April 3, 2023
by George Butterfield
Creighton University - Retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Monday of Holy Week
Lectionary: 257

Isaiah 42:1-7
Ps 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14
John 12:1-11

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The 1st Four Days of Holy Week - 14 min. - Text Transcript

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

There is a lot that can be said about these readings but I want to focus on one thing Jesus said. When Judas complained about the “wasting” of the costly perfumed oil and that it could be used to help the poor, Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

You always have the poor with you. How true. In the 1960’s, President Lyndon Johnson enacted legislation that he called the War on Poverty. Since then, the United States has spent 20 trillion dollars to wipe out poverty. With all of the money spent by our federal government and also the money that has been spent by organizations and individuals, the words of Jesus are still true: you always have the poor with you. This doesn’t even take into account the poor in other countries.

Although today is not his feast day, I want to tell a little of how St. Basil the Great waged his own war on poverty. St. Basil lived from 329 until 379. He is a Doctor of the Church and considered one of the greatest thinkers of his time. He was an ascetic, wrote a Rule for monks which is still followed today by Catholic Basilian monks and all Eastern Orthodox monks, and wrote prolifically. He oversaw the archdiocese of Caesarea which was the largest in his day with multiple dioceses under his guidance.

How did he react to Jesus’ words that “you always have the poor with you”? First, he gave away his own stuff. Second, he encouraged others to not hoard things that they didn’t need when there were poor folks who needed those things. When you give away all of your own stuff, you have some credibility to encourage others in this regard. In one homily he said that we should use what God has given to us for ourselves and our families but that we should not have things sitting around that we don’t need. He said to his congregation that the shoes they have in their closet that they never wear are shoes stolen from the poor. Yikes! I have been a thief.

The third way that he responded to what Jesus said was to organize the church for action. There was a severe famine, so Basil started a soup kitchen. He saw that the poor were not receiving proper medical care. The sick were undesirables in Roman society. Basil had seen how the monastic communities cared for their own sick and it gave him ideas that he put into practice in what history calls the first hospital, the Basilead. It had doctors and nurses. They ministered to anyone who was sick, including lepers. And St. Basil didn’t just organize the effort: he served in the hospital himself! Some criticized his efforts because the hospital used medicine to help its patients. Basil must not believe in the power of prayer, some said. St. Basil said that God can heal directly or indirectly through medicine and that the Basilead did both.

St. Basil’s efforts didn’t eradicate poverty. No, Jesus was right: we will always have the poor with us. But he shows us how one person can make a difference. He personally did what he could for the poor. He encouraged others to do what they could individually for the poor. And then he organized a number of group efforts to serve the poor. He inspires me to make changes in my life and be more responsive to the needs of the poor. Perhaps he will encourage you, too.

St. Basil, pray for us.

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