There is not a soul on earth who wants to be poor; and none of us was created in order to endure poverty. Deprivation, indignity, suffering and alienation from a world that promotes and glamorises wealth, whatever its source, are the lot of the poor.
On the day on which the Church observes the Second World Day of the Poor, some may choose to pretend that we are unconnected to the poor, that they deserve to exist as they do or we may shake our heads in dismay at the extent of a problem which our puny efforts can hardly even begin to rectify.
Our neighbours in Venezuela join our brothers in Haiti and our cousins in Honduras in the daily search for food that will enable them to subsist. While we lament their plight, we cannot ignore the families in our own country who contend, on a daily basis, with malnutrition, increasing ill health, anxiety over poor educational outcomes for their disadvantaged children and gloomy employment prospects. There seems to be no way out, no light ahead for these people who share our status as children of God.
The poor makes us uneasy. They disturb our consciences. They threaten our enjoyment of lives which we ‘deserve’. They are sometimes seen as the scum who want to deprive us of what we own because they are lazy, unambitious and ungrateful for the extras that we pass their way.
Unfortunately, they are also the face of Christ whom we profess to love and to serve. It was He who taught, in the words of one of our best-known hymns, that “whatever we do for the least of our brothers, that we do unto Him”. How inconvenient that we should be reminded of this.
Poverty arises out of selfishness, greed and injustice. It thrives when compassion, true understanding of our world, our role as Christians in that world, and the willingness to share are replaced by contempt and self-centredness. Poverty is never deserved. It is an avoidable evil that we sometimes perpetuate out of ignorance and even fear.
As the hands and feet of Almighty God, we are called upon to be His instruments that restore human dignity, that alleviate misery and that provide the comfort and warmth of His understanding and His unfathomable love to our disadvantaged brothers and sisters in Christ. This is no easy task.
It is even more difficult to sustain our well-meaning efforts in the midst of the clamour of our own lives. We may fall into the temptation of self-righteousness as we go about doing what is essentially good and noble and life-sustaining.
This country responded with almost unbelievable generosity when the recent flooding reduced hundreds of families to states of poverty or near-poverty. Communities, schools, informal groups and formal organisations provided cooked meals, foodstuffs, household necessities and clothing with a speed and alacrity that proved that the Spirit of God moves in our land.
In a world afflicted by poverty and in a country struggling with unemployment and its associated ills, may we retain that grace that helps us to serve our God as we serve the needs of His suffering children.