By Glenn Leach
When we mention poverty we tend to think of economic poverty, not being able to afford what is essential to sustain a person or family. This form of poverty can have many causes: natural disaster, war or political upheaval, an accident that disables or kills, age, disease or medical conditions whose treatment is more than a family can afford.
Being born with disabilities, loss of employment as a business closes and there is little else to turn to, living in an area of chronic underemployment and lacking the means to move. These are among the many causes of economic poverty, but it is not the only form of poverty.
There is spiritual poverty that drains the will. My wife visited with a woman in the hospital who asked for prayers for her death because her only child, a daughter, had told her she was a worthless economic burden.
Other examples of spiritual poverty can be manifested in frightened or confused teens or a person deep into joyless routines or struggling with an addiction.
There is physical poverty that deteriorates the body and is caused by a damaging work environment, chronic lack of nutrition or rest. Think of the waitress whose legs and arms give out from years of lifting heavy trays; the farm worker exposed to pesticides and herbicides with no adequate hygiene facilities during the work day. Think of the worker in the processing plant who must rapidly repeat the same motions and then develops crippling carpal tunnel syndrome as a result. Those who work outdoors without adequate weather protection or in high places without protection from falls can also be burdened with physical poverty.
There is the poverty of affection, the poverty of companionship —where individuals who are unvisited, unnoticed and alone begin to doubt their own worth as a child of God. They may also be victims of physical abuse or abuse by people who use affection as a tool to manipulate or control others. There is the poverty of a family of a child with special needs. Their need for a baby sitter, companionship and occasional help may go unnoticed. There are those who may be “different,” chronically ill, homebound or elderly; they may be alone physically and emotionally.
There are many forms and causes of poverty. Collecting food, writing a check, distributing toys, these are all needed expressions of compassion. But they do not eliminate poverty and may not even put a Band-aid on it.
On his election, a cardinal friend told the Holy Father: “Remember the poor.” Pope Francis has not forgotten. He seeks a poor church that is for the poor. He expects the church to be in the streets, getting bruised and dirty, but doing so in solidarity with the poor. The Holy Father calls us to intimate involvement with the poor and this is difficult; it is so difficult. It requires sacrifices of our time, of our preconceived notions so as to be able to react to people as they are, children of God. They are not “those people.” At the same time, the Holy Father said that when we do these things we begin to experience the fullness of life that our Savior promised.
(Glenn Leach is a volunteer in the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office.)