Aid to the poor. Is it a mortal sin to not always help them?

he Catechism in Nº 544 says that “from the crib to the cross, Jesus shares his life with the poor; he knows hunger, thirst and want. Even more: he identifies himself with the poor of all kinds and transforms the active love towards them into a condition in order to reach his Kingdom “ (“Come blessed of my Father…for I was hungry and you gave me to eat….Depart from me, accursed ones… for I was hungry and you did not give me to eat…..”  (Mt 25, 34, 35, 41, 42).


From this we can deduce (Nº 2443) that “God blesses those who help the poor  and  reproves those who do not want to do it”.


Those who do not feed the hungry man who knocks on their door commit a serious sin, because, by omission, they condemn him to death; they reject Jesus himself who tells us:

“Amen, I say to you: as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me and as long as you didn’t  for one of these, the least of my brethren, you didn’t it for me”Thus (Nº 2446), “Not to share with the poor our own goods is to steal them and to take their life away. What we have are not our goods but theirs “(Catechism mentions Saint John Chrisostomus).


In the same paragraph it is said that we cannot offer as charity  what we already owe as justice:  Certainly, if God has made all the goods of this world for all men, our true right to property is limited by this first and main right of all men to have what they need to live:

“When we give to the poor the indispensable goods, we are not giving them personal liberalities, but we are giving them back what is their own. More than a charity act, we are fulfilling a justice’s duty” (Nº 2446, quoting Saint Gregory Magnus).


Saint Thomas says that alms are a duty. Not to fulfill them is a deadly sin, in the following case: When we find us before a clear, serious need -for instance, when we meet a person who is dying of hunger- and we are in surplus and we do not need what we would give to him. When in our actual situation or in the foreseen future we have a surplus of food and there is not anybody else, except ourselves, that can help the person in need”[22].


Saint Ambrose says: “Feed whoever is dying of hunger, if you don’t feed him, you are killing him”. And the apostle John says: “Whoever has goods in this world and, seeing his brother suffering need, refuses help, how can we say that God’s charity dwells in him?” We cannot love God if we don’t really love our brothers: Christ is the head of the mystical  body, from which the poor are also a part. With his characteristic realism, Saint Agustin asked “how can be embrace the head (Christ) and trample on the limbs (our brothers)?”[23] 


If every Christian remembered that we have to give account to God about the administration of our goods, of our received talents, there would not exist any needy persons among us, as there were not any among the first Christians:“Nor was there anyone among them in want, for those who owned lands or houses would sell them and bring  the price of what they sold and lay it at the feet of the apostles and distribution was made to each, according to any one had need“(Acts, 4, 34-35).  (We do not need that every Christian sell his goods, but certainly to have the same spirit of love which  these first Christians had).


If we acted like that, our society would be a pre-paradise, it would be just and peaceful, without the social convulsions which, from time to time, shakes our dozing egotism. And in the world as a whole, poor countries would be able to recover from their poverty. And God would smile onto us and He would dwell in our hearts together with the helped poor, as an infinite sun of light and love.

[22]  (Saint Thomas of Aquinas, Suma Teológica 2-2, q 32, a.5, c and ad 3)

[23]  Cardinal  Richard Mª Carles “ The social function of  own goods” Sunday letter the 12th  May 1996.