The Paradox of Poverty – A Homily for the 32nd Sunday of the Year

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath, Bernardo Strozzi (1630s)

The first reading in today’s Mass (1 Kings 17:10-16) speaks to us of the paradox of poverty: it is our poverty, our neediness, that provides a doorway for God to bless us with true riches. Our emptiness provides room for God to go to work.

In our worldly riches, we feel we have “too much to lose”; the Gospel just seems too demanding. In our poverty, emptiness, and detachment from this world, however, there is a strange and unexpected freedom that makes it easier to step out in faith—and stepping out in faith is the only thing that can save us.

Yes, poverty brings freedom. You can’t steal from someone who has nothing, and you can’t kill someone who has already died to this world.

Are you poor enough to be free? There’s a strange blessing in poverty. Let’s look at the first reading to see how poverty can usher in strange blessings.

The Desire Portrayed In the first reading, the prophet Elijah encounters a widow at the entrance of the city of Zarephath, a name that means “refining fire.” In those days, Elijah the prophet went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her.

Both Elijah and the widow are hungry and thirsty, for there is famine in the land. As God’s prophet, Elijah speaks not only for himself but for God when he asks the poor woman to share her meager food with him. God has a desire, a hunger, for us. The woman also has desires, but hers need to be purified in this place of “refining fire.”

The widow’s hunger for earthly food is a symbol for a deeper hunger: a hunger for communion with God. At some point our hunger must meet God’s hunger—that point we call Holy Communion. It is a place where our hunger for God and His for us meet, and we find serenity. Every other hunger merely points to this hunger, and every other “food” is but a cruel, temporary morsel until this deepest hunger is satisfied.

Thus, two people meet at a place called “refining fire.” It is desire that has drawn them, a desire that is ultimately satisfied only in God.

The Dimensions of Poverty – The woman articulates her poverty in responding to Elijah’s request: Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.” She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.” She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.

We may wonder why God allows poverty and suffering. The quick answer is that it is because there is such grave risk in riches and comfort. The Lord is well aware of how hard it is for the wealthy and comfortable to enter the Kingdom of God. In riches we trust in ourselves, but in poverty we can only trust in God; it is only through trusting faith that we can ever be saved.

There is a kind of freedom in poverty. The poor have less to lose.

They can operate in wider dimensions and have a kind of freedom that the wealthy often lack.

Not only is it hard to steal from a poor man, but it also takes little to enrich him. A man who has lived in a great palace may be discouraged with a humble domicile, while a poor one may be satisfied with a single small room to call his own. A hungry man may appreciate mere scraps of food, while one who is already satiated may need caviar to feel grateful. The rich miss many of life’s little blessings and may suffer from boredom, whereas the poor delight in even small pleasures. The rich man’s world gets ever smaller and less satisfying; the poor are more likely to truly appreciate even the humblest things.

Here again is the paradox of poverty, wherein less is more, gratitude is easier to find, and losses are less painful. As we shall see, it is the widow’s poverty that opens her to lasting blessings. Having little to lose, she is free enough to accept the next stage of our story.

The Demand that is Prescribed – God’s prophet, Elijah, summons her to trusting faith: “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”

Elijah tells her not to be afraid to share. In effect, he teaches her that the Lord will not be outdone in generosity. On a human level, Elijah’s request seems almost cruel, but from a spiritual perspective he is summoning her to the faith that alone can truly save her.

Note that although she is afraid, her fear is easily overcome. Why? Because she has little to lose. So many of our fears are rooted in the fear of loss. The more we have, the more we have to be anxious about. In recent decades we have grown increasingly wealthy yet seem to have more problems. What are our chief problems? Fear and anxiety about the loss, maintenance, and protection of all our “stuff.” Scripture says, The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep (Eccl 5:12). This is so true! The wealthier we have become the more we’ve been spending on psychotherapy and psychotropic drugs. We are anxious about so many things; insomnia and stress are common today.

We have too much stuff, too much to lose. Most of us, hearing Elijah’s request, would call him crazy or cruel or both. This woman is free enough to take him up on his offer. How about us?

We, too, must come to realize that looking merely to our own self-interest will only feed us for a day. Only in openness to God and others can we procure a superabundant food, that which will draw us to life eternal.

The Deliverance Produced – Having little to lose, the woman trusts in God’s word through Elijah and shares her food. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.

If we learn to trust God, we come to discover that He never fails. Of course, this takes faith, and faith involves risk. This is where poverty can have its advantages. The widow takes the risk and shares what little she has. For her, the risk is immediate, but ultimately it is a lesser risk because she has so little to lose.

So, the woman is free enough to risk it all. Her only gamble is trusting God, and God does not fail. Scripture says,

  • Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days (Eccles 11:1).
  • Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38).
  • And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward (Matt 10:42).
  • Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Cor 9:6).
  • Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to (Deut 15:10).
  • He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done (Prov 19:17).
  • A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor (Prov 22:9).
  • He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses (Prov 28:27).

Do you believe all this? Or are these just slogans for others? Well, you never know until you try. If you don’t think you can try, maybe you have too much to lose.

Consider this woman who was poor enough to be free and free enough to try the Lord—and God did not fail. He never fails. I am a witness, how about you?

Two Teachings on Discipleship from Jesus

In the Gospel for today (Monday of the 13thWeek of the Year) Jesus gives two teachings on discipleship. They are not easy, and they challenge us—especially those of us who live in the affluent West.

Poverty– The text says, As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Here is a critical discipline of discipleship: following Jesus even if worldly gain not only eludes us but is outright taken from us.Do you love the consolations of God or the God of all consolation? Do you seek the gifts of God, or the Giver of every good and perfect gift? What if following Jesus gives you no earthly gain? What if being a disciple brings you ridicule, loss, prison, or even death? Would you still follow Him? Would you still be a disciple?

