The poor as the new elite

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Super typhoon Yolanda survivors continue to suffer from trauma symptoms more than a year after the disaster. (Photo: CBCPNews)

Super typhoon Yolanda survivors continue to suffer from trauma symptoms more than a year after the disaster. (Photo: CBCPNews)

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

THE poor is actually all of us, since all of us are in need of God. That’s how poverty should be understood in its strictest sense. That’s why Christ put as the first beatitude those who are “poor in spirit” because they are the ones who acknowledge their poverty with regard to God and are longing to be with God.

If we understand “the poor” in this way, it can happen that the poorest of the poor can in fact be the richest man in the world, in terms of material wealth, because that man may be farthest from God and may not be doing anything to solve his predicament. It can happen that the poorest of the poor is not in the peripheries and fringes of our society, but is right in the middle of society’s mainstream.

Now that we are in the Year of the Poor, we need to be clear about this point, before we fall into the subtle trick of the devil who can mislead us in our attitude toward the poor.
Let’s remember that the weed can actually look like the real plant, and the devil can present himself as an angel of light. We have to be most discerning. We should not be naïve, especially nowadays when many confusing and albeit attractive ideologies about the poor are bombarded on us.

It’s true that we have to give a kind of “preferential option” to those who are materially poor, precisely because their needs may be immediate. We cannot deny that there will always be some kind of social inequality that causes this kind of poverty. Thus, Christ told us: “You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (Mt 26,11)

Such inequality should trigger the dynamics and initiative of concern and help. St. John in his first letter tells us: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (3,17)

We also cannot deny that there are instances when we find ourselves at a loss as to how to help the poor in immediate material needs. Many times, we can only cry and suffer in silence, praying hard and thinking deeply as to how to restructure things that give rise to this kind of social poverty. Let’s be ready for these occasions and exert effort not to fall into despair. There’s always hope in the mysterious ways of God.

But this particular concern for the poor in immediate material need, however, should not distract us from the ultimate concern for the poor in the strictest and universal sense. We should not forget that the ultimate concern is how to resolve the spiritual and moral poverty of the people, i.e., how to combat temptations and sin.

This is where the real battle is. It is how to convince the rich young man in the gospel (cfr Mt 1916-30), who actually represents all of us, to go sell everything that he has and follow Christ. It is how to undo what Christ said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the
kingdom of God.”

We can only do this if we have the right poverty of spirit as described in the beatitudes.

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