In my previous letter to you, I noted that over the next four editions of the Florida Catholic, letters would be published in which I discuss the Churchâ€™s teaching on key issues related to the upcoming election. The four key issues will be: Defense of Human Life, Religious Liberty, Traditional Marriage and the Family, and the Poor and Needy.
The first three of these issues are being discussed at length around the nation in the context of the election, and rightfully so, but this series will begin with an often ignored issue: the poor and needy. One might ask, why start with this issue if the others are so vitally important? The answer is simple: Christâ€™s command to love one another; this includes the poor and needy. That love is part of our Catholic â€śDNA.â€ť The poor are too often left out of the national debate, despite poverty rates that are expected to reach levels not seen in decades. Even the word â€śpoorâ€ť is not commonly used anymore; in fact, it is avoided. Reference is now to people of a â€ślower socioeconomic status,â€ť â€śeconomically deprived,â€ť â€ślow incomeâ€ť or any other variety of sociological terms. New labels will not change the reality of their life or our obligation to help.
In voting, consideration must be given to the poor and measures to help them. Though direct government assistance is sometimes necessary, it is not the only solution in assisting the poor and needy. Society should never fail in its fundamental task of creating an environment in which the poor and needy can prosper and reach a sense of security and freedom for themselves and for their families. This necessitates that all join in helping the poor and needy and the government must respect the freedom of institutions involved in this work.
In Sacred Scripture, in Tradition, and in the Magisterium of the Church, there has always been a concern and priority for the needs of the poor.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, for instance, it is written that if there is a poor person among us, this person should not be treated with a hard heart or a closed hand. According to the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord is praised for His protection of the poor: â€śFor you are a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in distress…â€ť Perhaps the most sobering tribute in Sacred Scriptures to the commitment all are called to make to the poor is in the First Letter of St. John the Apostle. The author questions how a person can embody the love of God if they refuse compassion to a person in need, and goes on to say, â€ślet us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.â€ť Simply put: If God offers the poor love and refuge from distress, so should weâ€”as we are all made in the image and likeness of God whose faith is reflected in how we treat others.
Harkening back to the Tradition of our Catholic Faith, the Church has always lead in contributing to the wellbeing of Godâ€™s people, especially to the poor. In todayâ€™s world this history of service to the poor manifests itself in missions, inner-city schools, hospitals, social services and more. The Catholic faithful have historically demonstrated support for the poor and needy; and this should continue in our time. Additionally, the preferential option for the poor resonates throughout the teachings and writings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
With the current economic crisis straining many Americans, and with politicians fostering a sense of class warfare in this election season, it is essential that the poor and needy not be forgotten. Some of us may be challenged by a diminished savings or retirement account, but the truly poor and needy often struggle for the next bite of food, place to sleep, or clothing for their children. Despite this sad reality, the poor and needy are being pushed to the fringe of political discourse.
The Church, especially Her laity, must bring the poor back into the national discussion. The Lord has not forgotten the poor, He has placed them in our careâ€”a responsibility to be taken very seriously at the ballot box. As the Psalmist says, referring to the Lord, â€śFor He stands at the right hand of the poor.â€ť Where do you stand?
I take this opportunity to extend to each of you, my continued prayers and consideration.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
+Frank J. Dewane
Bishop of the Diocese of
Venice in Florida