on this aspect. How can a professed religious proudly state that, "Don't you know that I am a religious, I can't go to the Church Hall to have a meal together with the laity. My meal should be served here in the Presbytery!" This is the spirit of pride which contradicts the spirit of humility in its totality and entirety. 'We are a chosen people, a higher class, and they are of the lower class, the laity, the insignificant, the amatoloi!' And we claim to be the Gospel proclaimers, the Gospel values 'embracers." Sometimes the decision follows seemingly legitimate and practical concerns for order, but the result is often the loss of an opportunity for Christians of different sorts to encounter one another as equals. Pope Francis has been making an effort to encounter all sorts of people, regardless their status and background. Do our parishes always strive to favour the encounter of all classes of people? It is from the conversion of our hearts that there arises concern for others, loved as brothers or sisters. This concern helps us to understand the obligation and commitment to heal or restructure institutions, structures and conditions of life that are contrary to human dignity. The laity must, therefore, work at the same time for the conversion of hearts and the improvement of structures, taking historical situations into account and using legitimate means so that the dignity of every man and woman will be truly respected and promoted within institutions. A community is genuinely in good health when all segments flourish. We Catholics are called to bring the healing hand of Christ to those in need, the courageous voices of the prophet to those in power and the gospel message of love, justice and peace to a suffering world. In Jesus it is always possible to recognize the living sign of that measureless and transcendent love of God-with-us, who takes on the infirmities of his people, walks with them, saves them and makes them one. We are called to be the voice of the voiceless!


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