In this verse, the potential disciple of Jesus seems to have had power, prestige, or worldly gain in mind. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a political messiah and wanted to get on the “inside track.” Jesus warns him that this is not what discipleship is about. The Son of Man’s kingdom is not of this world.

We need to heed Jesus’ warning. Riches are actually a great danger. Not only do they not help us in what we really need, they can actually hinder us! Poverty is the not the worst thing. There’s a risk in riches, a peril in prosperity, and a worry in wealth.

The Lord Jesus points to poverty and powerlessness (in worldly matters) when it comes to being disciples. This is not merely a remote possibility or an abstraction. If we live as true disciples, we are going to find that piles of wealth are seldom our lot. Why? Well, our lack of wealth comes from the fact that if we are true disciples, we won’t make easy compromises with sin or evil. We won’t take just any job. We won’t be ruthless in the workplace or deal with people unscrupulously. We won’t lie on our resumes, cheat on our taxes, or take easy and sinful shortcuts. We will observe the Sabbath, be generous to the poor, pay a just wage, provide necessary benefits to workers, and observe the tithe. The world hands out (temporary) rewards if we do these sorts of things, but true disciples refuse such compromises with evil. In so doing, they reject the temporary rewards of this earth and may thus have a less comfortable place to lay their head. They may not get every promotion and they may not become powerful.

Thus “poverty” is a discipline of discipleship.What is “poverty”? It is freedom from the snares of power, popularity, and possessions.

Jesus had nowhere to rest his head. Now that is poor. However, it also means being free of the many obligations and compromises that come with wealth. If you’re poor no one can steal from you or threaten take away your possessions. You’re free; you have nothing to lose.

Most of us have too much to lose and so we are not free; our discipleship is hindered. Yes, poverty is an important discipline of discipleship.

Promptness (readiness)The text says, And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

The Lord seems harsh here. However, note that the Greek text can be understood in the following way: “My Father is getting older. I want to wait until he dies and then I will really be able to devote myself to being a disciple!”

Jesus’ point is that if the man didn’t have this excuse, he’d have some other one. He does not have a prompt or willing spirit. We can always find some reason that we can’t follow wholeheartedly today because. There are always a few things resolved first.

It’s the familiar refrain: I’ll do tomorrow!

There is peril in procrastination. Too many people always look to tomorrow. But remember that tomorrow is not promised. In Scripture there is one word that jumps out repeatedly; it’s the word now. There are many references to the importance of now or today rather than tomorrow:

  • Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD (Isaiah 1:18).
  • behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
  • Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart (Ps 95:7).
  • Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth (Prov 27:1).

That’s right, tomorrow is not promised! You’d better choose the Lord today because tomorrow might very well be too late. Now is the day of salvation.

There is an old preacher’s story about delay: There were three demons who told Satan about their plan to destroy a certain man.The first demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no Hell.” But Satan said, “People know that there’s a Hell and most have already visited here.” The second demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no God.” But Satan said, “Despite atheism being fashionable of late, most people know, deep down, that there is a God, for He has written His name in their hearts.” The third demon said, “I’m not going to tell them that there’s no Hell or that there’s no God; I’m going to tell them that there’s no hurry.” And Satan said, “You’re the man! That’s the plan!”

Yes, promptness is a discipline of discipleship. It is a great gift to be sought from God. It is the gift to run joyfully and without delay to what God promises.

Here are two disciplines of discipleship. They are not easy, but the Lord only commands what truly blesses. There is freedom in poverty and joy in quickly following the Lord!

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On the Paradoxical Freedom of Poverty

There is a saying that you cannot steal from a man who has nothing and you cannot threaten a man who has nothing to lose. Of Jesus, the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head (Matt 8:20), this was surely true. The world had no claim on Him, nothing with which to hook Him or claim His loyalty. Even His life could not be taken from Him, for He had already laid it down freely (cf Jn 10:18).

St. John Chrysostom spoke of it boldly in a sermon that paints well the paradoxical freedom of poverty and enslavement of riches and possessions. I’ll return to that in a moment.

First, consider that for most of us, the heart of the slavery comes from our attachments to this world. So easily do we sell our soul to its allurements; so easily does the world ensnare us with its empty promises and trinkets that so quickly become duties, distractions, and requirements. In our heart, we know that the things of the world weigh us down, but still our addiction to things draws us further into the endless cycle of ever-deepening desires and the increasing inability to live without many burdensome things.

It isn’t just things that entrap us. The world also hooks us with the mesmerizing promise of popularity, promotion, and even fame. In our desperate pursuit of popularity, we soon will do almost anything and make almost any compromise.

Jesus says, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matt 6:24).

Other relevant passages from Scripture include these:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15)

Adulterers! Do you not know that the love of this world is hatred toward God? Therefore, whoever chooses to be a friend of this world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).

In the end, most of our slavery and anxiety is rooted in our love for this world and our fear of losing its pleasures and its promises of power and popularity. It is without a doubt the greatest human struggle to escape from this world’s hooks and shackles and become utterly free—free to follow the Lord unreservedly and with no fear of what the world might do in retaliation.

In one of his sermons, St. John Chrysostom describes well the human being who is utterly free. It is a magnificent portrait, one he was able to exhibit not merely by his words but by his life.

