Sunday is the first World Day of the Poor, which will be observed the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time. Here are four ways you can observe this World Day of the Poor.
1. STOP BEING AFRAID OF THE POOR AND START PRAYING.
Many people, when invited to help the poor, or get involved with the poor, react with fear. It is a common human tendency to be afraid of “The Other”, those who are “not like us”. But that is not what we are called to do and be. Jesus said “Blessed are the poor,” and our relations with all people should reflect that. Prayer is a good place to start. “Oh Lord, help me to not be afraid of those who are different from me.” If that prayer is too much, try this, “Oh Lord, help me to WANT to not be afraid of those who are different from me.”
It also helps to engage in an “examination of conscience” about your attitudes towards the poor. Why do you fear the poor? What have they actually done to you? Has someone told you to be afraid of the poor? Are you seeing a lot of propaganda encouraging social fear and cultural divisions? Who benefits from this culture of fear? If you get most of your ideas about poverty from your politics or from the television, that may be a real problem.
So, when you see stories about the poor in your news feed, don’t just hurry on past. Read and learn and pray for those impacted. Every day, five times a day even, pray for the poor. When people trash poor people in conversations, repeating currently “popular madness and delusions of crowds,” pray for the person with trash talk. Prayer is WAAAAY more important than most people think. But it isn’t everything that should be done. Nobody should think that prayer is a substitute for deeds, indeed, our works on behalf of the poor are a form of prayer.
2. MAKE CARING FOR THE POOR PART OF YOUR ROUTINE.
Instead of investing in the “invisibility of the poor” strategy, do something practical to help the poor. Give food, money, go through your closet and give half of everything to the poor (most people have waaaaaay to many clothes). Carry little bags of food to give to panhandlers. Don’t ignore the panhandler at the door of the grocery store, offer to buy him or her a sandwich. Buy Christmas gifts from organizations that do fair trade imports whose sales of handicrafts and food items support people in rural villages in poor countries. If you’re not giving something every month to help the poor — goods, service, money — then there is something wrong in your life. Indifference to the poor is deadly to our spirituality, and to the future of our families and our culture.
3. LEARN ABOUT THE CAUSES OF POVERTY AND WORK TO CHANGE THEM.
It is not an accident that we have so many poor people here in the US and in other countries. It’s the way our system is designed to work. Sure some people are poor because of personal problems, but most are victims of structures of sin that keep poor people poor. There’s lots to be done on that, a good place to start is to change local and state and federal laws that prevent people from starting microenterprises that could grow into full time businesses. This includes legalizing tabletop and roadside shops and home bakeries and doing something about the endless growth of occupational licensure which makes it more expensive for everyone to train and work, most of which has little to do with competency and much to do with keeping people out of the job market. On an international level, work against war, ignorance, and the colonialist policies of rich countries against the poor. When you hear people trashing the poor, repeating popular propaganda, besides praying for them, challenge their ignorance (in love and mercy, of course!). You can always simply invite people to recall Jesus’ comments about the poor, such as “blessed are the poor” and “what you do — and don’t do — to these the least of my brothers and sisters, you do — or you don’t do — to me”.
4. READ THE LETTER OF POPE FRANCIS ABOUT THE WORLD DAY OF THE POOR AND FOLLOW HIS ADVICE!