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ST. MICHAEL, DEFENDER OF THE CHURCH: A MODEL FOR CHRISTIANS IN SUSTAINING THE OPTION FOR THE POOR.
By Rev. Fr. Victor Okhiria
 

THE MISSION:

“How does the Church witness to Christ in the world? First and foremost by giving visibility to Jesus’ love for the poor and the weak. In a world so hungry for healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and most of all unconditional love, the Church must alleviate that hunger through its ministry. Wherever we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, listen to those who are rejected and bring unity and peace to those who are divided, we proclaim the living Christ, whether we speak about him or not. It is important that whatever we do and wherever we go, we remain in the Name of Jesus, who sent us. Outside his name our ministry will lose its divine energy.” {HENRY NOUWEN}

There are certain values that are sacrosanct in the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church that serve as primary contributions in the pursuit of economic justice. Among them are Solidarity, Common Good, and Preferential Option for the poor. Every person belongs to one human family regardless of national, religious, ethnic, economic and political differences. The Church’s emphasis on solidarity ensures that the obligations to promote the rights and developments of all peoples across the world without set boundaries is fulfilled. All dynamisms, means, abilitiesought to be directed towards this purpose. On the other hand, the principle of Common Good ensures that every person should have sufficient access to the goods and resources of society to enable them have a fulfilled living; the wellbeing of everyone without exception is the priority.Lastly, and sadly too, is the discussions on the preferential option for the poor which often get weighed down by the complexity of its very name, especially considering the adjectives – ‘Preferential and Option’, nonetheless, it is a demand that the Church believes is not optional but morally required.

The understanding of the word ‘Preferential’ simply means that in discussing the distribution of resourcesthe needs of the poor, vulnerableand marginalized should come first.As Christians we are to uphold the universal love of God and the equal human dignity of all human persons. The preferential option for the poor is required if we are to practice what we preach. In order to consistently, coherently, and credibly affirm the universal human dignity – we must go to where that dignity is violated, marginalized, and overlooked – that is where we pitch our tent. God loves all equally; therefore God cannot be neutral in the face of oppression, marginalization, poverty, and assaults on human dignity. This is clear throughout Biblical exhortations that the widow, orphan and resident alien will cry out to God and God will hear their cries.

Why the term ‘Option’? It is perhaps this part that causes the most confusion. In English vocabulary, the word ‘option’ implies choice; choosing one out of a set of available possibilities.However, as it developed in Church teaching, the term is applied in the way that the renowned theologian, Karl Rahner, talked about the fundamental option, that is, a firm and persevering commitment to a course. Therefore in the discussions about preferential option for the poor, it is not an optional venture buta moral imperative.

WHY A PREFERENTIAL OPTION?

The poor, vulnerable and marginalized need a preferential option because their human dignity is most vulnerable, most often denied. In his book On Job: God-talk and suffering of the Innocent,Gustavo Gutierrez says,“God has a preferential love for the poor not because they are necessarily better than others, morally or religiously, but simply because they are poor and living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God’s will.” The basis for the preferential option for the poor is not because of the poor themselves but in God himself who is gratuitous and has a universal love for all his creatures. Nothing can and should limit this love of God which is the very foundation for the creation of the world.

In a tweet on July 25, 2013 by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, he says,the measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.” The words of the Vicar of Christ aligns with the thoughts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a letter sent to the United States House of Representatives on the issues about the ‘Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)’ and what should be the moral criteria that should guide budget decision dated 2012, they say, “every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.”

The Preferential Option, or love of the poor and vulnerable, is a perspective that can measure the quality of justice in any society by the way its most poor and vulnerable are treated. This Catholic Social Teaching calls us to discern, listen, see and respond to the cry of the poor through our words and actions. By doing so, we are not making a gift of what is ours to the poor, but we are giving back what is rightfully theirs.

DEFENDER OF THE CHURCH

The Catholic tradition has for long recognized Saint Michael as the protector and guardian of the Church and as the angel of the Blessed Sacrament. He is also the guardian angel of the Pope and has been invoked as the patron and guardian angel of many countries as well as specific professions.The role of Saint Michael as defender and guardian has also led to the design of statues that depict him and the construction of Churches and monasteries at specific locations. The task of guarding and defending of the Church and her principles is viewed as an ongoing battle against Satan's deceit, with Saint Michael coming to the aid of the faithful when he is called upon. The role of this guardian and protector of the Church (viewed as Christ's House) is reflected in Catholic prayers to Saint Michael: “Glorious Saint Michael, guardian and defender of Christ's House, come to the assistance of His followers, against whom the powers of hell are unchained”. Through his zeal and fidelity towards God, a great part of the heavenly court remained faithful and obedient. His fortitude inspired courage in the other angels who united in his noble course of defeating the devil.

THE CHALLENGE

“Our faith is not just a weekend obligation, a mystery to be celebrated around the altar on Sunday. It is a pervasive reality to be practiced every day in homes, offices, factories, schools, and businesses across our land.” {Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S Economy, 1986, no. 25}

As Catholics, we are called to pay special attention to the needs of the poor. We can follow the virtue of St. Michael by making specific efforts to always defend and promote the dignity of the poor and vulnerable and meet their immediate material needs. The strive is not a once-and-for-all venture but a continuous one till all the elements of injustice and marginalisation are eradicated from society to accommodate all human beings created in the image and likeness of God with respect, dignity, equality and equity.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini, The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI talks about two kinds of poverty: poverty as a virtue and poverty as indigence. Poverty as a virtue is to be encouraged and practiced while poverty as indigence often as a result of injustice and selfishness is to be combated. Therefore, we Christians through all the positive avenues and organs of the Church are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters and more importantly to take practical steps to alleviate it. We need to do our own bit and speak convincingly to the government of our time.

 

 


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