Why A Preferential Option For The Poor Theology Religion Essay


The word poverty implies an undesirable state. It suggests that individuals or groups who are in poverty need to be helped so that their situation can be changed. Poverty, in other words, is a social problem. We live in an age of sensitivity to what is fair and just. We all react to what is most relevant to us and what make us more comfortable and puts us in a better situation than we are, yet any type of so called preference fails the test named fairness. Although this line of thought which has brought us human beings to drive ourselves more into the alley of perfectionism and ego centralism, many Catholic Theologians and magisterial documents focus and speak about a “preferential option for the poor”

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis states,

” the option or love of preference for the poor. This is an option, or a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods.” [1] 

What does the church mean by “The Preferential Option for the Poor”?

The “love of preference” [2] is a particular love and attention to the poor. A Preferential option for the poor by the Catholic Church means embracing and putting the poor as a priority issue to be dealt with. For the Catholic Church the ‘poor’ are an important aspect of society which needs to be given more attention even if all other institutions choose to neglect. When mentioning the poor we “embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care and, above all, those without hope of a better future.” [3] To the Pope John Paul II to ignore these people is “to become like the “rich man” who pretended not to know the beggar Lazarus lying at his gate (cf. Lk 16:19-31).” [4] Indeed within the Catholic Church many great people gave their who lives to the service of the poor, Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one example of the great work the catholic church did and is still doing through her religious congregation with the poor. Mother Teresa of Calcutta dedicated her whole life “as a total gift to the poor” [5] 

Society and poverty

The option for the poor is committing oneself to help the people who fall under poverty, struggle for justice. This option for the poor is a collective commitment both of the individual and of the whole community to engage together to overcome social injustice which make it more difficult for the poor to lead a decent life. In a more concrete way the option for the poor means to get involved and share with the poor the life they live. This means sharing joys, hopes, sorrows and fears which people in this margin of society face each day.

Yet this does not mean that the rest will have to pity the poor and make them feel more powerless and dependant but it is a commitment to resist and fight the structural injustices which exist in our world. This is done by working to change the unjust economic, social and political structures which are the tools to determine how resources and power is shared in the world. Therefore the main aim is to bring up a society were justice is more considered as an important issue. It all starts with a personal choice to do something for those who lack voice and necessities in society.

We live in a society where the demands and the dominance of the rich and powerful dominate over the ordinary people. Our stratified society promotes the dominance of the rich and the powerful which manipulate certain economic, political and cultural structures. These structures maintain institutions and agencies which are staffed mainly by the middle class people who provide the professional and commercial services of society. Even if these people are not rich themselves they are contributing in a system which is structural unjust through the type of work they are doing. This, so, calls the need of working towards a common good which incorporates all.

To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity…The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practise this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis [state]. This is the institutional path – we might also call it the political path – of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly… [6] 

Benedict XVI in his encyclical letter is making a strong reference to the importance of justice and charity. The poor and vulnerable are not just the ‘outcasts’ of society or the marginalised of society but are very much in the core centre of the planning of a nation’s plan. Christians also are called to correspond to their vocation in favour of the poor.

Social aspect of poverty

The poor are those in society who are marginalized either due to the lack of materials or due to situations which make them insignificant for society or rather seen as a burden to society. They are those who need the most care and love from those who seem to have it all.

On the other hand being poor is not just a matter of having lack of resources or lack of money but could be also the result of sickness, mental problems or other socio-economic issues. This could also be a result of the nation’s economic systems and unjust distribution of wealth. Poverty is not just a personal issue but it is a global issue since the dignity of the person needs always to be respected and given what is best for him. Depriving this need is an abuse to human dignity

“God does not demand much of you. He asks back what he gave you and from him you take what is enough for you. The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. When you possess superfluities, you possess what belong to others.” [7] St. Augustine challenges us with the idea that poverty is a result of miss-use of resources. The problem of inequality between the rich and the poor has always been an issue which challenged societies. The problem is always the same: the rich make wrong use of the profit and resources they have and this results in those less rich or those who are not in control of resources to become poor which as St. Augustine states above is a misuse of recourses of those who are more fortunate. Though this problem is always recurring one must note that, with a more globalised world, even more through modern social networks, poverty is being more known. As Sollicitudo Rei Socialis states,

Positive signs in the contemporary world are the growing awareness of the solidarity of the poor among themselves, their efforts to support one another, and their public demonstrations on the social scene which, without recourse to violence, present their own needs and rights in the face of the inefficiency or corruption of the public authorities. By virtue of her own evangelical duty the Church feels called to take her stand beside the poor, to discern the justice of their requests, and to help satisfy them, without losing sight of the good of groups in the context of the common good. [8] 

The Poor and Jesus

As Catholics we have a major duty to see that the preferential option for the poor is being observed and also defended especially in moments were we notice it is being neglected. The Catholic Church sees this as an important observance that we should do constantly.

Responsibility calls us to think more about poverty since poverty is created through the manipulation of resources or could also result through a natural disaster. An option is definitely needed to address the needs of those who are left out and deprived due to vulnerabilities or other situations which keep them from being rich or keep them below the poverty line as one is not either rich or poor since can lie in between of the two extremities. Therefore the magisterial document Sollicitudo Rei Socialis continue to state in number 39;

The preferential option for the poor is ultimately a question of friendship. Without friendship, an option for the poor can easily become commitment to an abstraction (to a social class, a race, a culture, an idea). Aristotle emphasized the important place of friendship for the moral life, but we also find this clearly stated in John’s Gospel. Christ says, “I do not call you servants, but friends.” As Christians, we are called to reproduce this quality of friendship in our relationships with others. When we become friends with the poor, their presence leaves an indelible imprint on our lives, and we are much more likely to remain committed. [9] 

“Jesus himself identified himself with the poor and oppressed and in loving and serving them, we mysteriously discover Him in them.” [10] The Catholic Church has perfect model through him, we owe the knowledge of the poor to Jesus Christ himself who came to this world as a man and notwithstanting the nature of God identified himself with the insignificant, the poor and the oppressed . Through him, we identify ourselves more with the poor. Jesus himself commands us to be there and serve the poor. The love for God has to be supported by the love of the brother. One cannot love God and abandon his brother, so one can conclude that when loving God one cannot leave out and ignore his brother.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the upright will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome, lacking clothes and clothe you? When did we find you sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” [11] 

Matthew 25, is a key chapter to lead the church to understand how Jesus wants us to look at the poor and how to treat them. Looking at the poor and seeing in them Jesus himself is a personification which helps us to reflect the equality of all human beings. The unjust economic system and any cause which leads to poverty doesn’t remove anything from us being created on the image and likeness of God. This is also the reasons why decisions should be seen in the light of how they would reflect also the poor, as every human being is entitled for a decent life. This is also why holy people dedicated their lives totally for the poor. A life centred on Christ cannot be a life without a preference for the poor quoting the words of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta: “If we really understand the Eucharist, if we really centre our lives on Jesus’ Body and Blood, if we nourish our lives with the Bread of the Eucharist, it will be easy for us to see Christ in that hungry one next door, the one lying in the gutter, the alcoholic man we shun, our husband or our wife, or our restless child. For in them, we will recognize the distressing disguises of the poor: Jesus in our midst.” [12] The words of Mother Teresa truly reflect the need to have Jesus at the centre of your life to act in favour of the poor. As with this attitude we look at the poor with a different perspective and with more dignity.







Approximately 250 words