The Pope and the Poor

I was horrified, but not surprised, the other day to discover that most people in Britain think that the first thing that the Government should cut back on in this time of financial difficulties is the amount of Aid given to developing countries. They didn’t ask how many of these people were Catholics, so I can only hope and pray that most Catholics would not think like that but would follow the teaching of Jesus – that caring for the poor is one of our first duties as human beings, not an optional extra. Heaping up money for our own use, turning it into the thing that dominates our life, is clearly condemned in our Gospel today (Luke 16:10-13) where Jesus warns us very firmly to serve God rather than be a slave to money.

This is a common theme for the Pope as well, not just here in Britain but wherever and whenever he speaks of the faith to others. But who is the Pope?  That might seem a strange question. Surely everyone knows who he is? But no, I was startled recently by an 11 year old who is at Mass every Sunday but couldn’t explain who the Pope is or what he does. As we’ve watched him on TV over the last few days I hope it has become increasingly clear what his main task is. He is simply and most importantly a priest, called by God to celebrate Holy Mass and preach the Gospel.  I am a priest for you, and for the people the Bishop has put me in charge of. The Pope is a priest for all men and women, the servant of the servants of God, based in Rome because that was the centre of the known world when Jesus came among us and chose Peter as the first leader of the Church, and thus (although the name wasn’t used back then) the first Pope.

Some people outside the Church question the Pope’s right, indeed our right as Christians, to speak out the sometimes uncomfortable message of Jesus to the world. What they fail to realise is something that is mentioned in our 2nd reading today (1 Timothy 2:1-18) – that the first thing we Christians are called to do is to pray for the world and the people who govern it. Of course, that can be misunderstood too can’t it? As children, we tend to get the idea that prayer is about getting God to change things to be the way we want them. So we might pray at the moment that any spending cuts the government make don’t affect us! But prayer really should not be like that. Yes, we need to share our thoughts and desires with God, for how can he work in us unless we open every part of ourselves to him?  But most of all our prayer must be like the prayer of Jesus just before he died. He shared with God his fear of suffering and death, wishing that it did not need to happen, but then he said, as we must always say, “Father, thy will be done.”

So when we pray for anything, or anyone, including our Government, our principal aim must be to allow God to work in the situation we are thinking about in the way he knows best. This should also change us. For example if we pray for someone we don’t like, true prayer should make us understand them better, as we begin to see them the way God sees them. So if we pray for our government at a time given that we may often not like all they are doing, we should expect to become more aware of the problems they are facing, whatever their political colour. Simply moaning about politicians being corrupt isn’t actually very Christian, is it? Yes, we may not agree with a particular policy they are pursuing, but our aim should be to understand them better, and then, when appropriate, express our opinion to them.

On a large scale that is what the Pope is constantly doing back in Rome. His moral influence is considerable, which is why 180 countries choose to have diplomatic relations with the Vatican. They discover that the Pope is principally a man of prayer, as any priest must be, praying for these people, and the governments they represent, and urging them to work for the common good not just of their own nation but of all the peoples of the world. That’s one of the Pope’s highest priorities, and it must surely be ours too, to allow God to lift us above our own personal or family concerns, and have a wider vision of the world.

This is exactly what we heard in our 2nd Reading isn’t it?  “Prayers must be offered for everyone” because “Jesus sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all.” Not for some holy clique of like-minded people – nor just for us religious people who are at Mass. No, God loves the people we don’t like, he loves people who are strangers to us, and above all he loves the poor and the downtrodden, just as Mary’s great song says “He puts down the proud and exalts the lowly” May we do the same, simply because we love him.

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