Christmas is usually the most joyous time of the year when love and compassion binds humanity with abundance of generosity and reconciliation. And this year’s yuletide season ought to be no different.
Now is an opportune time to let the Christmas spirit of generosity and compassion flourish amid the suffering of people in many areas of the Visayas and Mindanao hit by Typhoon Odette that wreaked havoc and left many dead.
The devastation and desolation in the hardest hit areas prompted an outpouring of support and concrete actions to help the needy and the poorest of the poor. That politicians, especially the presidential aspirants in the coming elections, are giving out much-needed relief items is certainly reassuring.
But the grace of God is also surely at work in the hearts of people who, without fanfare, spend time, effort and treasure to help the poor. And it is in sharing blessings that they find the joy that Christmas brings.
Amid all the hardships and sufferings in the world, the message of Christmas as proclaimed in the Gospel is that of joy and God’s love for mankind. The very first Christmas two millenniums ago “was not a condemnation of social injustice and poverty; it was an announcement of joy…Christmas is joy, religious joy, an inner joy of light and peace,” according to Pope Francis.
The Holy Bible says it clearly: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).” But how can one have eternal life? Jesus himself gave the answer: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) And loving our neighbor, especially the poor, means following the basic teachings of Jesus to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and do other corporal acts of mercy.
To truly love is to truly serve. Love without service is nothing. Loving and serving go hand in hand. Otherwise, love is meaningless.
Christmas is an opportunity for the faithful to devote their efforts and resources toward the unceasing work to bring about God’s Kingdom in this world, just as we aspire whenever we pray to God in the words Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer.
But it can be very difficult to live our lives in accordance with the two greatest commandments. We may continually strive to be devout Christians and love God and our neighbor, yet, human as we are, we continually fail in our efforts. But let us not lose hope. We need, as Pope Francis said, to “open ourselves decisively to the grace of Christ” in helping the poor and needy.
“Unless we choose to become poor in passing riches, worldly power and vanity, we will never be able to give our lives in love; we will live a fragmented existence, full of good intentions but ineffective for transforming the world. We need, therefore, to open ourselves decisively to the grace of Christ, which can make us witnesses of his boundless charity and restore credibility to our presence in the world,” the Pope said.
In his message for the Fifth World Day of the Poor last Nov. 14, Pope Francis expressed many insights on poverty.
The Pope said “the face of God revealed by Jesus is that of a Father concerned for and close to the poor” and that we “see Him in the lives of the poor, in their sufferings and needs, in the often inhuman conditions in which they are forced to live.” He explains that we need to open our hearts “to recognizing the many different forms of poverty and manifesting the Kingdom of God through a lifestyle consistent with the faith we profess.” “Individualistic lifestyles are complicit in generating poverty, and often saddle the poor with responsibility for their condition. Yet poverty is not the result of fate; it is the result of selfishness. It is critical, therefore, to generate development processes in which the abilities of all are valued, so that complementarity of skills and diversity of roles can lead to a common resource of mutual participation,” he said.
“None are so poor that they cannot give something of themselves in mutual exchange. The poor cannot be only those who receive; they must be put in a position to give, because they know well how to respond with generosity… The poor often teach us about solidarity and sharing. True, they may be people who lack some things, often many things, including the bare necessities, yet they do not lack everything, for they retain the dignity of God’s children,” Pope Francis explained.
“For this reason, a different approach to poverty is required. This is a challenge that governments and world institutions need to take up with a farsighted social model capable of countering the new forms of poverty that are now sweeping the world,” he said as he pointed out that poverty “should motivate us to creative planning, aimed at increasing the freedom needed to live a life of fulfillment according to the abilities of each person.” In other words, empowering the poor is essential. And helping the poor and needy by empowering them can be a great source of joy the Christmas season brings.
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