Born in 344 at Antioch, he grew into a young man very much admired for his brilliance and oratorical skills. In 374 he fled to the mountains to live quietly and to break the hold that the world had on him. Following six years of “holy silence,” he worked quietly as a priest. In 398, however, he was summoned to be bishop of Constantinople. He was beloved for his powerful capacity to preach and received the name “Chrysostom” (Golden mouth). Yet not all appreciated the freedom with which he preached, a freedom that led him to denounce vice openly, no matter who was doing it. He was exiled twice (in 403 and 407) by powerful enemies, and though they tried to break his spirit and rob him of his joy, they could not prevail. Although he died on his way to his final exile (during a miserable journey in terrible weather), he died with joy, saying, “Glory be to God for all things. Amen.”

The world could not prevail over him. He did not fear it, for he owned nothing of it and owed nothing to it. It had no hold on him.

Thus speaking not only from Scripture but from experience, St. John Chrysostom said,

“The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence …

“Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!

“If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear? Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web … For I always say: Lord, your will be done; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful …

“For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people” (Ante exsilium, nn. 1-3).

This is freedom. You cannot steal from a man who owns nothing and you cannot threaten a man who has nothing to lose. You cannot deprive a man who has Jesus Christ.

Pray for this freedom.

Poverty, Anyone? Why the First Evangelical Counsel Is a Gift for Us All

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There are three evangelical counsels in Christianity: poverty, chastity, and obedience. Each, of course, presents challenges, but all are rooted in a similar goal: detachment. In obedience, God gives us the grace to free ourselves from pride and willfulness. In chastity, God gives us the grace to order and moderate our sexual passions according to our state in life, thereby reducing our obsession with their energy. And in poverty, God gives us the grace to suppress our greed and to make moderate, proper use of the things of this world.

For priests and religious, the challenge of obedience looms especially large. It is concerned with both daily matters and long-term ones, such as assignments and where one will live.

Chastity certainly challenges all: married, single, priest, religious, and laity. However, for the married and for priests and religious, chastity can be very workable as long as proper boundaries and structures are in place.

Poverty seems especially challenging to those who are married and have children. In my discussions with family and friends over the years, I’ve learned that the summons to poverty seems irksome, and even improper to many. Some say things like “Father, I have children to raise; I need to provide for them. And have you seen how much college costs these days? We need a decent house to live in. And medical insurance seems to increase by leaps and bounds every year. Poverty for me and my spouse would be foolish.”

Their objections are understandable. However, they are based on the notion that the counsel to poverty means a call to destitution, hand-to-mouth living, or a state in which one owns very little. To be sure, some are called to this sort of poverty. Religious own nothing and share all of what they earn or have with the community to which they belong.

But poverty as a spiritual counsel is deeper than what is in the bank, or the square footage of one’s home, or how much is in the college savings plan or 401-K. The poverty referred to points more to attitudes than assets. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange speaks of the spirit of poverty in this way:

The meaning of this evangelical beatitude is as follows: Blessed are they who have not the spirit of wealth, its pomp, its pride, its insatiable avidity; but who have the spirit of poverty and are humble. … Our Lord counseled voluntary poverty, or detachment in regard to earthly goods … to combat cupidity, the concupiscence of the eyes, the desire of riches, avarice and the forgetfulness of the poor (The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, Vol. 2, Tan Pub. pp. 141-142).

Great humility is necessary for us in our riches, since it is too easy for us to consider ourselves owners of them rather than stewards. That is to say, we are given goods by God to administer in the way He would have us, not merely according to our whims or desires. In his treatise on justice, St Thomas Aquinas says,

It is lawful for man to possess property … [but] with regard to external things [and] their use … in this respect man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate them to others in their need (Summa Theologica IIa IIae q. 66, art 2).

Now certainly God would have us care for our own household first. But in an age such as ours, in which abundance knows few limits, the spirit of poverty is a necessary gift from God to help us to rightly assess what is meant by excess and superfluity. For indeed it is from our abundance that we ought to give to the poor and needy. In the lives of parents, the first who are needy are their children. But though charity does begin at home, it does not end there. And thus our notion of the poor and needy is rightly expanded to include many beyond our kith and kin.

Our culture does a poor job of schooling us in what is meant by abundance. Indeed the message today is that we can never have enough and that we absolutely need what we merely want. Is it really necessary for us to have homes of 3,500 square feet and up? Are granite countertops really essential? Are six televisions truly necessary? When have we reached the point at which we can say, “My family and I have what we need, and even a good bit of what we want. Now it is important to give out of our abundance”?

The counsel of poverty is aimed at addressing this prudential judgment. As a poor author who has never met most of you, I cannot give you the precise definition of what it means for you to give out of your abundance prudentially and generously. I cannot lecture you on how you merely want what you think you need. This is ultimately a matter between you and God.

That is why it is important to cultivate what we call the spirit of poverty. By it, we learn to be content with and grateful for what we have. By it, we can say to God, “Thank you, Lord. It is enough.” By the spirit of poverty we learn to be detached from the excesses of this world. By living more simply, we are able to be more generous both with our children and with the poor.

Through voluntary poverty we are freed of many of the extra cares of the world as well as from excessive preoccupation with external and passing things. By travelling lighter, our pace toward God and the Kingdom of Heaven can become more rapid. Our life is simpler and more focused on things that matter; we are less concerned with running after the latest upgrade, less anxious about securing and maintaining all of our many possessions.

A simpler life is less busy, so there is more time for relationships with God and others. There is more time for spiritual reading and edifying things. The goods of our heart and intellect are savored, while the goods of the body are less appealing.

Thus, the counsel of spiritual poverty is, at its heart, the call to a spirit of detachment, disengagement from what is less important in order to connect more closely with what is more important. Thus, poverty is not about less; it is about more. Voluntary spiritual poverty makes room for more of what is good, true, and beautiful; more of what is holy, edifying, and helpful.

