By: Deacon Steve Olmstead

In his book, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis calls all Christians to a personal encounter with Jesus and invites and challenges all Christians to take seriously and intentionally, God’s command to love one another. Within this call, Pope Francis highlights the “infinite dignity” of all people. “Each person has been taken up into the very heart of God.”

“Each person” includes you! You are in the very heart of God. You are infinitely loved and treasured by God. You are his beloved. You are the joy of God’s heart! You are God’s passion! The joy of the Gospel is the joy of God’s limitless love for you and me. It is this truth of our real dignity and value that lies at the center of the Gospel. The Good News is that we are loved, forgiven, and known. Yes, we are known, completely known, and eternally loved.

Embracing the reality of God’s love for us is to love God in return and to live in a personal and intimate relationship with God, the Lover of our souls. Jesus invites you and me into a living, dynamic encounter with Himself and the Trinity. This is a life-long journey and discovery of the mystery of God’s love, the mystery of our adoption as God’s very own. May we, on this pilgrim way and by God’s grace, seek to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

While a personal encounter with Jesus is vital and the hallmark of out dignity, Pope Francis understands the Joy of the Gospel is more than a personal encounter. It is also a social and communal reality. The dignity of each person as noted above must not only penetrate our personal lives, but also be the very light that illumines our social lives, our love for all people, especially the poor.

Pope Francis writes, “We prove hard of heart and mind; we are forgetful, distracted and carried away by the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction offered by contemporary society.” There are so many voices bidding for our attention, that we can quickly lose focus. Our hearts and lives become divided and distracted. Within the chaos and distractions of our lives Pope Francis reminds us that we are called not only to love God, but to love others as God has loved. If we are to love as God loves, we must love the poor. “We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voices to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.”

According to Pope Francis, “The Poor have much to teach us…We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church’s pilgrim way.”
Where are the poor in our lives? How can we learn from them if we have such little contact with them? How can we be evangelized by them if we fail to get close to them? If the poor are missing from our personal relationships, how can we truly learn to love others as God has loved us?

Jesus invites us to hear the cry of the poor and to come along-side them not only for their good, but for our good and blessing as well. “The Church, guided by the Gospel of mercy and by love for mankind, hears the cry for justice and intends to respond to it with all her might. In this context we can understand Jesus’ command to his disciples; ‘you yourselves give them something to eat!’ (MK 6:37); it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter.”

Pope Francis reminds us that “God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so, that he himself “became poor” (2 Cor 8:9). The entire history of salvation is marked by the presence of the poor.” Where are the poor in our stories?