Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

Learning More About Catholic Social Teachings

 Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

 While the common good embraces all, those who are weak, vulnerable, and most in need deserve preferential concern. A basic moral test for our society is how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst. In a society marred by deepening disparities between rich and poor, Scripture gives us the story of the Last Judgment (see Mt 25:31-46) and reminds us that we will be judged by our response to the “least among us.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: 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 through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere (2248).

Pope Benedict XVI has taught that “love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to [the Church] as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel” (Deus Caritas Est, no. 22). This preferential option for the poor and vulnerable includes all who are marginalized in our nation and beyond—unborn children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and terminally ill, and victims of injustice and oppression.

Scriptural Foundations

All members of society and society as a whole have a special obligation to poor and vulnerable persons. God’s covenant includes a special concern for these persons.

Laws protecting aliens, widows and orphans

Laws protecting debtors

Laws providing for the poor

Sources: USCCB New American Bible and Leader’s Guide to Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, (USCCB, 2001).

 Quotes from Official Church Documents

In protecting the rights of private individuals…special consideration must be given to the weak and the poor. For the nation, as it were, of the rich, is guarded by its own defenses and is in less need of governmental protection…”

  • -Pope Leo XIII, On the Condition of Workers (Rerum Novarum), 54
  • The prime 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,”
    -National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All,  88

Sources: USCCB New American Bible and Leader’s Guide to Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, (USCCB, 2001).

For further reading:

References from the Catechism

2444 - "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, Centesimus annus, 57.  Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to "be able to give to those in need, Ephesians 4:28." It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty, Centesimus annus, 57.

  • 2446 - St. John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs, Hom. in Lazaro 2, 5.  The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity,” Apostolicam actuosittem 8 § 5.
    When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.

Practicing Faithful Citizenship

Prayer for the Poor*

God of Justice
open our eyes
to see you in the face of the poor.
Open our ears
to hear you in the cries of the exploited
Open our mouths
to defend you in the public squares
as well as in private deeds
Remind us that what we do
to the least ones,
we do to you.
Amen.

*From Being Neighbor: The Catechism and Social Justice, USCCB, April, 1998