BISHOP Teodoro Bacani was candid and contrite. Speaking a week ago at the first-Saturday Marian Conference at San Carlos Seminary in Makati, the 75-year-old Bishop Emeritus of Novaliches lamented how he and some of his fellow clergy gave fawning attention to wealthy parish donors, but treated the poor with disdain.
“Welcome, welcome,” the priest would greet the rich. “Please come into the parish hall. Thank you for your donation.”
And the poor? “Wait outside. What is it you need this time?”
Bacani also noted with disappointment that many parishes have separate retreats and other church events, including Sunday masses, for domestic help and for employers.
Ending such discrimination was one of the main goals of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. Held January 20 – February 17, 1991, PCP-II is being evaluated as its silver jubilee in 2016 approaches, particularly in advancing its theme of “The Church of the Poor.”
A future column will expound more fully on PCP-II and its rich legacy. This article reflects on the challenge of truly reaching out and being one with our poor brothers and sisters, not just those economically deprived, but others suffering in spiritual, social, political, moral, physical, intellectual and other inadequacies.
Disdain divides rich and poor
The main obstacle in loving “the least of our brethren,” as Jesus called the poor and less fortunate, is the very same that He preached against: the prevalent view in His time that misfortune was a mark of personal failure and even sin.
Today, we also see the less endowed as somehow having failed or fallen short, whether for lack of industry, learning, drive, intelligence, prudence, discipline, talent, or whatever required capacity or character.
Thus, while the fortunate believe they should help the less so, and many do give assistance, there is also a widespread disdain for the inadequacies of the poor and needy. Indeed, helping the less fortunate gives many a generous giver a feeling of superiority: I am better than others, so I should help them.
That is not Christian charity, though religious and moral authorities might not say so, for fear of offending aid givers and making them less generous. But such a flawed view, while perhaps keeping the wealthy in a charitable mood, buttresses the wall of disdain dividing the haves and have-nots, and blocks God’s love from blossoming between them.
Yes, the fortunate may give generously to the destitute, the learned may teach the ignorant, the powerful may uplift the oppressed, and so on.
But how many of the endowed cross the gulf between them and the deprived, and actually sympathize or feel what the latter experience in their lives?
It is that kind of compassionate love that Christ showed in embracing human life, from birth in a manger to death on the cross. God did not just bestow divine favors; He took on all the humanity of man, and thus, truly sympathized with us, shared our fears and pains, hopes and joys.
Even more important, in becoming man, Jesus affirmed and elevated the good in humanity. While we have much sin and enmity burdening us and leading us astray, we are also capable of great love, wisdom, faith, hope, and sacrifice. Indeed, the Godly in us is one big reason for being patient and forgiving with the ungodly.
What a transformation there would be in the world if the wealthy, learned, and powerful see and experience life with the eyes and hearts of the poor, unschooled, and powerless; and found qualities to admire and even emulate in them.
Learning from the less fortunate
In fact, if the followers of Christ see the poor and afflicted with the same eyes as He did, they cannot but see Him and His way of life in the less fortunate.
Quite simply, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Savior we adore is so much like the poor we disdain.
For starters, He lived an unprivileged life and died an ignominious death. Definitely, not the kind of gilded existence enjoyed by millionaires, potentates and celebrities.
But more than just the externals of Christ’s 33 years on earth, it is His spirituality, especially His relationship with God and His fellowmen, that the poor share so closely.
Just as the less fortunate look to God for their daily sustenance and their needs, health and safety in life, Jesus also put everything in the hands of His Father in heaven.
No pile of assets, private armies, pricey physicians, and other worldly ways of ensuring a long and prosperous life. Just God’s daily bread.
The poor and the Lord alike also thrive on solidarity with others. People with limited means and abilities naturally seek help and goodwill from one another. And like Jesus, they are no strangers to giving up even what little they have, so others would have something. Those who are deprived cannot but sacrifice for others to be less so.
Besides living simply, depending on God, and seeking solidarity with and sacrificing for our fellow men, our Lord and our less fortunate brothers and sisters share one more quality: heart.
While the wealthy, the learned and the powerful tend to be more deliberate and orderly in their lives and affairs, the poor, ignorant and weak are more emotional and unrestrained. And this predominance of heart over head we see also in Christ.
On Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was celebrated. Not the Brilliant Brain of Jesus, but the Sacred Heart, burning with divine love and mercy, pierced with thorns and pierced by a soldier’s lance.
Comparing rich and poor religiousity, Bishop Bacani noted that the latter is more intense and alive in worship, while the former tends to be more disciplined and structured, but often lacking in life. Or as he put it, “dead.”
Poor in spirit. Solidarity and sacrifice. Spiritual fervor. Now we know why Jesus said that He is right there among the least of our brethren. Amen.