Posted July 28, 2015
The pope and poverty
Taken from The National Catholic Reporter
Looks like the Pope Francis Fan
Club is losing membership. At least that's what the Gallup Poll folks are
You had to know it wouldn't last. All that care for the poor business
had to be getting on folks' nerves. You see, most of the people who hear what
Francis says are rich.
The poor are not wired. The poor do not have smart
phones and computers. The poor do not have televisions or radios. The poor do
not have books or newspapers.
Oh, you say, there are poor folks on my block
and they have cell phones and computers and TV and radio and books and
Wrong. The deeply poor do not live in neighborhoods. They are not
"down the block." They are in tin shacks, in huts, even caves. They are in
lean-tos against abandoned buildings. If they can find them, they scrounge
garbage mountains for things they need: clothing, furniture, and sometimes food.
They hunt or fish or grow their sustenance. They fashion what they can from what
is around them. In the country they have wood and stones and dirt. In the city
they have the detritus of the rich (or at least of the richer), the droppings of
plastic and resin the modern age uses to replace wood and stone.
Francis talks about the poor, most of the people who hear him have no idea what
he is talking about. Most of the people who hear him are, relatively speaking,
Here are the numbers: half of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day.
That is 3 billion people. Now, maybe in the poorest areas of the world -- the
favelas of Brazil, the jungle villages of Africa, the city edges of India, the
seaside settlements of Malaysia and the Philippines -- you can manage on that
scale of economy. But think of what $2.50 a day allows for and what it
People in what they call developed nations have access to all
manner of things the truly poor would never dream of. There are department
stores and supermarkets and delicatessens. There are planes and trains and
busses and cars. There are hospitals and clinics and pharmacies. There are
universities and high schools and continuing education programs. There is clean
water, clean land, and clean air.
Most of us reading this column, myself
included, cannot fathom life without these things. From time to time, one or
another is out of reach. Most of the time, it's all just around the
So, what about the poor? They should be miserable but the people with
nothing, who own nothing and whose lives really depend on each other, so often
seem happy even in their misery.
I think Francis has the answer. He
is, after all, a Jesuit priest. Jesuits pray the full 30-days of the Exercises
of St. Ignatius of Loyola at least twice: first on entering the novitiate, and
again during what is called their "tertianship," as they approach
The aim of the Exercises is to free the individual to live wholly
in God's care. That does not mean living off the grid. It means living with the
understanding that all is gift and that we must gratefully use what we have for
our own sake and for the sake of others.
That is the mystery of Francis the
world, now apparently including some on the right, cannot understand. As a
Jesuit in solemn vows, he truly owns nothing. As pope, he is trying to encourage
the rest of us to understand that we also "own" nothing.
Francis is teaching
that our distress comes from the need to control -- property, money, even the
weather. Of course we must care for and be responsible for what we "have" -- our
homes, our jobs and savings. But we must not be so bent on possessions, on
controlling everything that our lives revert to Scrooge-like crankiness. We can
no more control things than we can control the weather.
So now, Francis is
saying both to individuals and to nations: "lighten up." You do not need so
much. You do not need everything you have. You can spread it around and you
should spread it around because in reality you do not and cannot "own" anything.
Once you die, you die.
Will the people now turning away because they fear
Francis' condemning capitalism be able to recognize that he, like popes before
him, criticizes the excesses and the evils of capitalism, not the system itself?
Will the people now turning away because they are, as one conservative pundit
put it, tired of being "scolded," recognize that Francis, like St. Ignatius
before him, pointed out that all is gift?
No one says it is easy to live like
that. It is not. But it is not all that hard, either.