(This is a post I've been wanting to write for a week or two. But as I may have mentioned, I've been working a lot of nights and weekends and haven't had much time for writing. So I'm going to go ahead and just say it briefly, which probably covers it just as well anyway.)
For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good...
One often, if not usually, hears that verse quoted as an expression of fatalism about the possibility of ever ending poverty. And I think there will always be at least relative poverty, although the point is often made that even most poor people in industrial societies are better off than, say, the poor of, say, most of Africa. But I think there's another implication that's more pressing for us here and now. In these same affluent societies, there is a tendency to look to government and politics as the most fitting and possibly the only way of addressing problems such as poverty. So talk about helping the poor tends to turn into an argument about what the political approach should be. And the argument tends to occupy everyone's attention.
But there is nothing whatsoever to stop you and me from helping the poor personally, directly, right now. And whatever one's stand on the political questions may be, engagement with them can't be a substitute for action. Depending on one's circumstances, the action may involve giving time or money or both, and the amount given obviously will also depend on circumstances. But no political advocacy can take the place of personal action. That seems pretty plain from Scripture. And if all Christians did what we're supposed to do, most of the political argument would be irrelevant.
I can't point to any place where he has specifically said so, but I have the general impression that Pope Francis is urging us to something like this. It's very clear that he considers service to the poor a very important duty, yet in Argentina he seems to have gone about preaching that duty and acting on it in a way that mostly bypasses the political questions. As Janet Cupo said in a recent post, Now is the acceptable time. Not "when we expand these social programs," or "when we get rid of these social programs," and certainly not "when distributism is finally established." Now.