"How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds bourn by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich!" - Pope Francis
Although the salvation of souls is the first and primary mission of the Church, there are many people whom the world has deemed wretched who are in need of experiencing the merciful love of Jesus Christ. These people are not necessarily sinners, but the world has exiled them as if they were. Thus, we are called by mercy to have a heart for them as well. In particular, there are three groups of people, declared wretched by the world, to whom we ought to show God's merciful love during this year of mercy: the poor, the elderly, and the unborn.
In a parable concerning the final judgment of the nations, Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says
In its various forms - material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death - human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least of his brethren. Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere (Par. 2448).
Now, when the Church states that we have a "preferential option for the poor," she does not mean that it is merely optional for us to care for the poor. Rather, the Church sees the care for the poor as an essential aspect of Christian life, and one of the beautiful ways that we come to encounter Jesus Himself. St. Rose of Lima once said, "When we serve the poor, we serve Jesus."One of the most powerful experiences that our GS24 high school youth group offers our young people every year is the opportunity to participate in a mission trip to Gallup, New Mexico to serve one of the poorest dioceses in the country. Each year the activities vary depending on the needs of the diocese, but the teens always come back tired from physical labor, but also spiritually renewed by their encounter of Jesus Christ. From this experience many discover the joy in giving without counting the cost. Some have even discovered the call to priesthood from this experience of selfless giving. This incredible experience is funded by our annual Ash Wednesday collection. This collection enables us to help our youth serve the poor, but also to write a generous check to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup to assist them with their various needs.
In addition to the poor, we are also called to show God's merciful love to the elderly. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that does not authentically value human life in all its stages. We live in what has been called a, "throw away culture," which seeks to dispose of those whom it finds useless or without value. Our culture's treatment of the elderly as wretched manifests itself most grotesquely in the various forms of assisted-suicide laws that exist in Washington, Oregon, California, and Vermont. What's even worse is that assisted-suicide is falsely represented as an "act of mercy."Pope Francis, in a recent audience, said:
Civilization will move forward if it knows how to respect wisdom, the wisdom of the elderly. In a civilization in which there is no room for the elderly or where they are thrown away because they create problems, this society carries with it the virus of death… a culture of profit insists on casting off the old like a 'weight.' Not only do they not produce - this culture thinks - but they are a burden: in short, what is the outcome of thinking like this? They are thrown away. It's brutal to see how the elderly are thrown away, it is a brutal thing, it is a sin! No one dares to say it openly, but it's done! There is something vile in this adherence to the throw-away culture. But we are accustomed to throwing people away. We want to remove our growing fear of weakness and vulnerability; but by doing so we increase in the elderly the anxiety of being poorly tolerated and neglected.
Arguably the greatest aspect of the papacy of Pope Saint John Paul the Great was the personal example he gave us of the deep spiritual value behind old age and suffering. At Pope St. John Paul the Great's funeral Mass, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI preached:
In the first years of his ponificate, still young and full of energy, the Holy Father went to the very ends of the earth, guided by Christ. But afterward, he increasingly entered into the communion of Christ's sufferings; increasingly he understood the truth of the words: 'Someone else will fasten a belt around you.' And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, tirelessly and with renewed intensity, he proclaimed the Gospel, the mystery of that love which goes to the end…None of us can ever forget how on that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing Urbe et Orbi.
Pope St. John Paul the Great shared the sufferings of his old age with us and we were richly blessed by it. He reminded us that each and every human life, no matter what season of life they may find themselves in, bears within it the image and likeness of God and is worthy of our love, honor, respect, and protection. Today, it is an all too common experience for me to go out for a "sick call," (what we priests say when we are called to administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick), and to discover someone who is left to die alone. Sadly, this experience is likely to grow even more common, since in many areas of the world the number of children is decreasing and the number of elderly are increasing.
Now, how could we speak about having a heart for the wretched without talking about having a heart for the unborn? We live in a society that legitimizes human choice over human life. We blatantly ignore basic biology, which clearly reveals human life beginning at conception, so that we can live in the comfort of doing whatever we want, whenever we want, even if it results in the death of another innocent human being, whose life is easy to take considering it is hidden from our eyes in the womb (although thanks to 4D ultrasound technology the face of the unborn can no longer be hidden!). Blessed Mother Teresa, in her speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. in 1994, said:
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts. By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And, by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble.So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.
In addition to having a heart for the unborn, it is essential to have compassion for the mothers and fathers involved in unplanned or crisis pregnancies. If we wish to be a nation that encourages mercy over vengeance, violence, and injustice, we must value life from its conception,and never fail to speak of life as a great gift.
The rich, those with the greatest responsibility to care for the most wretched in society, are not just those with monetary wealth. You are rich if you possess any time, energy, gifts, or resources of any kind that would enable you to serve those in most need of mercy. Pope Francis said, "Mercy is the very foundation of the Church's life…Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope." Those who make a gift of themselves in love and service, even until it hurts, are those who have a heart for the wretched. To these, the Lord will say, "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Matthew 25:34)BACK TO LIST