Last February, Pope Francis asked pilgrims at St. Peter’s Square to reflect on how to help the needy. It is true we have dropped a few coins for the poor; we have given baskets to them during Christmas season; we have donated food and clothes during disasters; and some of us have organized foundations to alleviate poverty.
Pope Francis said that those of us who help the poor cannot be afraid to touch them. He said, “If we are to be imitators of Christ before the poor or the sick, we should not be afraid to look the afflicted person in the eye, and be close to the suffering person with tenderness and compassion.”
It is possible we have been giving without loving the poor. We give out of obligation. We give to obtain peace. We give to feel good. Let’s be honest, we often think that we are superior, and we look down on them simply because they are poor and weak. We shudder at their external appearances for we are afraid to catch some contagious germs, to get dirty, or to be robbed. We are disturbed by their smell or their unrefined manners.
To love and imitate God, we have to learn to embrace and welcome the poor with compassion. “Contact is the true language of communication,” Pope Francis said, “How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language!”
One day St. Francis was riding his horse near Assisi, when he met a leper. He had always felt an overpowering horror of lepers, but he realized that if he was going to devote his life to the poor he had to welcome him as a brother. So he dismounted from the horse, gave him a coin, and kissed him. This encounter with the leper was the turning point of Francis’ life as he became a champion of the poor.
Blessed Mother Teresa wrote, “To serve the poor, we must love them.” Yet we know it is not easy to love them when we are bothered by their distressing outward appearances. Mother Teresa advised us that we have to look into their hearts and see human beings in need of love and understanding. We have to see the face of the crucified Jesus in those who are suffering: the poor, the sick, the prisoners, the abandoned, including the sinners. We will be able to do this only when we look through the eyes of faith and through the eyes of love.
Jesus said: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was naked, and you clothed me.” (Matt 25:35,36)
May our whole lives be a concern for others especially the poor. May we fearlessly reach out to help them; for when we look into their eyes, we can only exclaim, “It is You, Lord!”
(Reference: Pope Francis: When you help the sick, are you afraid to touch them? (Feb.16, 2015); Catholic News Story: Pope tells new cardinals to evangelize fearlessly (Feb. 16, 2015); Mother Teresa’s Lessons of Love & Secrets of Sanctity by Susan Conroy; ChristianHistory.net ”Meet St. Francis (Aug. 8, 2008))