The poor as the new elite PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 October 2015 14:09

REFLECTION

BY FR. ROY CIMAGALA

We have to be most careful that in our laudable effort to love the poor, we end up making them the new elite, and the rich guys end up prematurely judged and condemned, ostracized and left to rot here on earth even before hell.

This can happen when our understanding of the poor is mainly if not solely keyed on material poverty. Thus, we consider as poor those with hardly any money, or those whom we generally describe as having less in life, be it in terms of material possessions and wealth, health, fame, talents, etc.

The problem with this idea of poor is that we tend to exaggerate things and fall to making unnecessary if not illegitimate distinctions among people. We end up unnecessarily discriminating against some people who are rashly judged and classified simply and recklessly according to their economic status, etc.

This has happened among those who blindly follow the so-called “Liberation Theology” that while having good and valid points, end up following a certain earthly ideology instead of Christianity.

In fact, back in 1984, the Vatican issued a document entitled, “Instruction on certain aspects of the Theology of Liberation,” precisely to clarify what the good and safe points of such theology are, and what the unsafe and dangerous ones are.

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.