First World Day of the Poor: Encountering Christ

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Encountering Christ: “A Renewed Personal Encounter with Jesus Christ”
Pope Francis declared last Sunday, 19th November, the Thirty-Third (and penultimate) Sunday of Ordinary Time, to be the first World Day of the Poor.

In November last year, on the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Pope Francis published his Apostolic Letter “Misericordia et Misera” to conclude the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy [Misericordia et misera is a phrase used by Saint Augustine in recounting the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman taken in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11)]. In that letter [Section 21] the Pope wrote: “… I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It would be a day to help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace. This Day will also represent a genuine form of new evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.”

Then, in June this year, on the memorial of St Anthony of Padua, the Pope released a message “First World Day of the Poor” in which he developed his ideas about this day.

Resources have been prepared by Caritas Social Action Network, at, we understand, the request The Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

Beyond these useful resources, we may well, as secular franciscans, address the deeper teaching of Pope Francis in this message, and in “Misericordia et Misera”, that this day “will also represent a genuine form of new evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church.”

St Francis and the Lepers: “Transformative Power”
Pope Francis refers to St Francis: “He was not satisfied to embrace lepers and give them alms, but chose to go to Gubbio to stay with them.  He saw this meeting as the turning point of his conversion …”. The Pope then alludes to the transformative power of this experience. We are called to “a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life”.

Pope Francis continues: “If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist. Saint John Chrysostom’s admonition remains ever timely: “If you want to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness”

This echoes what the Pope said in Evangelii Gaudium: the invitation he gave us in section 3 “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her … “. Likewise, our secular franciscan rule (article 5) invites us “to seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ …”

Saint Francis and his “Witness of Authentic Poverty”.
Pope Francis also says of the poor: “Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.” And: “Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.” “Let us, then, take as our example Saint Francis and his witness of authentic poverty.  Precisely because he kept his gaze fixed on Christ, Francis was able to see and serve him in the poor.”

Community Building, Fraternity Building: “Creating Moments of Encounter and Friendship, Solidarity and Concrete Assistance”.
Pope Francis says: “It is my wish that, in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor, …. Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.” And is this not also the way we may build our OFS fraternities and make them stronger, the strong foundation from which we may go out and plant new fraternities, and not only “in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor”?

“Personal Encounter with the Saving Love of Jesus”
Pope Francis also addresses this point about creating moments of “encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance” in section 264 of Evangelii Gaudium: “The primary reason for evangelizing” [creating moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance, whether with the materially poor or with the spiritually poor] “is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him. What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence. Standing before him with open hearts, letting him look at us, we see that gaze of love which Nathaniel glimpsed on the day when Jesus said to him: “I saw you under the fig tree” (Jn 1:48). How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence! How much good it does us when he once more touches our lives and impels us to share his new life! What then happens is that “we speak of what we have seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3).”

Lectio Divina
Pope Francis continues section 264 of Evangelii Gaudium with a call to a form of Lectio Divina: “The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize ever anew that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life. There is nothing more precious which we can give to others.” See also our OFS Rule: articles 4 and 8.
Then, in section 265 of Evangelii Gaudium, we are told: “Jesus’ whole life, his way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily acts of generosity, and finally his complete self-giving, is precious and reveals the mystery of his divine life. Whenever we encounter this anew, we become convinced that it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it … ” To echo that last expression: ” …it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it … ”

Conversion, Renewal: “Our Own Constantly Renewed Experience of Savouring Christ’s Friendship”
“But this conviction”, says Pope Francis, now in section 266 of Evangelii Gaudium, “has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of savouring Christ’s friendship and his message.” Our process, as Secular Franciscans, of Conversion. Our Rule (article 7) informs us that: “Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily”

The Poor Christ: “The Kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha”
In such a way, creating moments of “encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance” there may be, says the Pope towards the end of “First World Day of the Poor” “an even more authentic celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on the following Sunday. The kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha, when the Innocent One, nailed to the cross, poor, naked and stripped of everything, incarnates and reveals the fullness of God’s love.  Jesus’ complete abandonment to the Father expresses his utter poverty and reveals the power of the Love that awakens him to new life on the day of the Resurrection.”

