The “Option for the Poor and Vulnerable” is a principle of our Catholic social teaching. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reminds us that this principle is firmly rooted in scripture and in our tradition. In its social teachings the Church has repeatedly expressed its concern for the widening gap between those who are wealthy and those who are economically poor. In his 2013 World Day of Peace message “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” Pope Benedict XVI again articulates this social concern:
It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. #1
Through this principle our Catholic church invites us to recognize that “a basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring.” As we consider economic and social policies in this New Year we are invited again to take up this principle and to reflect on how our policies affect those members of our communities that bear the burden of our economic development. While our tradition asserts this principle through Jesus’ own instructions (ie. beatitudes – Luke 6:20-23, final judgment – Matt 25:34-40) our church has also recognized that economic greed, far from being the social good that Gordan Gecco suggest in the movie “Wall Street,” is actually against the natural law. Basil the Great analyzed this in this way:
The beasts become fertile when they are young, but quickly cease to be so. But capital produces interest from the very beginning, and this in turn multiplies into infinity. All that grows ceases to do so when it reaches its normal size. But the money of the greedy never stops growing.
Many of our Church Fathers would recognize the need for economic and social regulations. St. Augustine would go on to say that “In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?” Our Church continues to express this concern from both our philosophical and faith tradition. The “option for the poor” is a principle that flows from our belief in the dignity of the human person. We all share a common dignity by virtue that we are all created “in the image and likeness of God.” We express our own dignity when we promote the dignity of those who suffer in our world. In this way we become agents of justice, and as agents of justice we become heralds of peace. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us in his 2013 World Day of Peace Message:
Peace is an order enlivened and integrated by love, in such a way that we feel the needs of others as our own, share our goods with others and work throughout the world for greater communion in spiritual values. #3
In this message Pope Benedict XVI invites us all to be peacemakers in our society by addressing critical social issues that we face. “The concern of peacemakers must also focus upon the food crisis… The issue of food security is once more central to the international political agenda.” Along with food security Pope Benedict XVI reminds us to reform the economic system so that they serve the human community and especially the most vulnerable members of our society. “The creation of ethical structures for currency, financial and commercial markets is also fundamental and indispensable; these must be stabilized and better coordinated and controlled so as not to prove harmful to the very poor. #5”
January is observed as “poverty awareness month.” In a recent post I offered some resources from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development on promoting this observance and issue. Please visit my recent post on and consider adopting the “option for the poor” as a lived principle of our communal faith in the New Year.