WHERE IS THE POVERTY?
A religious sister whom I worked with in my early years of priesthood, eventually spent some years in the 1980’s working in Ethiopia. I often thought of her, as Ethiopia at the time was experiencing a huge famine. More than a million died as a result.
To my joy, this servant of God was at Sunday Mass in my parish soon after her return home. I instinctively knew that an interesting conversation would take place if I made the time. There must be a huge difference working in a comfortable New Zealand Church, compared to working in Ethiopia, especially in the midst of famine. From the conversation which took place over a meal with Sister a few days later, I’ve never forgotten this one sentence, “I’ve no time for New Zealanders pleading poverty. Look, in Ethiopia, if they have this much land (she gestures with her hands a space of about 12 centimeters) they will grow something on it”.
The sentence made an impact on me, and since then I’ve struggled to find in myself the compassion needed to carry out the work of caring for the poor in New Zealand. There is no doubt that poverty genuinely does exist in New Zealand, especially when we hear of parents taking on as many as three jobs just to make ends meet. But another kind of poverty also exists.
There is, as we know, not only material poverty, but spiritual and emotional poverty. Mother Teresa referred often to it when talking about the Western world. I’ve no doubt that this is the poverty most prevalent in New Zealand. Immersed into this is laziness and the refusal to take responsibility. For many, people are so poor spiritually and emotionally, they have little awareness of the need to be responsible. When I see this, I am tempted to think that we are simply enabling them to carry on avoiding responsibility.
However, I must ask what the issues are in the land we call Godzone? Unstable home life, divorce, alcohol, drugs, worship of status, power and materialism are those which quickly come to mind. Perhaps most lacking of all is the security of stable, loving homes. Today, for a priest, performing a marriage is rare event. We lament the fact that people haven’t married when we really need to lament the lack of authentic love provided by a couple, whether married or unmarried. If there is a lack in the relationship, we can be almost certain there is some kind of addiction present. The point is, if the God of love is absent in our lives, we will put another god in place. We can’t stop that process. In the depths of our being, we crave intimacy with the true God. This for many will be fulfilled within married love.
To genuinely understand those raised in spiritual and emotional poverty, we only need to ask what it would be like to be in their place.
A few years ago, I gave weekly talks on spirituality at a drug clinic in my parish. To each new class I would ask “what was your home life like?” Without exception would come a damming reply, usually summed up in one or two expletives! A few stories later and I would always conclude that nothing is more valuable than a family living in the security of mature love. When this is not provided, the offspring will crave love in all kinds of twisted ways, and maybe go on to raise even greater chaos.
Finally then comes the question: how do we deal with those who have created their own poverty through a failure to take responsibility? Is what we are doing at present the right thing, or do we need to explore a new way? We need an answer, for in Godzone many live in hell!
What kind of poverty is most prevalent in your area?
What is your wildest dream for the V de P? The one you dare not announce!
Keep me from judging.
Enlighten my mind
To see more deeply
The issues our people face.
Fill me with
Nothing is impossible for God.