During Lent, Encounter the Poor by Mark Rohlena, Esq.*
Lent provides us with the opportunity each year to deepen our relationship with God, and enter more fully into the paschal mystery that is at the heart of our Faith. As Holy Week nears, we are reminded that we are more than mere observers of Christ’s passion. In some real sense, we identify both with the characters standing firmly by Christ at the foot of the cross and those proximately responsible for the crucifixion. As active participants in this drama, we are called to reflect on Christ in the scriptures in order to understand as fully as possible the magnitude and importance of his sacrifice.
In seeking to know Christ better, we cannot ignore that he willingly chose to be poor. Jesus’ life, and even the manner of his death, reflects a deep and abiding love for the least among us. St. Vincent de Paul stressed this truth when he wrote, “[I]f you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor. . . . Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared in their poverty.”
Christ not only embraced poverty in his early ministry, and in the choice of his companions, but in the intense deprivation he consented to in his passion and death as well. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta put it eloquently when she wrote, “On the cross He was deprived of everything. The cross itself had been given Him by Pilate; nails and the crown, by the soldiers. He was naked. When He died He was stripped of the cross, the nails and the crown. He was wrapped in a piece of canvas donated by a charitable soul, and He was buried in a tomb that did not belong to Him.”
Jesus, then, had more than mere affection for the poor. In choosing to take on poverty so profoundly, he made clear by his example that he intends for us to have a personal encounter with the poor. We are meant to understand their circumstances, and to be moved to our very core to concern and action for them. To do this is to understand Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross more deeply.
Our call to encounter the poor in a real and tangible way is reinforced in Jesus’ discussion of the final judgment found in the Gospel of Matthew (25:31-46). In this account, the Son of Man invites the faithful to their heavenly reward, making clear that their place in eternity is intimately tied to whether they fed the poor, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited those sick and in prison. Jesus is clear that our care for “the least of [his] brethren” is an essential element of our salvation. To fill our lives with this humble service – or not – is to act directly for or against Christ himself. Jesus mentions no other topic in this description of the judgment, and we may assume that the service he praises arises from a deep and abiding love of and relationship with God.
Christ means for us to intensify our relationship with Him, and from there be led to service of our neighbor in their hour of greatest need. As we celebrate Easter, then, let us renew our commitment to those in our community who share an intimate connection with Christ through their poverty. We need not look far from home to find ways to answer God’s call to know the poor.
*This article is taken from the April 15th, 2011 addition of The Colorado Catholic Herald and was written by Mr. Mark Rohlena, Esq., President and CEO of Catholic Charities.