14 Responses to The Poor You Will Always Have With You

  1. paul zummo says:

    Very good post. In a narrow sense, I take this scriptural passage as an admonition against utopian idealism. It doesn’t mean we are justified in doing nothing, but rather, we cannot expect to create a paradise where there is no poverty.

  2. j. christian says:

    Much like you wrote, Ryan, here’s what the Pope has said about things being in their “proper order:”

    “At the heart of all temptations…is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives.” (from Jesus of Nazareth)

    He goes on to quote Deut 8:3 (“Man does not live by bread alone…”) as well as German Jesuit Alfred Delp: “Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration.” The Pope writes: “When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of the material goods themselves.”

    Notice that it doesn’t diminish the need for social justice and caring for the poor; instead, it explains the reason why we care about these things in the first place. As paul mentioned, it’s a bit of cautionary teaching about the dangers of utopianism, which would twist human nature for a misconception of the common good.

  3. Gabriel Austin says:

    Dear me, what a lot of words! I am reminded of God speaking to Job [Ch. 38]:
    “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?”

    I believe Our Lord’s words were meant more simply. As between honoring God [Himself] and giving to the poor, we will always have occasion to give to the poor. So, if we are not going to give to the poor, give to the God.

    Otherwise it would be beholden on us to sell all the real estate of the Church and the treasures and other wealth and give it to the poor.

    But is not the real meaning of the words, that we should intend to give to the poor [perhaps never ending poverty] because God told us to? Even if we have to give up one of our cars, should we not do it and come to rely on God?

  4. Thank you for addressing the serious problem of the perpetual misuse of this passage.

  5. Eric Brown says:



    MARCH 26, 1967


    The Use of Private Property

    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?” (21) 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.” (22) These words indicate that the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional.

    No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life. In short, “as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.” When “private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another,” it is for the public authorities “to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups.” (23)

    The Common Good

    24. If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation.

    Vatican II affirms this emphatically. (24) At the same time it clearly teaches that income thus derived is not for man’s capricious use, and that the exclusive pursuit of personal gain is prohibited. Consequently, it is not permissible for citizens who have garnered sizeable income from the resources and activities of their own nation to deposit a large portion of their income in foreign countries for the sake of their own private gain alone, taking no account of their country’s interests; in doing this, they clearly wrong their country. (25)

    Programs and Planning

    33. Individual initiative alone and the interplay of competition will not ensure satisfactory development. We cannot proceed to increase the wealth and power of the rich while we entrench the needy in their poverty and add to the woes of the oppressed. Organized programs are necessary for “directing, stimulating, coordinating, supplying and integrating” (35) the work of individuals and intermediary organizations.

    It is for the public authorities to establish and lay down the desired goals, the plans to be followed, and the methods to be used in fulfilling them; and it is also their task to stimulate the efforts of those involved in this common activity. But they must also see to it that private initiative and intermediary organizations are involved in this work. In this way they will avoid total collectivization and the dangers of a planned economy which might threaten human liberty and obstruct the exercise of man’s basic human rights.

    The Ultimate Purpose

    34. Organized programs designed to increase productivity should have but one aim: to serve human nature. They should reduce inequities, eliminate discrimination, free men from the bonds of servitude, and thus give them the capacity, in the sphere of temporal realities, to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to develop their spiritual endowments. When we speak of development, we should mean social progress as well as economic growth.

    It is not enough to increase the general fund of wealth and then distribute it more fairly. It is not enough to develop technology so that the earth may become a more suitable living place for human beings. The mistakes of those who led the way should help those now on the road to development to avoid certain dangers. The reign of technology—technocracy, as it is called—can cause as much harm to the world of tomorrow as liberalism did to the world of yesteryear. Economics and technology are meaningless if they do not benefit man, for it is he they are to serve. Man is truly human only if he is the master of his own actions and the judge of their worth, only if he is the architect of his own progress. He must act according to his God-given nature, freely accepting its potentials and its claims upon him.

    Superfluous Wealth

    49. We must repeat that the superfluous goods of wealthier nations ought to be placed at the disposal of poorer nations. The rule, by virtue of which in times past those nearest us were to be helped in time of need, applies today to all the needy throughout the world. And the prospering peoples will be the first to benefit from this. Continuing avarice on their part will arouse the judgment of God and the wrath of the poor, with consequences no one can foresee. If prosperous nations continue to be jealous of their own advantage alone, they will jeopardize their highest values, sacrificing the pursuit of excellence to the acquisition of possessions. We might well apply to them the parable of the rich man. His fields yielded an abundant harvest and he did not know where to store it: “But God said to him, ‘Fool, this very night your soul will be demanded from you . . .’ ” (54)

    To Government Authorities

    84. Government leaders, your task is to draw your communities into closer ties of solidarity with all men, and to convince them that they must accept the necessary taxes on their luxuries and their wasteful expenditures in order to promote the development of nations and the preservation of peace. Delegates to international organizations, it is largely your task to see to it that senseless arms races and dangerous power plays give way to mutual collaboration between nations, a collaboration that is friendly, peaceoriented, and divested of self-interest, a collaboration that contributes greatly to the common development of mankind and allows the individual to find fulfillment.

  6. Jay Anderson says:

    I see this passage as a rebuke of the “time better spent” fallacy. You know the one: “Wouldn’t our time be better spent taking care of the poor than in (doing whatever the Church happens to be doing at that moment in time).

    Here’s an example.

    And my response.

  7. Matt McDonald says:


    accept the necessary taxes on their luxuries and their wasteful expenditures in order to promote the development of nations and the preservation of peace.

    Interesting, the Holy Father here is recommending the “Fair Tax”, he seems not to be in favor of the income taxes which tax not luxuries and expenditures, but productivity… hmmm.

  8. Matt McDonald says:


    can we excommunicate anyone who opposes the Fair Tax then????

  9. Eric Brown says:

    I don’t think that is grave enough an offense for excommunication.

  10. Matt McDonald says:


    even if they are pertinacious?

  11. Eric Brown says:

    Even so.

    We might make them tithe more though.

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