"Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God
is yours." The words of Jesus have punch, and this Beatitude
from Luke's Gospel is a good example. Unlike the version in
the Gospel of Matthew ("Blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven"), in Luke's Gospel Jesus
speaks directly to the poor and adds no qualifying phrase
like "...in spirit." The people addressed here are the real
poor, those without resources and truly in need.
Why would Jesus tell poor people they are blessed? The unemployed
or those threatened with eviction from their home or with
no food to feed their hungry children might be understandably
enraged to hear someone say, "Don't worry, you are blessed
to be suffering like this." Advocates for the poor have long
criticized those who pat poor people on the head and say,
in effect, "Hang on. God loves you and your reward in heaven
will be great."
Luke's Gospel makes clear that Jesus' response to the poor
was more than empty words. He was a healer who waded into
the sea of broken humanity and healed bodies and spirits.
Jesus threw his lot with the poor, eating with them and welcoming
And Jesus did not hesitate to challenge the rich through his
prophetic words and sharp stories. He tells his dinner host
that the next time he has a banquet he should invite the poor
as his guests (Lk 14:12-14). One of his parables laughs at
the wealthy landowner who decides to build extra barns to
hoard his bountiful crop on the very eve that God will call
him to judgment (Lk 12:16-21), another at the rich man who
ate sumptuously every day but ignored the beggar Lazarus who
lay sick at his doorway (Lk 16:19-31).
Right after the Beatitudes in Luke's Gospel come the "woes."
The first of these pulls no punches for those who had resources
and yet refused to share them: "Woe to you who are rich, for
you have received your consolation" (Lk 6:24). Jesus' words
were so provocative that he earned the anger of his opponents
and put his life at risk.
So Jesus' words of blessing to the poor were not idle words.
Jesus believed the poor are truly blessed because, despite
everything, God cares for the poor and would ultimately vindicate
their suffering. This is a fundamental conviction of the Bible.
The God of Israel, the God of Jesus is on the side of the
defenseless and those without resources. And while Jesus worked
hard to alleviate suffering he also firmly believed that those
crushed by poverty would, in God's realm, be lifted up and
filled with abundant life. For Jesus this was not "pie in
the sky, by and by" but an expression of his trust that God
was faithful and that life extended beyond the realm of suffering
But there was another reason why Jesus blessed the poor. Those
who are poor embody a truth that the rest of us can often
forget. The poor know what it means to be dependent on others.
The poor know firsthand how fragile life can be. The poor
have no illusions about being in control of their own destiny.
These realities apply not just to the poor but to everyone,
yet having a lot of resources can sometimes delude us into
thinking we are the masters of our own destiny and do not
really need others.
The Bible appreciates the hard-won wisdom of the poor and
knows all too well the illusions that can befall the rich.
That is another reason why Jesus blesses the poorin
a paradoxical way, their dependence and lack of autonomy reveal
how all of us ultimately stand before God.
It is hard to read anything these days without thinking of
the terrible events of last September and the current crisis
gripping our country and the world. How should we read Jesus'
words about the poor now? Surely we are more aware of the
growing chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots" that
creates so much enmity and suffering in our world.
Jesus' words and actions remind us that God cares for the
poor and that as Christians we have an obligation to share
our resources with those in need. All of us are "poor" before
God and depend on God's abundant and gracious mercy for our
Have you ever felt totally dependent on others?
How did you respond?
Talk about a time you felt your destiny was
out of your control. Was God in the situation?
Responses to this month's
Questions for Reflection from "God
in Our Midst."
By Judith Dunlap
I learned about giving from one's bounty when my youngest
son, Peter, was four. I was sorting through his Tee-shirts
one day, putting aside some of the older and faded ones
for the parish clothing drive. When he asked what I was
doing, I told him they were for some poor children. He went
to his bottom drawer and pulled out three relatively new
shirts and brought them to me, telling me he was sure they
would like those better.
That afternoon I realized the difference between Christian
charity and simply donating to the poor. I began to understand
that with true charity there are no "haves" and "have-nots."
Christian charity is a sharing of equals, recognizing we
are all members of God's family. This subtle difference
of attitude was made clear to me when my four-year-old just
wanted to share with another little boy.
This Lent why not make an effort as a family to give from
your bounty? Talk to your children about being a part of
God's family. Ask them to choose some of their toys or other
articles to share with brothers and sisters they may never
meet. Model this spirit of giving by sharing some things
that you still value. You might also choose one day a week
during Lent for a soup and cracker meal. By leaving the
table still hungry you can choose to experience a bit of
the hunger many people have no choice but to experience.
True acts of Christian charity bridge the gap between the
"haves" and the "have-nots." They are steps to building
a world where everyone has enough. What a great way to spend
Lent: sharing with our brothers and sisters and learning
to give from our best rather than our surplus.
As a family, decide on what you can do without for
a week (chips, chocolate, beverage other than water
at a meal). Decide together on a good cause to which
you can donate the money saved.
to this month's FAMILY CORNER.
By Frank Frost
Early in the animated movie Shrek, the title character
complains to his companion, Donkey, "There's a lot more
to ogres than people think." Ogres are like onions, he says.
