Pope Francis has gotten some bad reactions to his comment, “How much I would like us to kneel in veneration before the poor in church.”
Okay, it’s a weird way to put it, and obviously it’s a bit difficult for Catholics who are poor to be kneeling to venerate themselves!
However, the great Biblical commentator Cornelius a Lapide says in his Commentary on Matthew 25:37-39:
“….St. Louis, King of France, was accustomed to distribute food with his own hands to 200 poor persons on all vigils and festivals, and to wash their feet on Saturdays. He also daily entertained at his own table three poor old men, and afterwards ate what they left.
“When some persons objected that this was derogatory to the majesty of a king, he made answer, “I revere Christ in the poor, Christ Who said, “What ye do to the least of Mine, ye do unto Me.”
And he was wont to add, “The poor prepare Heaven for themselves by patience, but the rich by alms and reverence, whereby they love and venerate the poor as the Members of Christ.””
So yes, we can “venerate” humans, at least notionally or mystically, if they are Body Parts of Christ’s Body.
I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this expression in some other medieval saint stories, but St. Louis is a good example. And obviously stories such as St. Martin of Tours giving the poor man his cloak, and later finding out it was Jesus, have always been part of our Catholic beliefs.
In his Commentary on Matthew 25:45, Cornelius a Lapide also quotes St. Francis as saying:
“….Christ is offered to us in the person of the poor, as it were in a glass. As often therefore as the poor and infirm meet thee, think of and humbly venerate the poverty and infirmities which Christ deigned to endure for us.“
So yeah, it’s a phrase that shows up in some odd modern places, but the idea behind it is actually pretty traditional. I think we should take the Pope’s comments in the favorable way, not the weird way.