By this counsel, God is not asking us to live in destitution. In fact, for parents with children, that might even be irresponsible. But, honestly, does not our obsession with worldly things rob us of more important ones?

Let the Holy Spirit counsel you on what spiritual poverty means for you.

On the Paradoxical Freedom of Poverty as Taught by St. John Chrysostom

062514There is a saying that you cannot steal from a man who has nothing, and you cannot threaten a man who has nothing to lose. Of Jesus, the Son of Man who had no where to lay his head (Matt 8:20), this was surely true. The world had no claim on him, nothing to hook him or claim his loyalty. Even his life could not be taken from him for he had already laid it down freely (cf Jn 10:18).

St. John Chrysostom spoke of it boldly in a sermon that paints well the paradoxical freedom of poverty and the enslavement of riches and possessions.  More on that in a moment…

But first, consider that the heart of the slavery most of us experience comes from our attachments to this world. So easily do we sell our souls to its allurements; so easily does the world ensnare us with its empty promises and trinkets that so quickly become duties, distractions, and requirements. In our heart, we know how the things of the world weigh us down. But even knowing this, our addiction to things draws us further into the endless cycle of ever-deepening desires and the increasing inability to live without many burdensome things.

And it isn’t just things. The world hooks us with the mesmerizing promise of popularity, promotion, even fame. And in our desperate addiction to being popular, we come too easily to the point that we will do almost anything and make almost any compromise for popularity and advancement.

Jesus says, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matt 6:24).

Scripture elsewhere says,

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15).

Adulterers! Do you not know that the love of this world is hatred toward God? Therefore whoever chooses to be a friend of this world is an enemy of God (James 4:4).

But in the end, most of our slavery and anxiety is rooted in our love for this world and our fear of losing its pleasures, and its promises of power and popularity. It is without doubt the greatest of human struggles to get free from this world’s hooks and shackles and to become utterly free—free to follow the Lord unreservedly and with no fear of what the world might do in retaliation.

In one of his sermons, St. John Chrysostom describes well the human being who is utterly free. It is a magnificent portrait, and one he was largely able to exhibit not merely by his words but by his very life.

Born in 344 at Antioch, he became a young man very much admired for his brilliance and oratorical skills. In 374 he fled to the mountains to live quietly and to break the hold that the world had on him. After six years of “holy silence,” he worked quietly as a priest. But in 398, he was summoned to be bishop of Constantinople. He was beloved for his powerful capacity to preach and received the name “Chrysostom” (Golden mouth). Yet not all appreciated the freedom with which he preached, a freedom that led him to denounce vice openly, no matter who was doing it. He was exiled twice (in 403 and 407) by powerful enemies. And though his enemies tried to break his spirit and rob him of his joy, they could not prevail. Although he died on his way to his final exile (during a miserable journey in terrible weather), he died with joy, saying, “Glory be to God for all things. Amen.”

The world could not prevail over him; he did not fear it, for he owned nothing of it, and owed nothing to it. It had no hold on him.

And thus speaking not only from Scripture but from experience as he was being led into exile, St. John Chrysostom said,

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence …

Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!

If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear? Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web … For I always say: Lord, your will be done; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful …

For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people (Ante exsilium, nn. 1-3).

Here is freedom. You cannot steal from a man who owns nothing, and you cannot threaten a man who has nothing to lose; you cannot deprive a man who has Jesus Christ.

Pray for this freedom.

On the Poverty of the First Christmas and the Gift to Love the Poor

One of the great gifts to be sought at Christmas is to experience an increase in our love the poor. Poverty, it is true, remains a complicated and vexing problem, especially in modern market based economies. Linked to poverty are complicated social issues such as addiction, single motherhood and the unintended though real consequences of welfare programs, as currently structured.

But none of these complexities can exempt us of our summons to care for the poor and to grow in love for them, yes to actually love them, not only serve them. How we will ultimately and best serve the poor or solve all the complex issues related to poverty may not always be clear to us. But to love them is to receive the God-given gift that will energize our zeal and serve as the true foundation for the persistent and consistent action that is so essential to lasting solutions.

This Christmas why not ask the gift to love the poor more deeply, with an abiding and deep affection?

For poverty and neediness are an intrinsic aspect of the Infancy narratives. The first Christmas was anything but charming or sentimental. It is charged with homelessness, hardship, a lack of decent resources, disregard for human life (by Herod), and the flight of the Holy Family as refugees and aliens in a foreign land.

Joseph and Mary, with Jesus were not destitute. They were among what we might call the working the poor. But one thing about be among the working poor, you’re always on the edge of an abyss. Most the benefits that the working middle and upper classes in our culture have, were unknown to Joseph and Mary.  And such benefits are also unknown to many of the working poor today, who, because of their part-time status, lack the benefits that cushion us from life’s vicissitudes. There was not security net for Joseph and Mary. There was no sick leave, vacation with pay, medical benefits and the like. If you were sick you missed work,  and didn’t get paid.  If there were a family crisis, you still had to work, or if you missed work, and again, so much for the pay.

Destitution for the working poor was always one or two paychecks away. Life was fragile and very dependent on the right combination of work and extended family ties. Any disturbance to this delicate balance could bring on real crisis. And in the Christmas story we see an ensuing crisis

Thus we see Joseph and Mary swept up in power move among the governing authorities to take a census. This was about power and taxes, and armies, it was about control. Scripture says, The poor man is devoured by the pride of the wicked: he is caught in the schemes that others have made (Ps 10:2. Grail).

