Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The option for the poor

How does one speak to the poor about the preferential option for the poor?

Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week we had a retreat for catechists. Padre Efraín wanted to develop the spirituality which is behind the diocese’s Third Pastoral Plan. He, Padre Henry, and I divided up six themes. I got the Kingdom of God and the Option for the Poor.

I used the beatitudes as the framework to understand the Kingdom of God, but what could I say to these catechists who are poor on the option for the poor.

I recalled that the poor here in Honduras are not only treated poorly but they also are looked down upon. A few years ago the President of Congress called them “gente del monte” – the Honduran equivalent of hillbillies or hicks. When I first cam e here I heard a professional in Santa Rosa complaint hat the priests didn’t understand professionals since the priests mostly came from the campo, the countryside. And there are those who continually bring up the low level of education of the people and therefore consider campesinos all too gullible. It is no wonder that one finds low self-esteem among many in the countryside, but it is – in great part, I believe -  due to the social and class biases of the country.

So, I decided that I would try to help the participants in the retreat see what the option for the poor means for them: God has opted for the poor and is with them, at their side.

I chose three scripture passages but, as I was about to begin my presentation Monday afternoon, I decided to begin with a hymn, “Vos sos el Dios de los pobres,” a hymn that comes from Nicaragua. I didn’t know if they’d all know it but when they sang it forcefully. A You-Tube video can be found here.

After we sang it, we discussed the hymn.

The refrain is:
Vos sos el Dios de los pobres,
el Dios humano y sencillo,
el Dios que suda en el calle;
el Dios de rostro curtido;
por eso es que te hablo yo,
así como habla mi pueblo,
porque sos el Dios obrero,
el Cristo trabajador.
You are the God of the poor, 
a humble and simple God, 
a God  who sweats in the street, 
with a leathery face.
Thus I speak with you 
as I speak with my people, 
because you are the God 
who is a worker, Christ the worker.
We talked how Jesus was a worker who sweated, working and getting dirty. Today he would wear leather work gloves and overalls, as the hymn puts it in one of the verses.

What is more pointed, we noted, is the use of “vos” to address God.“Vos” is used here in Central America for close friends and children. God is one of us, with us.

Then I shared the three readings I had chosen:

Matthew 11: 25:
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to the simple."
2 Corinthians 8: 9:
For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
1 Corinthians 1: 27-29
God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.
 I mentioned that there are poor who have the mentality of the rich but the poor who have the spirit of the poor Christ are those who can teach us who are not rich.

I felt strange talking about the option for the poor since I could not use “we” poor. I am not in any way poor like these people.

We who are “rich” often have blinders that prevent us from seeing the reality of the world – the injustice that is all around us. But our riches can also blind us to the wisdom of the poor, their great capabilities.

On Tuesday morning I woke up and read Vigils from Benedictine Daily Prayer which I pray almost every morning. The second reading was, to my surprise, 1 Corinthians 1:26 – 2:5.

Then, since it is the feast of the Franciscan Saint Benedict the Black, I read the Vigil readings for his feast. The first reading was 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31; 2: 1-2. 

Was God trying to tell me something?

For some unknown reason, I have had a devotion since the 1950s to St. Benedict the Black (also called St. Benedict the Moor) who lived from 1526 to 1589 . He was an African slave in Sicily who, after he was freed, joined a group of hermits. The group was disbanded and he joined the Franciscans. His deep holiness and his care for the poor earned him the confidence of his brother friars who chose him as their guardian, despite his illiteracy.

St. Benedict is another example of the wisdom of the poor who recognize their need for God and for the community to live as true children of God.

It is important I believe that the poor recognize their dignity, their knowledge, their wisdom, and their deep faith. Likewise, we who are rich need to listen to the poor – not just their needs, because they are more than their needs. But we need to listen to their wisdom – not only about their faith but about their life, their ways of sustaining their families, and more.

Listening to them can open us to the wisdom of God.

Years ago I had a key ring with the image of Monseñor Oscar Romero and the words, “De los humildes viene la luz.” – “From the humble comes the light.”

Let us walk in the light of the poor, at their sides, and listen to the wisdom of God that is revealed to them and through them.

The poor are our teachers. Let’s remember what is written in James 2:5:
Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?


Charles said...

Understanding the Beatitudes in fullness requires getting deep in the weeds with the Greek. One subtlety that I recently discovered, and one that I have never heard before, has to do with the verse "Blessed are the peacemakers."

First, as a minor point, it talks about people who are actively making peace, not about people who are simply tranquil.

But, crucially, the word eirenee and the Aramaic word Jesus would have used, shlomo (shalom) has a meaning of prosperity... and not just prosperity as in money. Eirenee is the goddess of peace. She is usually pictured carrying the baby Pluto (the god of wealth), a cornucopia (the symbol of agricultural abundance), and a staff (symbol of order and authority). Shlomo/shalom is used not just to mean peace, but to mean "going well." King David asks, I forget exactly where, about the shalom of the war. He is not talking about the peace of the war, which makes no sense. He is asking, "How prospers the war?"

So peacemaking involves making things go well, such that harvests improve and people have enough left over for money savings.

I think I can say with confidence, "Blessed are you, peacemaker."

Mary said...

Thanks for sharing, John. It's helpful for me since i work with people who have so very little and it's challenging to me since I still have so very much.

Thinking of you this Easter - and grateful for the Spirit you shared with me so many years ago who is still at work within me and continuing to convert me.

Easter blessings