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Catechism of the Catholic Church

VI. LOVE FOR THE POOR

2443 God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: "Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you"; "you received without pay, give without pay." 232 It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones. 233 When "the poor have the good news preached to them," it is the sign of Christ's presence. 234

2444 "The Church's love for the poor . . . is a part of her constant tradition." This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor. 235 Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to "be able to give to those in need." 236 It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty. 237

2445 Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you. 238

2446 St. John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs." 239 "The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity": 240

When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice. 241

2447 The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. 242 Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. 243 Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God: 244

He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none and he who has food must do likewise. 245 But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. 246 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? 247

2448 "In its various forms - material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death - human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least of his brethren. Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere." 248

2449 Beginning with the Old Testament, all kinds of juridical measures (the jubilee year of forgiveness of debts, prohibition of loans at interest and the keeping of collateral, the obligation to tithe, the daily payment of the day-laborer, the right to glean vines and fields) answer the exhortation of Deuteronomy: "For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in the land.'" 249 Jesus makes these words his own: "The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." 250 In so doing he does not soften the vehemence of former oracles against "buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals . . .," but invites us to recognize his own presence in the poor who are his brethren: 251

When her mother reproached her for caring for the poor and the sick at home, St. Rose of Lima said to her: "When we serve the poor and the sick, we serve Jesus. We must not fail to help our neighbors, because in them we serve Jesus. 252

IN BRIEF:

2450 "You shall not steal" (Ex 20:15; Deut 5:19). "Neither thieves, nor the greedy . . ., nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:10).

2451 The seventh commandment enjoins the practice of justice and charity in the administration of earthly goods and the fruits of men's labor.

2452 The goods of creation are destined for the entire human race. The right to private property does not abolish the universal destination of goods.

2453 The seventh commandment forbids theft. Theft is the usurpation of another's goods against the reasonable will of the owner.

2454 Every manner of taking and using another's property unjustly is contrary to the seventh commandment. The injustice committed requires reparation. Commutative justice requires the restitution of stolen goods.

2455 The moral law forbids acts which, for commercial or totalitarian purposes, lead to the enslavement of human beings, or to their being bought, sold or exchanged like merchandise.

2456 The dominion granted by the Creator over the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be separated from respect for moral obligations, including those toward generations to come.

2457 Animals are entrusted to man's stewardship; he must show them kindness. They may be used to serve the just satisfaction of man's needs.

2458 The Church makes a judgment about economic and social matters when the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls requires it. She is concerned with the temporal common good of men because they are ordered to the sovereign Good, their ultimate end.

2459 Man is himself the author, center, and goal of all economic and social life. The decisive point of the social question is that goods created by God for everyone should in fact reach everyone in accordance with justice and with the help of charity.

2460 The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and beneficiary. By means of his labor man participates in the work of creation. Work united to Christ can be redemptive.

2461 True development concerns the whole man. It is concerned with increasing each person's ability to respond to his vocation and hence to God's call (cf. CA 29).

2462 Giving alms to the poor is a witness to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.

2463 How can we not recognize Lazarus, the hungry beggar in the parable (cf. Lk 17:19-31), in the multitude of human beings without bread, a roof or a place to stay? How can we fail to hear Jesus: "As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Mt 25:45)?

Notes:

232 Mt 5:42; 10:8.

233 Cf. Mt 25:31-36.

234 Mt 11:5; cf. Lk 4:18.

235 CA 57; cf. Lk 6:20-22, Mt 8:20; Mk 12:41-44.

236 Eph 4:28.

237 Cf. CA 57.

238 Jas 5:1-6.

239 St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in Lazaro 2, 5: PG 48, 992.

240 AA 8 § 5.

241 St. Gregory the Great, Regula Pastoralis. 3, 21: PL 77, 87.

242 Cf. Isa 58:6-7; Heb 13:3.

243 Cf. Mt 25:31-46.

244 Cf. Tob 4:5-11; Sir 17:22; Mt 6:2-4.

245 Lk 3:11.

246 Lk 11:41.

247 Jas 2:15-16; cf. I Jn 3:17.

248 CDF, instruction, Libertatis conscientia, 68.

249 Deut 15:11.

250 Jn 12:8.

251 Am 8:6; cf. Mt 25:40.

252 P. Hansen, Vita mirabilis (Louvain, 1668).

English Translation of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America © 1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

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