Yes,  Joseph and Mary are swept away from their resources, their family, extended family, and Joseph from his livelihood. They are swept downstream some 70 miles to the town of Bethlehem at a critical time for their family, the 9th month of Mary’s pregnancy. Could you walk 70 miles? And what if you were pregnant? Artists depict Mary on a donkey. I have my doubts. Donkeys were expensive and it is unlikely that the working poor would have such an expensive animal. It may be that Joseph himself pushed Mary in a cart. We are left to wonder. But this was no pleasure cruise. It was a grave hardship and a major social dislocation. Life is fragile for the poor. This young family is torn from its supports and resources and made to travel 70 miles on foot to a distant town, and just hope arrangements could be found. The poor are caught in schemes others have made.

Homelessness awaited them. We may be content to think that that lodging was scarce in that city, swelled by an unexpected census. But the reality was likely more complicated. Lodging could likely have been found for the right price. But when you’re among the working poor, such certainties that money can supply are usually lacking. Should it matter that Joseph’s wife is nine months pregnant and due any moment? Apparently not. Human sympathy is a wonderful thing, but it is not a dependable thing when you don’t have the money or resources to inspire it in others. The poor can seek sympathy, but they may or may not get it.

Off to the stinking stable, the dank cave. Poverty does stink, and leads to deep and dank places. We may sentimentalize the birth of Jesus among animals, but there was nothing cute about it. The Church speaks reverently of the mystery of this moment: O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderunt Dominum natum jacentem in praesepio! (O great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals would see the newborn Lord lying in a feedbox).

Yes, the wondrous mystery is that God so esteems poverty. But the disgrace of this remains at our door. It is a foreshadowing of the mystery of the cross. Yes, Christ saves us through it, but shame, shame on us. Shame that our Messiah had to endure this birth in a smelly cave, shame that we would later scorn and crucify him who said “Blessed are the poor” (Lk 6:20).

So poverty is an overarching theme in the infancy narrative. But ultimately the deepest poverty is upon us who so neglect the poor. For in neglecting them, we neglect the Lord and bring judgment on ourselves (cf Matt 25:41ff). And in this moment of the nativity story,  we neglect the Lord personally and historically as well well as mystically.

It is not long before we add the holy family to the list of refugees and resident aliens. For the fear of the powerful, in this case Herod, is such a powerful fear, that he fears even the poor.

The life of the Lord Jesus is despised and disrespected because his existence is inconvenient, threatening to Herod’s plans and his life as he knows it. Jesus must go. Somehow Herod is able to justify his infanticide. To him and those who support him, human life is not sacred, it is disposable, if it gets in the way of “more important goals” like power, plans, and personal advancement. Yes, Jesus must go, he is in the way.

In their flight from this infanticidal King they flee to Egypt. A terrible journey, made in haste without supplies. Perhaps they begged for food and shelter along the way? The stretch of desert from Gaza to Alexandria is a hellacious journey. Some friends recently road the bus from Bethlehem to Mt Sinai. Along the way the A/C on the bus broke. “It was terrible!” they said. Yes it was, but not so terrible as it was for Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Refugees and Immigrants – Coming into this foreign land, perhaps they settled among fellow Jews, perhaps not. We do not Know. Was Joseph reduced to being a day laborer? How did he find work? What resources did the Holy family have? Were the Jews despised there? How stable were the conditions there, especially for the poor? The Scriptures are quiet.

But this much we know, they were strangers, aliens, immigrants, in a foreign land. They did not speak the king’s Egyptian, and likely lived from day to day. Herod died in 4 BC. If it is true that Jesus was born about 3 BC we can assume that they spent the better part of a year or two in Egypt, vulnerable and dislocated, refugees and immigrants, aliens, to use the legal term.

Do you Love Jesus, Mary and Joseph? Let me ask it another way: Do you love the poor, the homeless, the vulnerable, the despised, the refugee, the immigrant? Don’t turn Jesus, Mary or Joseph into an abstraction, for this is what they were in human terms at this crucial moment of their lives. Perhaps they knocked on doors and sought lodging or resources. Perhaps Joseph longed for, and sought work, perhaps Jesus needed clothes. Jesus’ life was threatened by infanticide just as today, poor infants, needy infants, physically deformed infants, are threatened with abortion.

Do you love the poor? Here is a gift to be sought at Christmas, that we can more deeply love the poor and be moved with compassion and zeal for their care.

Personal story – I am fifty years old, and for the last 27 of those fifty years I have attended Mass every day, read Scripture and prayed every day. And I must say, that as my communion with the Lord has deepened, so has my communion with all God’s people. I have seen love in me increase, not by my effort, but as the pure gift of God. I have seen an increase in compassion, my ability to for give, to be more generous, and to speak the truth in love.

And no one can go to Mass and read Scripture attentively every day for almost 30 years and not come away with an understanding that God loves the poor and is passionate about how we care for them.  As important as our ritual duties to God are, and we should keep them, God goes so far as to say:

  1. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? “This the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke. To share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6).
  2. Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Is 1:17)
  3. Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter (Prov 24:11).
  4. And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Is. 58:10)
  5. He who does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between man and man. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord (Ezekiel 18:7-9)
  6. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them! (Ps 82:4)
  7. This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. (Jer 22:3)
  8. Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” (Daniel 4:27)

And there are literally a hundred other similar verses that speak of God’s passionate concern for the poor and how we treat them. I have read these verses over and over in the Liturgy and I must say, I have not come away from them unchanged.

It is very clear to me that it is not enough for me to go to church, say my prayers, live chastely and be nice to my friends. God is also passionate about how I treat the poor and the needy. And I have also personally come to discover that merely doing good to them or writing a check is not enough. The gift that God has given me is to love the poor, more and more.

There are many debates about how best to care for the poor. Is is the government’s duty? Is it the private sector’s duty? Is is families and churches? It is all of these.

