Catholic Social Teaching Loving & Serving the Poor

One of the defining characteristics of the Catholic faith is its unwavering commitment to the poor and vulnerable. This commitment is not merely about providing charity, but about recognizing, loving, and serving Christ in those most in need.

Loving & Serving the Poor is a Christian duty

The Gospel of Matthew provides a profound illustration of this. "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40). These words spoken by Jesus form the core of the Church's social mission. It is a call to see Christ in each person, especially those marginalized by society, and to respond with love.

The Church's concern for the poor is reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It states, "The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1397).

The Catholic tradition is filled with saints who have been recognized for their exceptional love and service to the poor. These saints serve as examples and guides for us, showing us how to live out the Gospel call to love our neighbor. Here are just a few examples:

  • Saint Francis of Assisi: Known for his profound love for all of creation, St. Francis (1181-1226) dedicated his life to serving the poor. He famously renounced his family's wealth to live in poverty among those he served. His order, the Franciscans, continues his work of serving the poor and marginalized.
  • Saint Vincent de Paul: St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) was a French priest who dedicated his life to serving the poor. He founded the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians, as well as the Ladies of Charity, both of which served the needs of the poor, sick, and marginalized.
  • Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Known around the world for her love and service of the poor, Mother Teresa (1910-1997) founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India. She and her sisters provided food, medical help, and companionship to the poor, sick, and dying on the streets of Calcutta. She once said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one."
  • Saint Elizabeth of Hungary: A princess and a mother, St. Elizabeth (1207-1231) is known for her deep care for the poor. Despite her royal status, she often served the poor directly, even baking bread for hundreds of the poorest in her kingdom.
  • Saint Martin de Porres: A lay brother of the Dominican order in Peru, St. Martin (1579–1639) was known for his tireless work on behalf of the poor. He established an orphanage and a children’s hospital. He is often depicted with a broom, to symbolize his belief that all work is noble.
  • Saint Damien of Molokai: Known as the "Apostle to the Lepers", St. Damien (1840-1889) spent 16 years caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in the leper colony of Molokai, Hawaii.
  • Saint Katharine Drexel: An American saint, St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) dedicated her life and her fortune to works of education and aid to the poor, especially Native Americans and African Americans. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to carry on this work.

These saints lived in different times and places, and their lives looked quite different. However, what they all had in common was a deep love for the poor and a commitment to serving them. They serve as an inspiration for all Catholics, calling us to look beyond ourselves and see Christ in those in need.