On the weekend of November 18/19 we celebrate the Seventh Annual World Day of the Poor and the theme this year is taken from the Book of Tobit. Pope Francis sends us all a message for that day. Here follows an extract from that message, but the whole message can be found on the Vatican website (vatican.va) under “Messages” and then look for “World Day of the Poor 2023”.
“Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor” (Tob 4:7). These are the words of Tobit to his son Tobias. Tobit embraces his son, Tobias, who is about to set out on a lengthy journey. The elderly Tobit fears that he will never again see his son, and so leaves him his “spiritual testament”. Tobit had been deported to Nineveh and is now blind, and thus doubly poor. At the same time, he remains always certain of one thing, expressed by his very name: “The Lord has been my good”. As a God-fearing man and a good father, he wants to leave his son not simply material riches, but the witness of the right path to follow in life. So, he tells him: “Revere the Lord all your days, my son, and refuse to sin or to transgress his commandments. Live uprightly all the days of your life, and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing” (4:5).
We see immediately that what the elderly Tobit asks of his son is not simply to think of God and to call upon him in prayer. He speaks of making concrete gestures, carrying out good works and practising justice. He goes on to state this even more clearly: “To all those who practice righteousness give alms from your possessions, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it.”
Tobit, in his time of trial, discovers his own poverty, which enables him to recognise others who are poor. “Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor” (4:7). In a word, whenever we encounter a poor person, we cannot look away, for that would prevent us from encountering the face of the Lord Jesus.
May our concern for the poor always be marked by Gospel realism. Our sharing should meet the concrete needs of the other, rather than being just a means of ridding ourselves of superfluous goods. Here too, Spirit-led discernment is demanded, in order to recognise the genuine needs of our brothers and sisters and not our own personal hopes and aspirations. What the poor need is certainly our humanity, our hearts open to love. Let us never forget that “we are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198). Faith teaches us that every poor person is a son or daughter of God, and that Christ is present in them. “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).
In blessed hope,