Prof. Ramon Tulio of the Theology department at RBCU* graciously visited The Ironic Catholic offices at her request, to enlighten the world on some of the finer points of Catholic social ethics, more commonly called Catholic Social Teaching. Today's topic: the preferential option for the poor.
IC: Welcome, Professor Tulio. I'm personally really excited to be talking to you about this topic. I've been moved for years that the Catholic tradition calls us in this direction.
Tulio: I'm glad to be here and glad to hear that. It's a topic that causes some controversy, especially in the Western world.
IC: I can't imagine why. Perhaps we can start with a definition: what is the preferential option for the poor?
Tulio: Basically, it's a phrase used by Catholic social ethicists to say that when push comes to shove, the poor need attention first. It is a way to express Christ's love for the most vulnerable. Option refers to "choice"--we are called to choose to embrace the needs of the poor.
IC: Um. (long pause) Really? I thought that the Church was offering us a choice to be poor. You know, "what do you prefer? Poor or rich?" Then you decide.
Tulio: Well, some people do choose to take vows of poverty, but the preferential option refers to caring for those who do not choose poverty, for whom poverty is essentially a slow form of death.
IC: But see, I prefer to be rich. I thought that was the option the Church was giving me. Or, if not rich exactly, I prefer to not be poor.
Tulio: That isn't quite what it's about. The phrase refers to opting for care of the poor. John Paul II advocated the alternative phrase "preferential love for the poor". Perhaps that helps.
IC: I guess it does; I'd sure love to be rich.
Tulio: No, you're supposed to love the poor people, as Christ did.
IC: So...I can't love rich people? Like my Mom? That doesn't seem right.
Tulio: Of course you can, and should. Everyone is your neighbor and you are bound to them by the Great Commandment to love. But the poor are in greater need, and we are called to help and assist them, like a mother cares for her sickest child out of need as well as love. That's why other people prefer the word "option"; it connotes action better.
IC: Then I'm trying to prefer "option" vs. "love"?
Tulio: No, no, no! They mean the same thing: the loving and real, active care for the poor.
IC: Hmm. Well, this has been enlightening, Prof. Tulio. I'm glad to know I have options and preferences. Will you come back to our studio to discuss another Catholic Social Teaching topic: the life and dignity of the human being?
Tulio: I'd prefer (long pause) ...I mean, yes, if God wills it.
IC: Thanks! I just know God willed this interview. Happy Thanksgiving!
Tulio: (muttering) Ivory tower...must get back to ivory tower....
*Really Big Catholic University