Facing Christ in anyone who is poor
“Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor” (Tobit 4:7). Pope Francis chose this theme for the seventh annual World Day of the Poor, observed on November 19, 2023, the Sunday before the Solemnity of Christ the King. The parish to which I belong is dedicated to Christ the King, so perhaps I should more readily perceive the close connection between facing the Lord of the Universe when he sits upon the throne of judgment and facing him in “anyone who is poor.”
I confess that the temptation to turn my face away from human suffering has been gaining the upper hand lately, especially as children are killed in Israel and Gaza and whole neighborhoods are leveled. The pope’s message for the World Day of the Poor acknowledges the acute distress we feel when already impoverished people also fear sudden, violent death. It also warns against our acceptance of war and poverty as inevitable.
I think in particular of peoples caught up in situations of war, and especially children deprived of the serene present and a dignified future. We should never grow accustomed to such situations. Let us persevere in every effort to foster peace as a gift of the risen Lord and the fruit of a commitment to justice and dialogue.Pope Francis, Message for the 2023 World Day of the Poor, para. 7.
As an antidote to apathy and helplessness, Francis invites us to accustom ourselves to “Gospel realism” instead of Realpolitik. “Faith teaches us that every poor person is a son or daughter of God and that Christ is present in them.” This is a sacramental realism, in which people who count for nothing in geopolitical calculations are seen through the eyes of faith for who they really are, children of God and bearers of Christ.
Gospel realism requires real encounters with my neighbors, in whom “I can recognize my brothers or sisters in need of my help.” Since its inception in 2017, the World Day of the Poor has prioritized personal encounter, for “it is easy to delegate charity to others, yet the calling of every Christian is to become personally involved.” This year, Pope Francis holds up the example of Tobit, the exiled Israelite willing to risk his comfortable post in the Assyrian imperial administration to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bury the dead. Tobit doesn’t delegate his charity, except by sending his son Tobias to find a hungry exile to invite to family dinner.
How meaningful it would be if, on the Day of the Poor, this concern of Tobit were also our own! If we were to invite someone to share our Sunday dinner, after sharing in the Eucharistic table, the Eucharist we celebrate would truly become a mark of communion. If it is true that around the altar of the Lord we are conscious that we are all brothers and sisters, how much more visible would our fraternity be, if we shared our festive meal with those who are in need!Pope Francis, Message for the 2023 World Day of the Poor, para. 2.
Such a realistic sign of communion may seem impractical on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. My family, for example, will be driving to visit relatives in another state. Still, we should use the last week of the liturgical year to “seek out and find one another,” to “recognize the genuine needs of our brothers and sisters,” and to “foster the harmony needed for the community to feel itself as such.”
Opportunities for sharing
To help, local churches and national organizations have made plans for the seventh World Day of the Poor. The links below include opportunities for direct service, donations, prayer, and reflection. Please share additional ideas and links from your diocese, parish, or community. Of course, we are likely to find the best opportunities for personal involvement in our neighborhoods. May the Holy Spirit lead us to ways of sharing that do not simply delegate our charity but turn our faces toward those of our brothers and sisters.