The Optional Preferential Option for the Poor?

There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives – the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family.  Find them. Love them.

- Bl. Teresa of Calcutta

La_Madre_Teresa_de_CúcutaI and other Catholics have often cited these words of Mother Teresa’s – “the poor you may have right in your own family” –  as a dual reminder that

  • poverty comes in all forms, not just physical, and
  • we need to begin loving the poor by loving those closest to us.

All true, of course.  But I wonder…

Do I use this definition of poverty as an excuse to not help the materially poor?  As in, “Because poverty is more than physical poverty, alleviating physical poverty doesn’t need to be my priority.”

Good question.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe that we are each drawn to particular works of mercy, in accord with our varied personalities and gifts.  But now I wonder if I choose works of mercy based solely on my preferences.  Am I ignoring one of the Bible’s loudest, most obvious admonishments?

Feed the poor. Cloth the poor.  Shelter the poor.

Love Christ in the poor.

The very-often-hard-to-love poor.

(I do find it hard to love our poor.  When I see foul-mouthed people in slovenly clothing buying their lunches of potato chips and candy from our neighborhood’s Family Dollar, I cringe.  And not out of pity.)

I wonder…

“There’s no organic, obvious way for me to serve the poor!” But this excuse of mine is not true.  Opportunities abound.  Our parish bulletin lists three giving and volunteer opportunities this week alone.

I don’t want to lay a guilt trip on myself.  But I do want to probe my conscience.  Am I ignoring a clear mandate by saying that they aren’t my poor, that the poverty am called to alleviate isn’t that poverty?

Am I doing all that I’m called to do?

Image Credit: WikiCommons (cc)


  1. says

    I heard Sr. Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking) speak once when I was in college, and I never forgot this part of what she said: “Christ told us to visit those in prison. And we talk about people being imprisoned by sin, or depression, or all these other metaphors for prison. But He also meant ACTUALLY VISITING PEOPLE IN PRISON too!” Those were prophetic and uncomfortable words for me. I feel the same dis-ease when I think about how much comfort my life enjoys on a daily basis and how far my everyday life is from most people in poverty or on the margins. It’s tough during the season of life when little ones keep you close to home, but I too wonder how much of this is my own justification. Thanks for a good reminder.

    • says

      Wow. That must have been quite the talk to hear. Thanks for sharing, Laura. And I agree about the difficulties in finding a balance between home and kids and others – have you ever read Dickens’s Bleak House? I am thinking of Mrs. Jellyby and her exaggerated faults in the other direction.

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