Magazine article U.S. Catholic

What Is the Preferential Option for the Poor?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

What Is the Preferential Option for the Poor?

Article excerpt

I have a friend who is a permanent deacon. He's a former Marine, and though he is wonderfully kind, he can also turn on his military face and voice to let you know when he means business. One Sunday at Mass, he preached a homily about prayer, particularly about praying for the poor. He had on his game face that day, and at the end of his homily he leaned in close to the microphone and said in a terrifyingly stern whisper, "I know you are all busy. But you can give 30 minutes of your God-given breath to pray for the poor."

One of the major developments in Catholic social teaching in the 20th century has been the preferential option for the poor. The option for the poor is simply the idea that, as reflected in canon law, "The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor." It indicates an obligation, on the part of those who would call themselves Christian, first and foremost to care for the poor and vulnerable.

The phrase "preferential option for the poor" was first used in 1968 by the superior general of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe, in a letter to his order. The term was later picked up by the Catholic bishops of Latin America. In its early usage, particularly, the option for the poor referred especially to a trend throughout biblical texts, where there is a demonstrable preference given to powerless individuals who live on the margins of society. The liberation theology movement fully embraced the concept, particularly when they closely associated the poor and vulnerable with Jesus himself, citing Matthew 25, "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. …

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