Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The poor are the centre of the Church…

The poor are the centre of the Church. But who are the poor? At first we might think of people who are not like us: people who live in slums, people who go to soup kitchens, people who sleep on the streets, people in prisons, mental hospitals, and nursing homes. But the poor can be very close. They can be in our own families, churches or workplaces. Even closer, the poor can be ourselves, who feel unloved, rejected, ignored, or abused.

It is precisely when we see and experience poverty—whether far away, close by, or in our own hearts—that we need to become the Church; that is hold hands as brothers and sisters, confess our own brokenness and need, forgive one another, heal one another's wounds, and gather around the table of Jesus for the breaking of the bread. Thus, as the poor we recognise Jesus, who became poor for us…

When we claim our own poverty and connect our poverty with the poverty of our brothers and sisters, we become the Church of the poor, which is the Church of Jesus. Solidarity is essential for the Church of the poor . Both pain and joy must be shared. As one body we will experience deeply one another’s agonies as well as one another’s ecstasies. As Paul says: “If one part is hurt, all the parts share its pain. And if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Often we might prefer not to be part of the body because it makes us feel the pain of others so intensely. Every time we love others deeply we feel their pain deeply. However, joy is hidden in the pain. When we share the pain we also will share the joy.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Yet again, I’m reminded that the heart of prayer, especially contemplative prayer, lies in this identification, this suffering-with (compassion) that Jesus leads us into, if only we will listen to him, if only we will follow where he leads us, and not turn away. Our brother Francis knew this: that was why he embraced poverty as the love of his life, the outer destitution only a mirror for the absolute inner poverty, the oneness with all who suffer, human and otherwise. Only in this way can we become wellsprings (or at least drainpipes) for the mercy of Christ to flow into the world’s pain.

1 comment:

  1. A deep sharing on the nature of poverty. Thank you, Mike.

    It casts new light on my own dilemma regarding my community of worship. I feel a pull towards the church that Merton experienced in NYC, a church that embraced the poor, a church of little, unassuming, simple folk. Funnily enough, my mental image is of St. Francis Church in midtown Manhattan, an OFM parish that served the poor and the transient and where Merton worshipped at times.

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