A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.
Prayer of Reflection
God of Justice, open our eyes to see you in the face of the poor. Open our ears to hear you in the cries of the exploited. Open our mouths to defend you in the public squares as well as in private deeds. Remind us that what we do to the least ones, we do to you.
Read from the Bible
- 17 If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? 18 Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.
- 1 My child, do not mock the life of the poor; do not keep needy eyes waiting. 2 Do not grieve the hungry, nor anger the needy. 3 Do not aggravate a heart already angry, nor delay giving to the needy. 4 A beggar’s request do not reject; do not turn your face away from the poor. 5 From the needy do not turn your eyes; do not give them reason to curse you. 6 If in their pain they cry out bitterly, their Rock will hear the sound of their cry. 7 Endear yourself to the assembly; before the city’s ruler bow your head. 8 Give a hearing to the poor, and return their greeting with deference; 9 Deliver the oppressed from their oppressors; right judgment should not be repugnant to you. 10 Be like a father to orphans, and take the place of a husband to widows. Then God will call you his child, and he will be merciful to you and deliver you from the pit.
- 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
- “The Church’s love for the poor…is a part of her constant tradition.’ This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor. (234) Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to ‘be able to give to those in need’ (235)” (CCC, no. 2444)
- “…’Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs’ (238)” ‘The demands of injustice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity’. (239)
- When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.” (240) (CCC, no. 2446)
Read from the Letters from the Popes
- As a community of believers, we know that our faith is tested by the quality of justice among us, that we can best measure our life together by how the poor and the vulnerable are treated. This is not a new concern for us. It is as old as the Hebrew prophets, as compelling as the Sermon on the Mount, and as current as the powerful voice of Pope John Paul II defending the dignity of the human person.
- The special commitment our Faith has to the poor is not meant to pit one group or class above another but to make clear that the “deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community,” and those wounds can only be healed “by greater solidarity with the poor and among the poor themselves” (USCCB, Economic Justice for All, no. 88).
- “The needs of the poor must take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; production to meet social needs over production for military purposes.”
Reflections from the Poor Handmaids and Saint Katharina Kasper
Our foundress was not a person who loved the poor from a distance or served her neighbor in a disinterested manner. She looked in their eyes with love each day as she and the first four members of the congregation shared the small four-room convent in Dernbach with children and adults in immediate need. Father Wittayer, assigned by Bishop Blume as chaplain to the fledgling Poor Handmaid community, reports in his chronicle in 1853, “When I reached Dernbach… I found the superior, Mother Mary, with four professed Sisters, twelve postulants, eighteen children, and three women who were being taken care of. All of them (except for the men, the field workers) stuck together in rooms that almost seemed impossible to hold such a number of people.” At this time the community did not yet have any rules of cloister. All lived together like a big family.
We easily realize how dear and meaningful are the parting words for those journeying to a new land. We witness in Katharina’s farewell message to the German Sisters leaving for America that besides her care for her Sisters it was the vulnerable who were always uppermost in her concern. One of the Sisters reported, “When we were ready to leave for America Mother Mary gave us the special injunction, ‘Foster a great love for the poor and the needy. They are the favorites of God. Do not dismiss anyone without food. Your convents will be blessed if you give good care to the needy.’”
With these words ringing in their hearts Poor Handmaids have continued over the decades to leave their homeland for the sake of sharing life and resources with those left faltering on the edges in other parts of the globe. With a ready and willing response Poor Handmaids in America in the last century have journeyed from their home to offer immediate care and companionship to those suffering in Vietnam and Cambodia as well as engaging with seasonal immigrants in northern Indiana. In this century Poor Handmaids have made multiple trips to the border to assist refugee and immigrant families. Refugee families from Thailand, Vietnam and Cuba have also been welcomed and sponsored by the Poor Handmaid American province, creating for them a sustained pathway toward a safe and secure life in American society.
Examples from the Foundation’s Work
As a ministry of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, the mission has always focused on a preferential option for the poor. We recognized the importance of caring for others who have no one else, standing up for others, and not necessarily moving in a popular direction, and that has given this ministry a particular purpose. We have:
- Intentionally sought out the most vulnerable communities seeking opportunities to serve them, and so we have often been amongst the first to provide funding support to new programs serving the poor.
- Supported the launch of several mental health counseling programs designed specifically for underserved minority, low-income communities suffering from traumatic situations
- Directed our support to those organizations with a demonstrated history of providing compassionate support to the poor and vulnerable
- Identified the importance of using our resources to fix problems, not just alleviate suffering, so we also support technical assistance and support to those working on solutions to improve the conditions impacting the poor.
- How does preference for the poor impact our work?
- What community partners and initiatives from the past and present best show a preference for the poor?
- What are indicators that an organization prioritizes the needs of the poor and vulnerable?
- What are the biggest needs of the vulnerable in our community today?
The information above was compiled by Meg Distler, Mary Tyndall, and Mark Burkholder as a student capstone project for the Catholic Social Tradition and Philanthropy course offered by the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, and the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) in the Summer of 2023.