Tobias followed his father’s directives, but returned with news that a poor man had been murdered and left in the middle of the square. Without hesitation, old Tobit rose from the table to bury the man. On his return he fell asleep exhausted in the courtyard; bird droppings fell into his eyes and he became blind (cf. 2:1-10). It seems ironic: you perform an act of charity and misfortune befalls you! This is a common thought, but faith teaches us to look deeper.
Tobit’s blindness became his strength, allowing him to recognize even more clearly the many forms of poverty around him.
Ultimately, in due time, the Lord will restore his sight and the joy of seeing his son Tobias again. When that day came, Tobit embraced him. Weeping he said: I can see again, boy. You are the light of my eyes. And he thanked God: Praise be to God, blessed is his great name and blessed are all his holy angels. May his great name protect us. Blessed are all his angels forever and ever. He chastised me, but now I see my son Tobias again (11,13-14).
Trial becomes valuable lesson
We may wonder: where did Tobit get the courage and inner strength to serve God in the midst of a pagan people and to love his neighbor so much that he risked his own life for it? Tobit’s story is remarkable: he was a faithful husband and a caring father, deported far from his homeland, where he suffered injustice, persecution by the king and mistreatment by his neighbors…
Despite his goodness, he was tested. As Sacred Scripture often teaches us, God does not spare trials for those who pursue good. But why? Not to humiliate us, but to strengthen our faith in Him. During this ordeal, Tobit discovered his own poverty which enabled him to recognize poor people. Although he was faithful to God’s law and kept the commandments, that was not enough for him.
He was able to take on concrete care for poor people because he had personally experienced poverty.
His advice to Tobias thus became his true legacy: Don’t take your eyes off someone in need (4.7). In short, when we meet a poor person, we should not avert our gaze, because if we do, we deny ourselves an opportunity to meet the face of the Lord Jesus. Mind you, it says: from someone in need. Everyone is our neighbor, regardless of skin color, social status or origin… When I am poor, I can recognize my brothers and sisters who need my help. We are called to meet every poor person and every form of poverty and thus shake off the indifference and superficial excuses with which we protect an imaginary well-being.
Dare to get personally involved
We live in a time when attention to the poorest people is not encouraged. The call for prosperity is getting louder, while the voices of those living in poverty are growing silent. There is a tendency to ignore anything that deviates from the life models mainly intended for the younger generations, who are most susceptible to current cultural changes. We ignore everything that is unpleasant and causes suffering, and we glorify physical qualities as if that is the main goal in life. Virtual reality is taking over real life and both worlds are becoming more and more easily confused.
Poor people become snapshots that can touch us briefly, but when we meet them in person on the street, we look away in annoyance. Haste, the daily companion of our lives, prevents us from stopping to care for others. The parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37) is not just a story from the past; but a challenge for each of us, in the here and now of our daily lives.
Delegating tasks to others is easy, offering money so others can do charity is a generous gesture; but becoming personally involved is the calling of every Christian.
Let us thank the Lord for the many men and women who work for poor and excluded people; people of all ages and from all walks of life who take care of these suffering marginalized people. These are not superhumans, but “neighbors”, ordinary people whom we meet every day and who are silently becoming poor with the poor. They do more than just give alms: they listen, engage in dialogue, try to understand complex situations and the underlying causes in order to provide appropriate advice and guidelines. They focus on both material and spiritual needs, with a view to the integral development of the individual.
The Kingdom of God becomes visible in their generous and selfless service; it is like the seed that falls on the good soil of their life and bears fruit (cf. Lk 8:4-15). Our gratitude for these many volunteers calls for prayers so that their testimony may be fruitful.
Structural change is also needed
On the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the encyclical Pacem in terris it is crucial to note the following words of the holy Pope John XXIII to repeat:
- Every individual has the right to life, bodily integrity and the essential resources for a dignified existence, including food, clothing, housing, rest, medical care and social services. Therefore, everyone has the right to social security in situations of illness, disability, widowhood, old age, unemployment and in all other circumstances in which the means of earning a living disappear through no fault of his own. (no. 6).
There is still much work to be done to put these words into practice, especially through the serious and effective efforts of political leaders and legislators! May solidarity and subsidiarity continue to grow among citizens who believe in the value of volunteerism for the poor, despite all the limitations and sometimes the failure of politics to envision and serve the common good.
It is imperative to encourage and even pressure public institutions to perform their duties properly, but it is pointless to passively wait for everything to come ‘from above’.
People living in poverty must also be involved and guided in the process of change and in taking their responsibility.
Text continues below the video about Welfare Care and the fight from a Christian and pluralistic perspective against structural poverty.