“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Lk. 4:18-19, see also Isa. 61: 1-2)
The Gospel calls Christians to put the needs of the poor in a place of primary importance. As it has been said, a common moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable people. Such gospel mandate on the preferential option for the poor is well reflected in the thoughts of St. Augustine.
“Christ who is rich in heaven chose to be hungry in the poor. Yet in your humanity you hesitate to give to your fellow human being. Don't you realize that what you give, you give to Christ, from whom you received whatever you have to give in the first place.” (Commentary on Psalm 75,9)
In many instances, the Bishop Augustine expressed continual worry for the poorest of his community even reaching to the point of selling the sacred goblets in order to help them and would constantly intercede for them (cf. St. Possidius, Life of St. Augustine) As a "beggar for the beggars" (Serm. 66,8), Augustine would almost always include the same words at the end of his homilies: "give to the poor" (Serm. 61,13), "think of the poor" (Serm. 25,8; Serm. 122,6), "give to the poor what you have gathered" (Serm. 66,5). As always for Augustine, Christ and his Church together form the whole Christ (Totus Christus). Christ became poor and is in the poor, who are his members in the Body of the Church.
In the light of St. Augustine’s concern for the poor, as Augustinians, our apostolate needs to be oriented from our love of God expressed in our love of our neighbour leading us to seek justice, and to desire for the advancement of all, the whole person and society (Const. 182). This calls for a kind of restlessness in our social involvement thereby leading us to listen carefully to the concerns of the church and society and to discern on social questions such as: justice and peace, the rights of persons, the dignity of women, the defense of human life, the care of creation, and a more just economic order (Const. 185). Our apostolic activities should also be assiduously carried out with apostolic zeal in the churches and shrines, in the houses of spirituality, in the parishes, in the schools, and in all services requested of us by the Church (Const. 151). To this end, as a community we incarnate Christian charity.
The “signs of the times” mentioned by the previous General Chapters of the Order of St. Augustine, namely: globalization, social injustice, ecology, new technologies and immigration are very much evident in the Philippine social setting. Globalization of the market economy has brought about deep social inequalities and leaving a great number of the Filipinos in extreme poverty. There are violations on the rights of human persons such as politically motivated violence, human trafficking, increasing problems related to the rights of children and women, massive conversion of land that resulted to the shortage of food supply, among others. Unabated human activities and abuse of our marine and natural resources have led to widespread destruction of the environment. Furthermore, while thousands of skilled Filipino workers prefer to leave the country, there is also an increasing number of unemployed and underemployed citizens in the country.
The need to be concerned of the realities that confront us today as a community is very much expressed in the messages of Pope Francis, particularly in his groundbreaking encyclical Laudato Si:
“The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which in turn becomes a seedbed for collective selfishness.” (no. 204)
“Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds. This task will make such tremendous demands of man that he could never achieve it by individual initiative or even by the united effort of men bred in an individualistic way. The work of dominating the world calls for a union of skills and a unity of achievement that can only grow from quite a different attitude. The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion.”(no. 219)