The quote below is from yesterday’s Office of Readings for the Memorial of St. Louis, King of France. (The rest can be found here.) This part in particular caught my attention because it seemed to me a very concise explanation of the ‘preferential option for the poor’ from the Church’s social teaching. After re-reading the section in the Catechism titled “Love for the Poor” (§2443-2449) my initial impression seems to be confirmed. If you are Catholic and not familiar with this teaching then you really should become acquainted with it because it is a substantial part of the teaching of the Church. In fact, reading the whole section concerning the seventh commandment (§2401-2463), “You should not steal,” will help greatly in your understanding of the ‘preferential option for the poor.’

There may be some Catholics, though, that are hesitant to learn about this part of our Catholic Faith due to the fact that most of the progressive (heretical) element within the Church comes from the ‘Social Justice’ crowd. (That being those who think that the only part of the Faith that matters is doing works of ‘social justice’ even to the extent of contradicting the clear teaching of the Church: for example the religious sisters who work as escorts for women coming into Planned Parenthood to have abortions.) But such people are not truly practicing the Faith. Jesus came to bring us life everlasting through His own Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension and bringing others to a saving knowledge of Him is our primary duty as Catholics. But, Jesus also stressed the need to care for the ‘poor’, which includes those who suffer from lack of money or some other form of poverty. And one of His most stark teachings on this is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats where He says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Therefore, we would do well to listen to the words of our Lord.

But in addition to the words of Christ, we must remember that God sends us saints to help re-direct our attention to and deepen our understanding of the Truths of the Faith. And even though he lived about 800 years ago I think St. Louis’ words can really help us in our own understanding of Catholic Social teaching.

Be compassionate towards the poor, the destitute and the afflicted; and, as far as lies in your power, help and console them. Give thanks to God for all the gifts he has bestowed upon you, so that you will become worthy of still greater gifts. Towards your subjects, act with such justice that you may steer a middle course, swerving neither to the right nor to the left, but lean more to the side of the poor man than of the rich until such time as you are certain about the truth. Do your utmost to ensure peace and justice for all your subjects but especially for clergy and religious.

From St. Louis’ spiritual testament to his son

From this I want to show that the ‘preferential option for the poor’ is not about having the State give them everything they want at the taxpayers’ expense. Instead, it is about caring for them as we would want to be cared for if we were in their situation. In short–and this is the most concise explanation of caring for the poor–remember the words of Jesus, “And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”