On How to Help the Poor

Blessed Jerome ca. 347-420

And so I will respond to you with the words of our Lord: if you want to be perfect, to carry your cross, to follow the Saviour, and imitate Peter who said, “You see, Lord, that we have left everything to follow you,” (Matt.10:28) go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and follow the Saviour.

He did not say, Give it to your children, your brothers, your parents — by this rule, the Lord must come first — but “Give it to the poor,” or rather to  Christ, whom you help in the person of the poor; he, being rich, made himself poor for the love of us, and who says in the 39th psalm, “For me, I was poor and destitute, and the Lord took care of me.” (Ps. 40:17) And immediately at the beginning of the 40th psalm, “Happy is he who understands the needs of the poor and indigent.” (Ps.41:1)

He does not mean those who live in beggary and squalor and at the same time in their vices; but those of whom the apostle Paul spoke when he said, “They only asked us not to forget the poor.” (Gal. 2:10) It was for the relief of these poor that Paul and Barnabas undertook to collect money on the first day of the week in the congregations of (believing) gentiles, and that they hurried themselves, not sending others, to take it to those who had been stripped of their goods for Christ, who were suffering persecution and who had said to their father and mother, to their wife and children, “We do not know you.” (Deut. 33:9) These carry out the wish of the Father and of whom the Lord Saviour said, “These are my mother and my brothers, those who carry out the will of my father.” (Matt. 12:50, Luke 8:21)

I say this, not because we should not be charitable to Jews, gentiles, and to all the other poor, of whatever nation they may be; but we must always prefer Christians to unbelievers, and even among the Christians we should put a great distance between a man who is a sinner and one who is holy. This is why the apostle, who exhorts charity to all in  many places, recommends them to do so mainly towards fellow believers (Gal. 6:10). This is one with whom we are linked by religion, and who is not separated by sin from the brotherhood. If we are called to give food to our enemies when they are hungry, to give them drink when they are thirsty, and so to pour coals of fire on their head (Rom. 12:10), how much more towards those who are not our enemies, and who are Christians and holy? (Letter 120)

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