Understanding the Deepest Truth of the Gospel
Pope Francis concludes his “First World Day of the Poor”: “This new World Day, therefore”, should allow us “to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel. The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practise in our lives the essence of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis further addressed these themes in his homily at mass for that Sunday, the World Day of the Poor.
He said: “All of us, none excluded, need [the Eucharist], for all of us are beggars when it comes to what is essential: God’s love, which gives meaning to our lives and a life without end. So today too, we lift up our hands to him, asking to receive his gifts.”

Gifts is indeed what the Gospel parable for that Sunday speaks of. “It tells us that we have received talents from God …” “… in God’s eyes, we are “talented”. Consequently, no one can think that he or she is useless, so poor as to be incapable of giving something to others. We are chosen and blessed by God … who wants to fill us with his gifts, more than any father or mother does with their own children.”

“And God … entrusts to each of us a mission.” “… he gives us responsibility. In the parable, we see that each servant is given talents to use wisely. But ….. the third [servant] does not make his talents bear fruit; he gives back only what he had received. “I was afraid – he says”. “As a result, he is harshly rebuked as “wicked and lazy” (v. 26). What made the Master displeased with him? To use a word that may sound a little old-fashioned but is still timely, I would say it was his omission. His evil was that of failing to do good. All too often, we have the idea that we haven’t done anything wrong, and so we rest content, presuming that we are good and just. But in this way we risk acting like the unworthy servant: he did no wrong, he didn’t waste the talent, in fact he kept it carefully hidden in the ground.” He was content to keep it safe. “But to do no wrong is not enough.” “It is sad when the Father of love does not receive a generous response of love from his children, who do no more than keep the rules and follow the commandments, like hired hands in the house of the Father (cf. Lk 15:17).”

Instead, the parable tells us, the one who adds new talents is truly “faithful” (vv. 21 and 23), because he sees things as God does; he does not stand still, but instead, out of love, takes risks. He puts his life on the line for others; he is not content to keep things as they are.

Pope Francis concludes his homily by reflecting on the poor, who: “are the ones who open to us the way to heaven; they are our “passport to paradise”. “Drawing near to the poor in our midst will touch our lives. It will remind us of what really counts: to love God and our neighbour. Only this lasts forever, everything else passes away. What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes. Today we might ask ourselves: “What counts for me in life? Where am I making my investments?”

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Street Passion Play in Bedford

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A Street Passion Play was enacted in Bedford on Holy Saturday 26th March 2016. Our very own Michael Simmonds, of the Bedford fraternity, portrayed the character of Caiaphas (see image above). A splendid evangelisation opportunity! Good work, Michael! An idea for another enterprising fraternity.

Michael tells us:

The drama began in Church Square with the Last Supper in the presence of a large crowd of onlookers. After the Supper, Jesus was arrested and dragged along the road to Caiaphas and Annas [picture] where he was found guilty of blasphemy and was then dragged up Silver Street to Pilate. Here Jesus was condemned and had to carry a heavy cross-beam down the High Street, with the two thieves, to Castle Mound, where he was realistically crucified on a full-sized cross in the presence of a huge crowd, possibly 1000 people. After his death on the Cross, the crowd moved down to a lower area where Mary Magdalene and Mary of Cleophas went to the tomb on Easter morning. They went to the disciples and they were all wondering at the death of Jesus and his missing body when he walked in among them. They were full of wonder and excitement and joy! The Salvation Army played an Easter hymn and some doves were released behind Jesus. Many people commented on how moving it was and tears were shed at the suffering of Christ. The play lasted about two hours. Evangelisation!
The only professional actor was the one playing Christ – all the rest were members of different Churches in Bedford.

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