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29.08.2021 09:08:40 2693x read.
The Poor are our Masters {By Bro. Andrew Makocho}.

The Poor are our Masters


By Bro. Andrew Makocho


Poverty is an enduring experience that has accompanied human beings throughout life. As Dussel observes, “Every system, every totality, produces its poor. It is important to note that every freedom, every revolution, creates new poor. It is a reality that is confronting us and has become an ever-present challenge.

Attempts to ease poverty have been less obvious while as proclamations upon proclamation are now the order of the day. FIC brothers have a heritage captured in a special concern for the poor and the needy (const. 10). It is interesting to note that despite all experience with the poor, I have never for one moment enthroned them as my masters.

My understanding of Poverty

My predisposition about the poor is grounded in Thompson (2000) who says that we can measure our faith and commitment by how we treat the poor and vulnerable. The words of Jesus and the teachings of his Church call for a service to those in need and work actively for social and economic justice.

This extraction from FIC Constitutions; have an open eye for the needy is all encompassing. That I have eyes to see, is a fact. That I can use those eyes to note poverty at my doorstep, is yet a difficult story to tell. I introspect my own poverty and refuse to see poverty elsewhere.  In effect, I am covetous. After all, charity begins at home they say. I refuse to accept the fact that it does not end there. But I reflect that I would probably not have been an FIC brother, if there were no poor in the world. The poor have employed me. They are my masters.

Poverty in the Scripture

Scripture recognizes that human existence has never been immune to poverty. In Deuteronomy 15:11, we read 'the poor will never cease from the land.' God then commands, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and needy in your land”. Citing of evidence of inflicting poverty on the people in the bible is long and all too familiar… fraudulent trade (Amos 8:4-5) … theft of land (Mic.2: 1 –2), violence against the poor (Ezek 16:48), wasteful affluence amid poverty (Amos 4:1, 6:4f)”.

How often do we see the same treatment in our world today? Is poverty a battle that  must be  won? When we profess the vow of poverty, what do we want to accomplish? It is because I choose to do nothing to alleviate suffering that poverty has become an enduring song. I have heard about the poor, I have seen the poor, I have related with the poor and yet I am unmoved. Do the poor have rights too? Who listens to them? What does the bible say? What does my constitution say?

Poverty in community

The FIC constitution pledges my brotherhood to love and care for the sick, the elderly, and those in need, for all who go through hard times, for whatever reason, (Const. 40). The constitution says there is poverty in my community as well.

The community is a place of healing. I bring to the community my cultural label. I need to reach out to my brothers in the community. My cultural sanctions about which people need to be excluded are clear. I need to be purified of this cultural taint. I see that if I do not receive love from the community, I may not know how to love. I must express love to others in order for others to be able to love me. Good and spiritual communities produce good visionary brothers. The experience I get with my brothers in the community is the launching pad for me to generate love.

I am able to do works of charity from my community. The community sees the poor and plans to reach out to them. Individual lists of poor people are only useful so long as they pass the discernment of the community. It is easier to descend into pride and carry ourselves as champions of charity if we disregard the community.

As brothers, we bring different standards of living poverty to the community. With little dialogue, some brothers may seem to impose some form of poverty on others. Poverty is not a yoke but an expression of love. Brothers may engage in lengthy meetings about furnishing their communities and of transport. There are unnecessary conflicts about how to live a life of poverty. At times, we get angry because my standard of poverty has not been met. The community is deciding for me. Of course, we may not ignore personal initiatives. Better communities take time to pray about how to deal with poverty. The poor are a community concern. They are our masters.


A model of Poverty

The presence of Jesus among the poor is that of a poor man among the poor, (Escobar & Driver, 1978). His birth took place without the normal luxuries, in a feeding trough of animals (Lk 2:7). He was a refugee quite early in his life (Matt 2:14). He grew up in Galilee, an underdeveloped region of Palestine (Matt 2:22 – 23), in the home of a carpenter and this placed him in a position of disadvantage in the eyes of many of his contemporaries (Jn. 1:46).

The FIC Constitution tells me to love this poor man called Jesus. Finally, I can say; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, (Const. 69). Christ tells me primarily to live a life that he lived. He was interested in people and he worked to alleviate their poverty. Jesus did not seek anything other than to give love.

There are brothers in my communities that I choose to ignore. These brothers may not be outspoken and suffer in silence. They may be sick or traumatised by my treatment towards them. They just need our concern. Jesus was concerned.


Poverty in the constitutions

The Constitution tells me to have an open eye for both spiritual and material needs, (Const.9). The FIC spirit is centred around denying myself of things and pleasures in order that I might be in solidarity with the poor person.

Brotherhood is not a race or a competition. Brotherhood is about sharing. At times, we give a gift and dictate how many times the gift must be used. At best, we become social commentators that announce how good we have been. We seize to be brothers and become uncrowned material bigots that care about ourselves more. We are short of declaring that I can make and unmake material life of people. When we have reached this pinnacle, we are empty of spiritual sympathy.

Listen to FIC constitutions: dialogue, mutual contact and frank deliberations are essential for the unity, the up building, and the functioning of our congregation. If we are to form a true community of brothers, our conversation will be marked by respect for one another, despite differences of opinion, by mutual love and continuous care for one another, by the privilege of sharing in each other’s apostolic motivation, and by concern for each other’s joys and worries, (Const.41).

Finally, I can say that the poor are there for me. We probably do not need to be anxious. We must carry out our works of charity with utmost love. It is not a mere job to be a brother, it is a service of loving. It is the gospel of love that must be preached. The poor are our masters.


[Bro. Andrew Makocho is the vice provincial superior of Malawi and a part time lecturer at the Catholic University of Malawi]

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