They have layers.
The same goes for the movie itself. Its layers of meaning
give it cross-generational appeal and make this a genuine
As a simple story that appeals to children, Shrek
relates the adventure of a misunderstood gentle giant of
an ogre who is forced out of his swamp to rescue a beautiful
princess held prisoner by a fire-breathing dragon. Shrek
has been sent to rescue the princess for a prince who is
far from charming.
Shrek's appeal to adolescents is helped by its anti-sentimental
approach and broad irreverent humor. And they'll enjoy many
of the things an older generation will also savor, including
spoofs of TV game shows, wrestling, martial arts movies
and, above all, Disneyland.
The movie opens with all the traditional fairy tale charactersfrom
the Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio to Snow White and Cinderellabeing
hunted down and shipped out by agents of Lord Farquaad,
an egomaniacal prince whose "perfect" kingdom lampoons Disneyland.
When the fairy tale characters are relocated to Shrek's
swamp, he strikes a deal with Lord Farquaad. He will deliver
Princess Fiona from the dragon in return for sole occupancy
of his swamp again.
The rescue of Princess Fiona, of course, exposes Shrek and
his sidekick Donkey to great physical dangers. But a different
kind of danger is really what this movie is aboutthe
danger of (mis)judging people before you know them. It's
also about the importance of friendship and the real meaning
of true love. It reminds us that beauty is more than skin
deep. For all its attempts to appear nonconventional, Shrek
simply puts a twist on the old fairy tales to hold up solid
Once Shrek vanquishes the dragon to rescue Princess Fiona,
she eagerly awaits "love's true kiss" from him. But he declines,
hiding behind his armored helmet. "It's destiny," she insists.
"You must know how it goes." She's meant to be rescued from
a dragon by her handsome prince, and they share true love's
first kiss. We, the audience, are meant to recognize here
the false expectations popular culture has created around
physical beauty and romantic love. But we also know that
an ogre does not marry a princess.
So a dilemma presents itself during their journey back to
Lord Farquaad's castle and a prearranged marriage we know
is made in hell. Princess Fiona and Shreknow revealed
for the ogre he istake to one another. The two fall
in love, but misunderstandings and misjudgments prevent
them from bridging the ogre-princess gap, and Fiona rides
off to marry Farquaad. But it can't end there, of course.
After another rescue, the film's happy ending again makes
explicit the themes of real friendship, beauty and true
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
Jerome Emiliani (1481-1537)
There is nothing like personal suffering to help one appreciate
the hardships of others. It took defeat in battle and imprisonment
in a dungeon to help Jerome Emiliani step back, review his
life and make the transition from worldly soldier to model
of sanctity and service.
At first, he focused on the care and education of his nephews
while he simultaneously undertook seminary studies. As famine
and plague raged through 16th-century northern Italy, Jerome,
by now a newly ordained priest, reached out to the ever-growing
numbers of orphans roaming the streets. After his own recovery
from the plague he founded orphanages in cities throughout
northern Italy. He established hospitals as well as a house
for repentant prostitutes, one of the first of its kind.
He personally cared for so-called incurables in the hospitals
Jerome Emiliani went on to found a small congregation of
prieststhe Somascan Fathers, also known as the Servants
for the Poordedicated to the care of orphans. The
order continues to operate schools and orphanages today,
primarily in Italy.
It was only natural that Jerome also wanted to instruct
the young at his orphanages. By using the question-and-answer
technique of the catechism, he is thought to have pioneered
the teaching of Christian doctrine to the young. But it
was the suffering of children that most touched the heart
of Jerome Emiliani and prompted Pope Pius XI in 1928 to
name him patron of orphans and abandoned children.
He died from an infectious disease he contracted while caring
for the sick. He was canonized in 1767. His feast day is
Jean Thuerauf, R.S.M.
Sister Jean Thuerauf says she gets her best ideas from the
Holy Spirit. Apparently, the two are in constant contact.
There's the Cookie Cart, which she established in 1988 to
provide a safe place for children amidst rampant gang violence
and drug activity in her north Minneapolis neighborhood
and which is now a thriving nonprofit business. There is
the child-sized chapel in her backyard, where children can
feel secure in God's presence and experience the power of
prayer. There is the youth club, where youngsters learn
about everything from courtesy to gardening to Jesus. Informal
encounters with young people are part of every day.
And then there is Sister Jean's latest, and still-not-quite-realized,
dream: Project Vision, which will provide a place for intact
families to live in a Christian-oriented housing community
where they can offer a nurturing environment to their children.
She is anticipating having title to the 2.2 vacant acres
by early 2002. But if she has to wait longer, that's no
problem. "The whole idea came from the Lord. He will provide
the people as well as the money," Sister Jean, 71, told
Every Day Catholic.
Living and working in her neighborhood for the past 25 years
have made the Mercy Sister a beloved and admired fixture,
especially among the young, including present and former
gang members who seek her counsel and stay in touch.
"Children are so loved by the Lord, and I want them to learn
about his love," she says. "I want to do everything I can
to make their troubled lives more humane.
"The Holy Spirit has sent me here to help build God's kingdom
on earth. That's the mission."
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