Blessed are the Poor, S.J.

Pope Francis paying his hotel bill at Domus Paulus VI, the clergy lodging that was his pre-Conclave hotel

In the spirit of this new pope’s sudden storming of the Vatican with St. Francis of Assisi’s radical spirit of simplicity and Gospel poverty, it seems to me (by logical deduction, not prophecy) that his personal witness will soon be translated into a clarion call to the universal Church: repent and live more simply, frugally, justly and charitably. In other words, the message Benedict XVI taught with stark clarity for eight years, Papa Franceso, Il Poverello, is about to translate into prophetic thunder: radical orthodoxy must be accompanied equally by radical orthopraxy, i.e. “faith without works is dead.”

And this voice of thunder will not simply be a call to live a personal lifestyle of Gospel poverty. It will also be a call to the Church everywhere to be a Church first and foremost “of and for” the poor.

Francis Cardinal George argued in his book, The Difference God Makes, that such a re-prioritizing of the Church’s mission on the ground can go a long way toward healing  our fractious present state by privileging an orthodoxy that makes a difference for those Jesus came to identify himself with:

Being “simply Catholic” means starting with the poor. That’s the evangelical touchstone. You take a group that starts with the poor, and then you know that there’s evangelical motivation. There’s no power or anything else, because these people don’t have power. They identify with the poor, and then they say, things have to change for the poor. We have to see that the poor are better served in the name of Christ. The church will follow along, if they know that you’re changing the way that the world looks at the poor.

Here’s my recommendation: prepare for the Pope Francis’ imminent implementation of what Pope Benedict called “God’s revolution” and buy, prayerfully read and take seriously the late Fr. Thomas Dubay’s deeply challenging masterpiece on the call for all to Gospel Simplicity: Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom

Use it to study for the coming Exam.

Pope Innocent III Dreaming of Saint Francis Holding Up the Church

50 comments on “Blessed are the Poor, S.J.

  1. […] In the spirit of this new pope’s sudden storming of the Vatican with St. Francis of Assisi’s radical spirit of simplicity and Gospel poverty, it seems to me Go to the Source: Neal Obstat Theological Opining   […]

  2. Erin says:

    Thank you Jesus. Beautiful blog entry. Beautiful Pontiff.

  3. tiffany says:

    Well said! I’m sensing quite a challenge in the coming days, in different vein than many of us may have been expecting. And I have to smile, I referenced similar links (love Fr. Dubay!) in a post about the popes’ shoes yesterday. His example can really unify our efforts.

    • Yes indeed — I am feeling challenged already!

      • Fern L. Deschenes says:

        I wonder that I didn’t see in reading the posts any mention of a basic premise of obedience. Many are feeding the poor while ignoring what the Magisterium teaches. One would think that reverence for the Holy Eucharist would be the first priority and then reverence for others would follow. Just sayin 🙂
        Fern Deschenes

      • Oh my! You need to read back in my posts and you will see this — it’s core to my own vision, as to your own. Also, in this post I liked to Benedict’s encyclical on Divine-Human Love that fills out that more than I could in a few hundred words; and Fr Dubay’s book I recommended that same. Thanks for highlighting and, well, “just sayin’!”

  4. Dear Dr. Neal – In our meeting with the Legion of Mary this morning, we decided that our next Patrician’s talk would focus on the deeper meaning of taking Francis as the papal name. That humble saint, so famously devoted to poverty, chastity and obedience, is being proposed to the Church faithful as the model that will shape the whole pontificate of our new Holy Father. The Cardinals of the conclave recognized in their “eminent brother” a man who for his whole priestly life not only “talked the talk, but walked the walk”. The Holy Spirit continues to astound the Church and the world Tom. God bless you for your post this morning:) Fr. Mark

  5. Greg says:

    Fr Thomas Dubay is the greatest spiritual master of the 20th century

  6. Loreen Lee says:

    I’m going to have to search the bible for the quote, (I paraphrase) about the poor being always with you. I need to find out if, and what might be the priority to aiding the poor, (good works?). You made the point that faith is primary. Understood. But the gospel represents the importance of so many ‘virtues’:forgiveness, awareness of one’s lack of grace -humility?, well the beatitudes says it all. Can it happen sometimes that giving to the beggar can if not done ‘properly’ be a form of co-dependency? as for example if it supports a drug habit. Just one example. And didn’t Judas betray The Lord because he objected to the money being used for the Anointment, when it should have he argued gone to the poor. How, when does one give to the poor in good spirit and with good result? Maybe though it will have a good effect on the curia if indeed it is true that there is excessive quest for power (money? entitlement?) among them. I don’t know enough here, I’m afraid.