But even more, it is your responsibility and mine. Otherwise the “charming” Christmas story of no room in the Inn comes “home” to roost in our own living room, and the injustice of that moment is ours, not some rude and insensitive inn keeper of 2,000 years ago.

God is passionate about the poor and how we care for them. There is simply no other possible conclusion in the face of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.

But how do it? How will we ever make the right choices and get the balance right? How will we ever address the complicated social conditions that give rise to poverty? How do we decide who is most deserving in the face of limited resources? A thousand questions come to mind. But it begins simply here: Love them. Ask for a deep affection and an abiding love for the poor. And not a pitying love, but a respectful love that understands the special esteem God has for them and the close self-identification Jesus makes with them (cf Matt 25:41ff). A love that understand that, though they may need us now, we will need them in the age to come at the judgment.

A final story. When I came to my current assignment, the parish finances were in some distress. And, thanks be to God, through Biblical tithing, we have once again attained financial stability. But together with the Parish Council and Financial Council we have also attained a consensus that we but do better for the poor. In a parish with a budget of 1.2 million dollars, only $10,000 had been set aside for the poor. We have been changing that over the last few years and are now close to $100,000. It became unthinkable to us that that we were spending almost a million dollars a year on ourselves, on altar cloths, and  sanctuaries (important), etc.,  and yet many poor in our area were not properly clothed and were loosing the sanctuaries of their homes.

Once having set our social concerns budget at 10% of the whole budget we have only just begun, for additionally we must care for the poor and needy through second collections and the Lenten appeal. I do not say any of this as a boast, just as a testimony of what God put in our hearts and in our capacity to do.

Do you love the poor? Ask for this gift this Christmas. God could not be more pleased with such a gift request.

Some Statistics About Poverty in the US

Painting above: The Flight to Egypt by Henry Tanner.

On Being Poor in America: Recent Data Reveal Some Surprising Facts

I have been reading a rather lengthy report on poverty in America written by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield of the Heritage Foundation. The Full and lengthy report is here: What is Poverty in America Today? I am going to present some excerpts here.

The authors  use substantial data from the Census Bureau and the Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) of the Department of Energy to paint a portrait of poverty in America.

Their data suggests to me that we ought to consider distinguishing three basic categories when it comes to understanding our obligations to those with less: the impoverished, the poor, and the needy.

First there is the category of the impoverished, those living in deep poverty. Let me begin by quoting from the report:

Each year for the past two decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in “poverty.” In recent years, the Census has reported that one in seven Americans are poor. But what does it mean to be “poor” in America? How poor are America’s poor?

For most Americans, the word “poverty” suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. For example, the Poverty Pulse poll taken by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development asked the general public: “How would you describe being poor in the U.S.?” The overwhelming majority of responses focused on homelessness, hunger or not being able to eat properly, and not being able to meet basic needs.[1]

Yet if poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the more than 30 million people identified as being “in poverty” by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor.[2] While material hardship definitely exists in the United States, it is restricted in scope and severity. The average poor person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines.

[Only] a small minority are homeless.

To a family that has lost its home and is living in a homeless shelter, the fact that only 0.5 percent of families shared this experience in 2009 is no comfort. The distress and fear for the future that the family experiences are real and devastating. Public policy must deal with that distress. However, accurate information about the extent and severity of social problems is imperative for the development of effective public policy.

Hence, it would seem that those we call impoverished, those who live in poverty, are those who do not have the capacity for  even the basic essentials such as shelter, clothes, food and water.  Largely this is the homeless population this country and they exist in true poverty.

The report goes on the to distinguish the second tier of the less fortunate who I would call the poor. Here we see those who are not homeless, they do have food and many basic amenities, but they are in a financially fragile condition.  Decades ago we would often refer to these as the working poor. However, in the age of welfare a significant number of the poor do not work, and hence that distinction not longer fully applies. Among the poor there is a both a range and a variability. The report begins with the poor in the most fragile state and says,

[T]here is a range of living conditions within the poverty population. The average poor family does not represent every poor family.

Fortunately, the number of homeless Americans has not increased during the current recession.[6] Although most poor families are well fed and have a fairly stable food supply, a sizeable minority experiences temporary restraints in food supply at various times during the year. The number of families experiencing such temporary food shortages has increased somewhat during the current economic downturn.

Thus, among the poor are those who remain at risk of impoverishment due to lack of food and basic essentials. Perhaps this is seasonally due to fact that some jobs have seasonal qualities. Some also have illness like asthma, which are affected by the season. Perhaps too the vulnerability is due less to seasons than to the economy. In a downturn in the economy like we are experiencing  their working hours are cut, or their job eliminated. Other family factors such as the health of family members or various crises make the poor at the lower end edge more toward permanent, temporary or seasonal impoverishment and make them vulnerable to true destitution.

But among the poor are those who do not range toward the bottom, near destitution. They may be stably poor in the sense that their income is below the Federal Poverty line, but in no way are they destitute. Here is where the report makes some findings that some may find controversial, but they seem well backed up by extensive data. The report says,

The federal government conducts several other surveys that provide detailed information on the living conditions of the poor. These surveys provide a very different sense of American poverty.[8] They reveal that the actual standard of living among America’s poor is far higher than the public imagines and that, in fact, most of the persons whom the government defines as “in poverty” are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term.

