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Saturday, September 27, 2008


Today is the Feast Day of St. Vincint de Paul, a name that is synonymous with poverty and outreach to the poor.

I certainly grew up hearing of his name associated with various funds and food shelves to benefit the poor, and I'm certain my own family received the benefits of works and donations by people dedicated to his mission.

Somewhere around my 8th or 9th year, Mom applied for welfare, and I don't remember a single day after that where we were not under the offical state heading of "poor". I remember bags of food being delivered to our apartment a few days before Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remember clothing showing up at our house, and Mom exclaiming over strange items as though they were the most beautiful fabrics she'd ever seen (even though they were things that should have been buried and left for dead.)

To this day, I have no fashion sense...I'm still too traumatized by the atrocites that were presented to us to understand what "fashion" means. If it fit, we wore it no matter how ugly it was. And we wore out the good stuff in order to avoid having to don things that should never have been conceived by the human imagination.

So I know poverty. I almost died rather that give in to it back in the winter of 1996-1997. At the time, I was in an apartment I couldn't afford, but which was easy to cover when I had the employment under which I'd obtained it. The rent: $600 per month for a one-bedroom. But I lost the job, and spent the next few months just trying to survive. I found a job that didn't pay me NEARLY enough (I'm in a similar situation now), and I didn't think I had ANY time off in my new job. So when I got sick, I went to work. For a day without pay meant I wouldn't eat, or would be short on rent.

So it was that one sickness bled into another, and I ended up with what I think was bronchitis. I woke up one night unable to either draw a breath or exhale. I could well have suffocated in my sleep. As it was, I sat straight up in bed, panicked, my lungs full, my sinuses full, paralyzed. But by a miracle of God, some residual passage must have been available as I coughed some awful stuff out, enabling me to breathe once again.

I laid back down, exhausted, terrified, thinking I should go to the hospital as I knew I might go to sleep and not wake up again. But I had no money, I had no insurance...and if I didn't work, I'd lose the roof over my head.

I never went to the doctor, and slowly, on my Nyquil and other OTC medications, I recovered.

That's poverty; where you won't go the doctor even when you're dying because you have to choose between that, eating, or paying the rent.

I never looked to the State to save me; I'd grown up that way. The State doesn't save; it ENSLAVES. I'd rather die than ever live in the enslaving sweat of taxpayers.

But poverty has a greater meaning.

We consider poverty only by its material meaning, but in reality, it has much more depth. Poverty isn't about the goods we have or have not. Poverty is spiritual.

Jesus said to us, "Blessed are the poor in spirit"

The "poor in spirit" are those who are impoverished not through financial means, but in a deficit of God.

I grew up materially poor, in a divorced family, on welfare and receiving major holiday dinners thanks to our parish. But God was always present, Jesus graced our home, and so we had abundance.

I have never been so poor as in that year I lost my job and couldn't pay my rent; for not only was I without financial well being, I was without God. And that was the greatest poverty of all.

Last year in our Old Testament class, we had to do a synthetic paper on of the the possible topics given by our professor. In speaking with other students, we learned how related was each topic; sacrifice, mercy, poverty, and the disadvantaged among others.

In looking at GOD'S definition of poverty, we see that the disadvantaged are those who are in sin, who have deprived themselves of God, or who never knew Him. THAT is true poverty.

God does clearly teach that we need to care for those with material needs, but what is so wrong in our culture is that the spiritually poor are being ignored, or encouraged in pursuing their poverty. It is a poverty of morality, a poverty of spirit that no one seems to WANT to recognize.

I see so many people arguing for the financial condition of this country, and for their homes and for money for various things. I see so many Catholics arguing for Social Justice and working for social services, and, yes, these things are important. But they aren't everything.

They aren't eternity. The problem is, that even in many (if not most) of these allegedly Catholic programs, there is no soul; there is no morality. It's all about the material to the detriment of the spirit. We are enabling sin, ignoring the need for conversion.

I am a woman who has grown up poor, stand to likely lose my own home in the coming months given the current crisis, but I don't consider that poverty.

So many religious communities are in economically poor neighborhoods, and they are doing incredible work. But the wealthy neighborhoods are being ignored. The Middle Class neighborhoods...where are those?

I'd argue that THOSE places harbor the true poor, for those are the people who have the financial goods to do amazing things, and yet they compartmentalize their lives. They maybe give to charity, but skip Mass on Sunday. They maybe have a crucifix or Bible in their home...but it's only gathering dust.

There is no greater poverty than to be without God. Give me my untreated bronchitis any day, as long as I don't have to suffer it without our Lord.

All of us will die someday. We don't get to take stuff with us. Our goal is eternity in union with God; focusing only on material poverty only makes us poorer.

Let us always remember that as Jesus charged us to care for the poor, we must remember ALL definitions of that term, and if we care for the body to the neglect of the soul, we have not lived up to His Word.

We will all be judged by such an omission.


Corrie said...

Great post! I agree- I would rather be on the streets than live in a country where the government gives me everything. History pretty clearly shows what happens when government dominates, and I don't want to live through that!

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

The daily Adoro smacking of Joe's head has occured once again :)

Your take is quite correct. So often we're concerned about material poverty, when we should moreless be concerned with spiritual poverty.

With the "social justice" about the enviornment and material poverty with often the neglect of the unborn, one of my biggest wonders is why don't we do more spiritually?

I may not be a psychology major (math, physics and philosophy, lol), but these actions such as the killing of the unborn are often calling for something spiritual...whether it be a lack of Faith, or thinking that society will reject you because you decide on pre-marital sexual relations, or whatever the reason.

As I often say, the only way we're going to rid ourselves of abortion is not by enacting laws against it, but by converting hearts giving them the spiritual strengths to fight off these temptations that come from the Evil One. Yes, Laws will help, but ultimately conversion to the Christ will be the answer.

You're absolutely right in saying that the "rich" may perhaps the the poorest because of the taking advantage of what they have. It's similar to separating sin from the love of God, it can't be done.

We of course must pray for everyone and a much deeper understanding of poverty from the rest of the world :)