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The Poor Man


The poor are not only brothers and sisters to be loved in a brotherly way because they are our brothers and sisters, they are also "our lords the poor" because the poor man is Our Lord.


He is the sacrament of our encounter with Christ, of our love given to Christ — there is nothing Platonic about the parable of the Last Judgment.

So, whatever form that poverty takes in our life, we can only be faithful to Jesus himself if the poor may come into our particular nitty gritty life situation and feel at home there, just as Christ is at home with us:  that is to say if they are not given the wrong kind of "priority" (there are multiple kinds of priority but each has its own concrete expression).  One can write reams about the poverty of Christ — drawing conclusions about what an imitation of that poverty would be like and what kind of implications this might have for us.  What is beyond discussion is that whatever our life it must, if it is to be Christian, protect a place for Christ in our flesh and blood encounters — our meetings, our welcomes, our ways of relating — to the poor.

The poor man by reason of poverty itself often repels us (cf Francis kissing the leper).  He brings into our way of life the very contradiction that is Christ.

It is the real presence of Christ in the poor man, when this is really believed and the poor man is known as a person, that can transform the encounter with him from a purely "social problem" into something essentially and authentically Christian.

The poor must not be someone who is tolerated and put up with, but someone who is waited for and expected.



Madeleine Delbrêl "The Poor Man." from The Joy of Believing, Ralph Wright, Trs. 1993. (Sherbrooke, QC: Mediaspaul, 1993).

This excerpt appeared in Magnificat in October 2013.


The Author

Madeleine Delbrêl (19041964) was a French Catholic author, poet, and mystic, whose works include The Marxist City as Mission Territory (1957), The Contemporary Forms of Atheism (1962), and the posthumous publications We, the Ordinary People of the Streets (1966) and The Joy of Believing (1968).  She came to the Catholic faith after a youth spent as a strict atheist.  She has been cited by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray as an example for young people to follow in "the arduous battle of holiness."

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