    • Very excellent questions and points!! You really are asking about what is, in the Catholic tradition, our social doctrine — which is very well developed and responds to all these many, many questions about what, why, how, etc justice is to be applied in real life. Check out this link for the Catholic summary of all that teaching. But for a more introductory look, click this link here. It’s rich and your questions open the way into the richness!

      • Loreen Lee says:

        Thank you.

      • Jana says:

        Dr. Neal, i’m sending a link to an article that details St. Francis’s reverence for the Eucharist, his insistence that it always be put in precious vessels and that the vestments of
        Priests be beautiful and well-kept. He had a special mission to poor priests to make sure they had everything they needed to celebrate Mass beautifully. At the very least, he said, everything should be clean, and he often carried a broom with himon his travels to sweep the Churches. This might be a beautiful way to serve poor communities, because being able to offer God something beautiful is a consolation and a joy.

      • Loreen Lee says:

        Hi Mike.   For your information.  The first link of T. Neal’s response to my question is a full account of the Catholic position on social justice.  I am ‘befluxed’ by the size and scope but will put it away in case I ‘have time’.   But you are more interested in these issues.  Perhaps in comparing it to Karl Marx, you will come to a good synthesis.  See you Sunday at 3:00.  Loreen. Thomas J. Neal, Ph.D. commented: “Very excellent questions and points!! You really are asking about what is, in the Catholic tradition, our social doctrine — which is very well developed and responds to all these many, many questions about what, why, how, etc justice is to be applied in “

      • Loreen Lee says:

        Dear Dr, Neal., Your advice and the links and the comments, are opening up new dimensions, for me, and hopefully also my ‘Marxist’ friend. ( I realize my error – and this is not merely a remark about the e-mail I forwarded) I do believe that I shall be capable of reading and understanding, and I trust also the same for my ‘peer’, as despite being an ;atheist’, my ‘former husband’ expressed the sincere belief that what the world needs is spiritual guidance and thus his ‘elation’ regarding the choice of name by our Pope. Thank you.

      • Phenomenal gift to hear this, Loreen. I will pray for all involved in your path here. Any other help I can offer, don’t hesitate.

    • Chris says:

      I think your questions point to an ambiguity in our sense of “poverty” or what it might mean to “change the way the world looks at the poor”. Pope Francis isn’t just hoping that the church or the world do more to help the poor (though that is certainly included in what he hopes and is the first step in the right direction) but more profoundly he, like his namesake, wishes to be, and wishes the church (and through Her the World) to be poor. Poverty isn’t simply an economic problem to be solved but a virtue to be cultivated. It means living in a state radical of dependence on the kind beneficence of another and to reject the the illusion of independence. JPII for example said this:

      “An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us. If this bilateral and reciprocal quality is absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example, even to the cross, nor are we yet sharing fully in the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him.” (Dives in Misericordia, 14)

      The same principle can be found in Caritas in Veritate and all through the social justice teaching of the church. We must begin to see ourselves as standing in a position of radical dependence before God and one another. That is the kind of poverty that he is aiming at.

  7. When I measure myself by the world around me, I feels as if I’m doing well; then when I am reminded by Pope Francis of the poverello, my eyes are opened to my need for grace to repent and live the gospel.

  8. Sarah says:

    Thank you for the recommendation– I’ve just purchased Fr. Dubay’s book for my kindle and yes, it is shaping up to be a simple yet deep read. A good weekend to you!

  9. Mariusz says:

    This is certainly a very worthy cause. But what the Church is really short of now is not charity but faith. I daresay we as Catholics already support the poor to the maximum of our ability – and so does the secular world. As for our faith, though, it is in a growing turmoil. Should we then all become Marthas (who are already plentiful) or should we strive more to be like Mary who chose “the better part”? I do not expect this opinion of mine to be very popular but it is something to ponder.

    • You highlight a part of the picture, but Catholics constantly return to the et…et, both-and. Charity-faith, faith-works, prayer-action, for the poor-of the poor. It all is a whole, a living matrix, and we always need more of all – more faith, more hope, more charity—and charity is far broader than “giving” to the poor; it’s also self-giving. And in our U.S. at least, our affluence is drowning out all three theological virtues, in my estimation.

      • Mariusz says:

        That was precisely my point, Dr. Neal, namely that now this desired
        all-inclusiveeness is off balance in the Church. Pope Francis might have
        meant charity in its widest sense but many people will understand it –
        especially in the context of his own deeds – as only corporeal
        charity, thus upsetting this balance even more. I’m sure that you are
        familiar with the story about a fisherman who, instead of handing out
        his catch to the poor, has taught them to fish for themselves. This is
        what faith does. I am fond of saying that St. Francis of Assisi is
        very easy to admire but very hard to imitate. Let’s keep this in mind
        while interpreting the Pope’s words. Just like faith is dead without
        charity, charity is superfluous without faith. One doesn’t need Jesus
        Christ to be charitable, Karl Marx will completely suffice.

