Option for the Poor

     Anyone who follows the same schedule day after day can compare his or her life to being incarcerated in a prison.  Making this comparison may sound like a stretch, but fundamentally the concepts of both situations are similar.  Disregarding the fact that in prison the incarcerated individuals are there for committing a crime, the two situations are similar because people stuck in routine life usually cannot deviate from their paths due to restrictions.  These restrictions could include such things as living in poverty, which is a major issue to many around the world.  People who work at sweatshops could be described as being incarcerated in their own lives because they cannot easily stray from their paths without having to suffer negative consequences.  According to liberation theology, a movement within the Catholic Church, “real poverty, which refers to people who are economically impoverished, is an evil that is not desired by God” (Gutierrez, 235).  This raises the discussion of preferential option for the poor, which furthers the negativity of sweatshops in the eyes of God.

      Preferential option for the poor is a vital concept to become familiar with when discussing Catholic teaching.  The concept of “understanding poverty” is “broadly accepted today in the universal Church” (Gutierrez, 239).  One can begin to understand preferential options for the poor and why sweatshops are considered negative in the eyes of the Church by considering the two categories of liberation theology.  The first category is the theocentric option, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “when God is the focal point of attention.” Living to uphold God’s vision for the world is positive because when “all is said and done, the option for the poor means an option for the Reign of God as proclaimed to us by Jesus” (Gutierrez, 240). The term Reign of God is essentially similar to the term kingdom of God. The Catholic teachings express that in the last judgment “all the nations of the world will be assembled and will be divided into those blessed who are welcomed into God’s kingdom or those cursed who are sent to eternal punishment” (Economic Justice For All, 8).

       The Reign of God can be related to sweatshops because the workers who are suffering in the disgraceful conditions can be described as being the impoverished. These workers are exploited to carry out strenuous labor for little pay. In the end, all the laborers have to show for their hard, honest work is a couple of cents for the hour, suffering, and pain. From this, the “blessed,” are the type of individuals who would help people like the sweatshop laborers. They would also be the individuals who will be welcomed into God’s kingdom because they “are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned” (Economic Justice For All, 9). The Catholic teaching stresses that through “voluntary daily involvement with the poor,” one can truly focus on the theocentric option and live out God’s vision through the Holy Spirit. It is the job of the “blessed” to have a “morally trained eyes” to be able to see “the human situation rightly,” which also includes being able to see when someone is unjust or morally wrong (Himes & Himes, 182). Sweatshops, which are morally wrong and unjust, should be deemed an issue and the community should make a collaborative effort to better these establishments.

     “The Last Shall Be First” is the second category of liberation theology that is an important component in preferential option for the poor. Even from the parable in the first gospel “Matthew sets in the contrast between the first and the last” by saying that “Thus the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Gutierrez, 241). Extending to the discussion of theocentric opinion, the Reign of God is a “constant in the gospels” in determining who would be considered as being the “blessed” (Gutierrez, 241). The antithesis accentuates the fact of who will enter in the Reign of God. There are four main subcategories under “The Last Shall Be First.” First, in Luke and Matthew, there is mention of individuals who are in “real situations of poverty and wealth, hunger and satiety, and suffering and self-satisfaction” (242). These examples exemplify that the Reign of God will actually belong to, as said before, the last that is actually the first and the first who is actually the last. Second, the gospels stress that the word of God should be available to everyone as when the Lord cries, “Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them” (242). Third, Gutierrez talks about “dealing not with a question of moral deserts, but with an objective situation of the “poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21) (243). Lastly for the second category of liberation theology, there is the fact that Jesus is emphatic. Jesus will have empathy for those who show weakness and sickness.

     In the fast-paced, highly competitive 21st century that we are living in, it is difficult to consider the last when everyone is so focused on being the first. Undoubtedly, most individuals who work in sweatshops can be described as being the last, forgotten and overlooked in society. Although this saddening fact is regrettably true, it will not be the same in terms of the two concepts of the preferential option for the poor. In regards to theology, the significance of being first in the eyes of the world today is not important. The big corporations, that use sweatshops for higher production for lesser pay to solely make more profit, are not going to be looked upon favorably when being considered as being the “blessed” in the Reign of God. Since we are all created in the image of God, it is morally unjust to treat the individuals who work in sweatshops as disposable members of society.