Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

man-giving-high-five-iedisc-montageA  basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46)  and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first. 




  • Exodus 22:20-26
           You shall not oppress the poor or vulnerable.   God will hear their cry.

  • Leviticus 19:9-10
             A portion of the harvest is set aside for the poor and the  stranger.

  • Job 34:20-28 
             The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

  • Proverbs 31:8-9  
             Speak out in defense of the poor.

  • Sirach 4:1-10  
            Don’t delay giving to those in need.

  • Isaiah 25:4-5  
             God is a refuge for the poor.

  • Isaiah 58:5-7
             True worship is to work for justice and care for the poor and oppressed.

  • Matthew 25:34-40  
             What you do for the least among you, you do  for Jesus.

  • Luke 4:16-21  
             Jesus proclaims his mission: to bring good  news to the poor and oppressed.

  • Luke 6:20-23
             Blessed are the poor, theirs is the kingdom of  God.

  • 1 John 3:17-18
             How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s good and sees one in need  and refuses to help?


“What is needed is a model of social, political and economic participation ‘that can include popular movements’ . . . Such movements are ‘social poets’ that, in their own way, work, propose, promote and liberate. They help make possible an integral human development that goes beyond ‘the idea of social policies being a policy for the poor, but never with the poor and never of the poor, much less part of a project that reunites peoples’.” (Pope Francis, Brothers and Sisters to Us [Fratelli Tutti], no. 169) 

“Dialogue must not only favor the preferential option on behalf of the poor, the marginalized and the excluded, but also respect them as having a leading role to play. Others must be acknowledged and esteemed precisely as others, each with his or her own feelings, choices and ways of living and working. Otherwise, the result would be, once again, ‘a plan drawn up by the few for the few,’ [28] if not ‘a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority.’ [29] Should this be the case, ‘a prophetic voice must be raised,’ [30] and we as Christians are called to make it heard.” (Pope Francis, The Beloved Amazon [Querida Amazonia], no. 27) 

God's word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us: "As you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40). The way we treat others has a transcendent dimension: "The measure you give will be the measure you get" (Mt 7:2). It corresponds to the mercy which God has shown us: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you . . . For the measure you give will be the measure you get back" (Lk 6:36-38). What these passages make clear is the absolute priority of "going forth from ourselves toward our brothers and sisters" as one of the two great commandments which ground every moral norm and as the clearest sign for discerning spiritual growth in response to God's completely free gift. (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel [Evangelii Gaudium], no. 179)

"The Church's love for the poor . . . is a part of her constant tradition." This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor. . . . "Those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2444, 2448, quoting Centisimus annus, no. 57, and Libertatis conscientia, no. 68)

Love for others, and in the first place  love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice. (St. John Paul II, On the Hundredth Year [Centesimus Annus], no. 58)
The  obligation to provide justice for all means that the poor have the single most urgent economic claim on the conscience of the nation. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All, no. 86)
The primary purpose of this special commitment to the poor is to enable them to become active participants in the life of society. It is to enable all persons to share in and contribute to the common good. The  "option for the poor," therefore, is not an adversarial slogan that  pits one group or class against another. Rather it states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community. The extent of their  suffering is a measure of how far we are from being a true community of persons. These wounds will be healed only by greater solidarity with the poor and among the poor themselves. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All, no. 88)

The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; the production to meet social needs over production for military purposes. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All, no. 94)
In teaching us charity, the Gospel  instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of  others. (Blessed Paul VI, A Call to Action [Octogesima Adveniens], no. 23)
"He who has the goods of this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of  God abide in him?”  Everyone knows that the Fathers of the Church laid down the duty of the rich toward the  poor in no uncertain terms. As St. Ambrose put it: “You are not making a gift  of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You  have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of  everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.” (Blessed Paul VI, On the Development of  Peoples [Populorum Progressio], no. 23)
Therefore everyone has the right to possess a sufficient amount of the earth's goods for themselves and  their family. This has been the opinion of the Fathers and Doctors of the church, who taught that people are bound to come to the aid of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods. Persons in extreme necessity are entitled to take what they need from the riches of others.
Faced with a world today where so many people are suffering from want, the council asks individuals and governments to remember the saying of the Fathers:  "Feed the people dying of hunger, because if you do not feed them you are killing them," and it urges them according to their ability to share and  dispose of their goods to help others, above all by giving them aid which will  enable them to help and develop themselves. (Second Vatican Council, The Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes], no. 69)

Still, when there is a question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of  the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. (Pope Leo XIII, On  the Condition of Labor [Rerum Novarum], no. 37)