Renew 2000 Column
|Bishop Robert J. Banks
We don't have far to look to find someone to love
We need to love poor who are around us, and in us
By Bishop Robert Banks
This fall, we begin the last chapter in our major diocesan celebration of the Great Jubilee.
Some 10,000 parishioners will gather in small faith-sharing groups throughout the
Diocese for the fifth and final session of RENEW 2000. These are groups that do not
have to be talked into the value of RENEW 2000. They have experienced the spiritual re-charging that comes from reading the Scriptures and sharing one's faith.
By now these groups also are experienced enough that they feel free to modify the
schedule and choose their own ways of focusing on the topics that are suggested. That
makes it a bit difficult for me to come up with reflections that will fit perfectly into every
group's plan, so we shall just have to see what happens.
The topic for Week One is Loving the Poor.
That really is the topic for a person's whole life as a Christian. If there is any theme that
runs through the Gospel message, it is our response to poverty, both our own and that of
Probably we should start out the way Jesus did by saying that we should love our own
poverty. In his Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus begins
with the very first Beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of
So each one of us is blessed now and will be on Judgment Day if we recognize how
much we are in need of God's grace. I think that is at the core of the spirituality of St.
Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. As she prays for herself, "But it is not easy to
accept oneself as a little child in a world that treasures only those who can stand on their
own two feet. Turn my world around so that I understand that it is my very weakness that
is my strength."
We American Christians can tend to think that our material wealth is what most stands in
our way of being poor in spirit, but I wonder if today's self-satisfied individualism might
be more of an obstacle. We Americans feel it is more important to be able to make the
choices we want rather than to make the choices God wants. How many of us really feel
we need a Savior? Do we love ourselves because we are so successful on our own or do
we rejoice more because God loves us despite our weakness and sinfulness?
Perhaps loving ourselves as poor is key to loving others who are poor, either in spirit or
in worldly goods.
Among the "others" in our society who might be considered poor in spirit, I would lift up
for attention the children. I say "in spirit" not in reference to their spiritual life, but to
their emotional well being. There are so many reports today of children and young people
who are suffering emotionally because of divorce, abuse, neglect, or simply families that
are too busy earning a living. And then there are the many children who are poor in spirit
because there is no faith life in their homes or families.
Some leaders in the volunteer movement met with me recently to ask the support of the
Diocese in encouraging adults to act as mentors for those children who do not have solid
adults in their lives, people they can look up to for support and as examples. These
volunteer leaders are motivated by what they have seen lacking in the lives of so many of
the young people who live in northeast Wisconsin. It is my hope that our parishes will
find ways to encourage participation in this mentoring effort.
Then there are the materially poor who live in our midst. It seems to me that today's
economic good times and the programs of welfare reform have helped to reduce
substantially the number of persons and families who need assistance because of material
poverty. But there still are persons who suffer because they do not have the necessary
shelter, food and clothing.
The first response of the Gospel to the materially poor is love. We see that dramatically in the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa. As Mother Teresa put it, "Charity and love are the same -- with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead." That is also the genius of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The members are to visit the poor, so that they see the persons who need help and can extend the personal care and respect that they deserve.
I must admit that when I think of the materially poor, my thoughts go almost immediately to the poor of the Third World. I have visited the slums that surround large cities in South America. I have seen the thousands of people living in homes that are simply cardboard boxes tied together without electricity, water or sewage. I have seen the peasant homes in the countryside with the dirt floors and two or three pieces of furniture. And I have seen the faces of the poor who live in those situations, the faces of people who have real dignity, great energy, and even hope.
Then I read that the United States gives a smaller percentage of its wealth to the poor nations than any other developed nation. As we pile up national surpluses, our Congress reduces international aid to the poor nations of the world. We promise to reduce the debt that oppresses countries, but then we don't vote the necessary funds. Granted that corrupt governments in the developing nations make it difficult to help the poor in those countries, but if we could put someone on the moon...
Fortunately, Operation Rice Bowl, run in this Diocese by our own Bp. Morneau, can make a difference. Look for it in your parish.