      • WHat puzzles me here is how the Pope’s recent words, which are a powerful mix of reflections of the absolute necessity of faith in Jesus, of prayer, and of considerations on the role of poverty and the poor in Christian life can be read as Marxist-style calls to materialist good will. In addition, it’s why I recommended in my blog post Fr Dubay’s book that strikes this balance beautifully and helps us move from Francis-admiration to Francis-imitation. And our Church’s social teaching — that I linked in my post here in my reference to Benedict’s social teaching — also brilliantly strikes this balance. That teaching also clearly distinguishes between justice as mere handouts and justice as participation in the common good. Etc. Thanks for your comments and interest! Pax et bonum.

      • Mariusz says:

        “WHat puzzles me here is how the Pope’s recent words, which are a powerful mix of reflections of the absolute necessity of faith in Jesus, of prayer, and of considerations on the role of poverty and the poor in Christian life can be read as Marxist-style calls to materialist good will.”
        I’m sorry, Dr. Neal, but I have never so much as suggested that. My comment was not about the Pope’s words but about charity not being by itself uniquely Christian. Please read it in context.

    • Terrific — thanks for the clarification of my mistake. Correction taken and point well noted. I need to take time to read more carefully careful arguments. Thanks, Mariusz

      • Mariusz says:

        Thank you for your understanding, Dr. Neal. To clarify my perhaps not so clear argument, I am also very thrilled (if that’s the right word) about our new Pope while at the same time being a little worried that too much stress on charity may only help spread even further the “social justice” heresy in the Church. Well, time will tell. Thank you again for all your replies and God bless!

    • I have to say I love your fire, your faith and your holy caution. All warranted and wise! I guess all we can really do is live out the integral Gospel ourselves, and pray that those entrusted to us as pastors do the same! God bless you and stay well! Dr Tom

  10. Tina says:

    Dear Dr. Neal,

    This is my first time visiting your blog. I came by way of “New Advent”. I took your recommendation, ordered Fr. Dubay’s book from Amazon and downloaded it to my iPad. I plan on reading it thoughtfully. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I hope I can take up the challenge that Pope Francis presents to us by his example. I have been deeply moved by his recent words, via his homily, as well as his visit to St. Mary Major with the simple bouquet of flowers for Our Lady. Truly meek and humble and a wonderful example for all of us. Thank you for the recommendation.

  11. What an excellent recommendation! Happy Are You Poor is one of our favorite books b/c it is so challenging, but rings so true to our hearts and minds. We will most likely be taking it down from our bookshelf this year to reread it. We are also in the midst of making a move to a simpler life on the land (to farm) this June and hope to be able to more fully live out the simpler life in the way that God is particularly calling our family.

    Happy to see your articles showing up on New Advent, too!

    • Casey — what a thrill to see your name! I am not surprised to see your path in life, seeking authenticity to the core. I pray you and your bride have abundant blessings in your future. Thank you for your love for the Church and the Lord.

  12. Kevin says:

    Brilliant and beautiful! Thank you so much for your wonderful thoughts and your learning! God bless you!

  13. Joseph says:

    I always speak about the “truly ” poor. This avoids hearers going off on tangents. We all know about the spiritually poor, but some of your responders brought it to mind again. I am grateful for that. I tend to think of the truly poor solely in material ways. Thinking of the spiritually poor makes me think also of ways in which I can apply that concept to myself.

  14. Anthony Bennett says:


    Spot-on. Cf. …and I quote:

    Pope Francis also explained that he chose the name Francis because of what a cardinal told him on the day he became Pope.

    “On the election day I had next to me the Archbishop emeritus of Sao Paolo and the prefect emeritus of the Congregation of the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a great friend,” he said.

    “When the voting resulted in the election of the Pope, he hugged me, he kissed me and he told me ‘do not forget the poor,’” said the Pope.

    He explained that the words “the poor” remained stuck in his head and he suddenly thought of Saint Francis of Assisi.

    “Man of poverty, man of peace, man who loves and guards the Creator,” said Pope Francis.

    “And in these times we don’t have a good relation with the Creator, right?” he asked the crowd.

    He explained that it is the poor man who gives “a spirit of peace.”

    “Oh how I would like a poor Church and for the poor!” he remarked.

  15. Gerard Colby says:

    I think we have been in need of an awaking to the Catholic Social teaching of SUBSIDIARITY. There, we will find how the faithful can truly help their brothers and sisters in Christ, one on one, community by community, knowing the needs of your neighbors because you are witness to their lives. Not relying an a bulging, faithless, bureaucratic entity to do the work for us and expect it will be done with compassion and fairness, or for that matter even done at all!

  16. yan says:

    The poor don’t buy new books; they get them from the public library.

  17. Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is great, as well as the content!

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