The Chart below shows information for 2005 for poor U.S. households (those with cash incomes below the official poverty thresholds). While poor households were slightly less likely to have conveniences than the general population, most poor households had a wide range of amenities. As Chart 2 shows, 78 percent of poor households had air conditioning, 64 percent had cable or satellite TV, and 38 percent had a personal computer.[14]

Hence it is clear that those beneath the poverty line are not always lacking in a number of significant conveniences and comforts. The numbers are based on the aforementioned Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) published each year by the US Department of Energy. Toward the bottom of the list the lack of Internet access is of significance, since it is an important way of connect with the wider world and thus a help up and out of poverty if well used. But, other things being equal, being poor in America is nothing like the like the utter destitution Americans often see in other parts of the world, even close at hand in the Caribbean Islands. In such places the poor often live literally in cardboard boxes and shanties with no running water, electricity or plumbing. In is clear that most of the poor in America are impoverished,are not destitute. Many are vulnerable as stated above, but not in true poverty as I have suggested is a term that should be used for the truly destitute.

A further feature in the report is the encouraging note that we have made progress in ensuring that the poor live in better conditions. While it is often held that the War on Poverty has done nothing to push back the poverty level (still at 30%), that may not be entirely true. As we have seen, the Federal Government defines a certain level of income to indicate whether one is poor or not. But income is not the whole story. Frankly the poor live in better conditions today than they used to as seen in the chart above. Frankly we ALL live better than we used to, and the poor are no exception. The report says,

[There has been] Improvement in Poor Households over Time. Because the RECS has reported on the living conditions of the poor for several decades, it is a useful tool for charting the improvement in living conditions among the poor over time. For example, the chart at right shows the percentage of all households and the percentage of poor households that had any type of air conditioning between 1970 and 2005. Although poor households were less likely to have air conditioning in any given year, the share of households with air conditioning increased steadily for both groups over the 25-year period. By 2005, the two rates converged as air conditioning became nearly universal in U.S. society.

Another example is the share of all households and the share of poor households that had a personal computer from 1990 to 2005. Personal computers were rare in 1990 but spread widely through society over the next 15 years. Computer ownership among the poor increased substantially during the period. In 1990, only 5 percent of poor households had a computer. By 2005, the number had risen to almost 40 percent.

I will say that living among the poor for almost seven years and continuing to advocate for them even now has brought me into many a Public Housing Development. And although the amenities listed above were in evidence the living conditions were poorly affected by dilapidated housing and poorly maintained housing units. Much of this is caused however by the social conditions existent in those projects. I recall working hard for a particular housing development in Southeast Washington to be renovated which it was, in 2001. By 2007 when I left the neighborhood it was boarded up and vacant once again.

The usual scenario is that a small percentage of residents become junkies, (it only takes a few). Then they get desperate for money to buy drugs or pay off a drug dealer. So they begin to strip out the appliances and plumbing in their apartment, and sell them for drug money. The damage spreads through the building since they wreck the plumbing, cause leaks and water leaks to the floors below before building maintenance has time to shut it off. Next comes mildew and electrical problems. This leads to further vacancies. As a building begins to go vacant, vacant apartments are perfect targets for more desperate vandals. Once the process starts, a building can go from filled to vacant and derelict in six months.

This is not the case in every public housing unit, just the worst ones. In this case the report issues a surprising finding, that to some extent does not comport with my experience:

Of course, the typical poor family could have a host of modern conveniences and still live in dilapidated, overcrowded housing. However, data from other government surveys show that this is not the case.[19] Poor Americans are well housed and rarely overcrowded.[20] In fact, the houses and apartments of America’s poor are quite spacious by international standards. The typical poor American has considerably more living space than does the average European.[21]

Forty-three percent of all poor households own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.[22]

Nearly all of the houses and apartments of the poor are in good condition. According to the government’s data, only one in 10 has moderate physical problems. Only 2 percent of poor domiciles have “severe” physical problems, the most common of which is sharing a bathroom with another household living in the building.[23]

Well, not so sure the conditions I saw were that pleasant but I did live among the poorest of the poor deep in the Government Housing Projects, usually poorly run and maintained.

The final category I would list but cannot develop here now is the category of the needy. The needy may have no financial concerns at all. Their needs may center more around spiritual, emotional and psychological things. Further, perhaps due to age or handicap they may need physical assistance. Young children surely need teaching. Troubled teenagers need counseling and mentoring. Alcoholics need support groups and assistance to remain sober, and so forth. This category has little to do with money, food or shelter, but it can be related to it.

In the end, I suggest a threefold distinction as stated above: the impoverished, the poor, and the needy. Surely the truly impoverished need out immediate and on-going help to provide their basic need. The poor too need support, for many of them are financially vulnerable without some assistance to lend stability to their lives. The needy have various concerns that we ought to be personally willing to address as well.

But poverty, and being poor and needy in America is less monolithic than most assume and coming to see the complexity can help us target our resources more effectively.

We have obligations to the needy, the poor and the destitute, but it also helps to see that there is a range to the problem. Further, we actually have made some progress, if we look deeper into the data. The graph at the top of this page shows the steep decline in the Black poverty rate from 1966 to now. The strong emergence of the Black Middle Class is a hidden secret of this land.

Progress HAS been made – There is work to do, but simply saying that the poverty rate in this land has never budged from 30% may not be an accurate picture, for how the poor live and what it really means to be poor in America are poorly understood by most Americans. Progress has been made.

This Video presents some of the startling realities of destitution in a country not far from our own shores. Many parishes here in Washington have sister parishes in Haiti:

Remembering the Hidden Costs of Our Affluence

Though we are in tough economic times we Americans live very well. Even the poorest among us live like royalty compared to the poor in many other parts of the world. And we do well, especially in Lent, to recall that our standard of living is partially possible because others work for pennies to produce our many consumer products.

