The King will reply, “truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
First of all, I want to emphasize here that serving the poor is already serving Christ, as well as proclaiming the Gospel. St. Francis once said, “preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” I recently felt called to a specific new ministry: to volunteer at the San Antonio and New Braunfels food bank, which serves residents in southwest Texas. One does not have to share my Christian belief to embrace a moral obligation to care for our brothers and sisters in need. My point is simple: a nonbeliever might just as well come to the same conclusion that helping other people is the right thing to do. Yet, I also want to emphasize that we have an obligation and a responsibility to look after ourselves, so that by our talents we can enrich the lives of those who can benefit from our help.
Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus calls his followers to a genuine love and to give to those who cannot repay us; to serve others without seeking anything in return, particularly from someone who has nothing to give in return. The Holy Father wrote: “the poor are valuable in the eyes of God because they do not speak the language of the self; they do not support themselves on their own, by their own strength; they need someone to take them by the hand. The poor remind us how we should live the Gospel: like beggars reaching out to God” (2019). One of the greatest expressions of service that I have ever witnessed is in the volunteers of the San Antonio food bank — people of all ages helping those in need from across 16 counties of southwest Texas. In their own way, they find the real essence of life by contributing to the world. But for Catholics, faith is an additional incentive to “serve the least of these.” As Pope Francis said in the Joy of the Gospel:
I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel. “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice of lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which give life a new horizon and decisive direction.”
This truth is the pillar of Catholic social teaching throughout time and ages. Why should I care about people in poverty? Because the King will reply, “truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40). Whether these brothers and sisters are from Mexico or the Caribbean islands does not really matter; they all are inter-connected with Him. By helping the poor, we make this world a better place to live. If we look at the world closely, we will see that there is inequality. “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard,” notes Proverbs 21:13. Keep in mind that, at the end of our lives, what we remember is not necessarily the times we have spent volunteering for others, though having the opportunity to serve others is a very special grace. Rather, what we remember is the kindness, the attention, and so much more that we experience in those close encounters. Those are the memories. What better time than now to serve others? Volunteering is useful, and it is one of the most effective ways to not only influence our communities, but also to draw a sense of worth and purpose. If you would like to impact or change your own community for the better, go out there and help those in need, safely and to the best of your ability. Let us give back to our communities. It is that important.
friar Nicholas Maria Lubin OFM Conv.