A Worm in the Apple? In today’s Washington Post there was an article that draws me to consider anew my need to remember the poor. The article gives a look behind the scenes of how our relatively inexpensive electronic products are made. The article is entitled “Mike Daisey Discovers the Worm in Apple.” Daisey is a storyteller and has a show at a local theater entitled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” In it, he recalls a trip he made last year to China where, he was given tours of the factories where Apple Hardware is assembled. Here let me quote some excerpts from the article written by Jane Horwitz:

Daisey traveled last spring to Shenzhen, China, where Apple’s and other companies’ hardware is made by subcontractors such as Foxconn. He posed as a businessman to gain access to many factories and used an interpreter to talk with workers.

Daisey was appalled by the working conditions — factory floors packed with 25,000 and more workers, some children, doing 12- and 18-hour shifts or longer, living in cramped quarters and shadowed by factory security people.

“I expected it to be bad. I expected it to be harsh. I was not actually prepared for how dehumanizing it was. I wasn’t actually prepared for the scale of it. .That was what shocked me,” Daisey says

Learning how his beloved iPhone, iPad and other gadgets were made broke his heart, he says. “I miss the pleasure of browsing technology in a world where the consequences didn’t cost people’s lives. I miss a sort of unfettered world where the big questions were what [a device’s] specifications were ….. a sort of techno-libertarian landscape that I didn’t even fully know that I inhabited…..”

Daisey portrays Apple co-founder Jobs not as a villain, but as a tough visionary who has yet to be enlightened about the China issue.

The full article is here: Worm in the Apple

A few thoughts on this

  1. Our modern economy is almost a miracle: Relatively inexpensive goods, plentiful variety, year round produce, quick delivery, and few shortages. I said it is almost a miracle. For the truth is our abundant and relatively inexpensive products are often made possible for us because many in the world work for pennies to produce them. As Daisey notes they often have terrible working conditions and long hours as well. It seems almost impossible to me that I can buy a decent shirt for under $20, especially when I consider the cost of the materials, shipping and overhead. It has to be the cheap labor that makes it possible. The same is true for our marvelous electronics. They are often astonishingly inexpensive considering what we get. Here too, considering all the parts, research and development costs, shipping, overhead and all. Again, it has to be the labor costs that are low. Daisey’s portrait here confirms that.
  2. I realize that economies are complicated things. I am not an economist and cannot easily envision a different way. It is possible that in trying to fix this problem of inequity, we may make things worse for the poor. It often seems the most dangerous thing the poor can hear is: Hi, we’re from the government and we’re here to help you.
  3. But noting that there IS a problem may be the first stage of justice. We human beings like to stay sleepy. We don’t like to ask too many questions like, “Where did this product come from and how can it possibly be so cheap?” Questions like these are uncomfortable, because deep down, most of us know the answer isn’t pretty. So we don’t ask, we don’t even wonder. But honestly we should ask, we should wonder, and we should face the truth, that a lot of our comfort and prosperity, a lot of our cheap products, are made possible because others, who supply us, live with far less and are paid little.
  4. The Pope on sleepiness – Regarding our sleepiness, our wish to remain drowsy and dreamily unaware of injustice, the Pope has a remarkable mediation in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol II. He is meditating here on the summons that Jesus gave the disciples in the Garden to “stay awake and watch, lest they give way to temptation” (Mk 14). The Pope writes: Across the centuries it is the drowsiness of the disciples that opens up possibilities for the power of the evil one. Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the evil one at work in the world, and by all the injustice and suffering ravaging the earth. In its state of numbness, the soul prefers not to see all this; it is easily persuaded that things cannot be so bad, so as to continue in the self-satisfaction of its own comfortable existence. Yet this deadening of souls, this lack of vigilance….is what gives the evil one power in the world. On beholding the drowsy disciples, so disinclined to rouse themselves, the Lord says, “My soul is very sorrowful , even to death.”
  5. It is easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of so complex an issue, an issue involving a world-wide economy with 100,000 moving parts, not mention many governments, some of them corrupt, and a complicated interplay between money, materials and manpower. What is the best solution? Is it a boycott? Is it protests? Daisey suggests in the article that maybe we ought to stop upgrading our stuff for a while to send a message. But would that really help the poor, or would it possibly cause them greater harm? Here a scripture comes to mind: The poor are caught in schemes that others have made (Ps 10:2).
  6. Personal Reform? This is not an economic blog, and not a political one. Hence I do not propose immediate solutions along those lines, if they even exist. What I do propose is a more personal reform. I propose that we ask questions of ourselves and others, that we ponder justice. That we develop a greater love and solidarity for the poor, many of whom are integral to our “miracle” economy (troubled though it currently is). Perhaps we can consider being personally more generous to the needy and the poor when we are given opportunities to do so. Gratitude to the God is essential for all we have, but part of this gratitude should also include deep prayer to God for the world’s poor, many of whom supply our economy by their blood, sweat and tears. And as our love of the poor deepens, our desire of justice for them also grows.
  7. Personal practice – The next time I pick up that tomato at the store, perhaps I can consider that some one far less affluent that I may have picked or processed it. The next time I gleefully open the box with the brand new computer, filled with excitement as on Christmas morning, I ought to remember the Chinese peasant who may have had a hand in assembling it and who could never dream of owning one that nice for himself.
  8. Ask God for a deeper love for the poor, the many unknown souls who are the hidden foundation and the hidden cost in our inexpensive products. Demanding draconian solutions may not be what is best, but love and gratitude for the poor will surely lay a foundation for greater justice and a desire to find creative solutions.
  9. One Day God came to Cain and asked, Where is your brother? As if also to say, How is your brother? Account for me as to his welfare. Cain shrugged, Am I my brother’s keeper? (cf Gen 4:9). Well you know the answer. We ARE the keeper, we ought to have care for the welfare of others. In Lent we ought to pray for a deepening care for the welfare of others.

Photo Credit: Ethicalstyle.com (Right click for URL)