Research and studies show that over 35 million people are living in poverty in the United States. It may seem like an impossible situation, but we know there are ways to address poverty that will alleviate the suffering of many. The disciples and the early church did it. We, too, can do it. It, however, takes everyone and a little sacrifice on our part.
We live in an age of smart phones, apple watches, fast food, vacations, and instant gratification. The Easter bunny just visited millions of children and left baskets of goodies. Santa Claus fills stockings and surrounds Christmas trees with toys for children. Birthdays are filled with cake, ice cream, and lots of wrapped gifts. Those are just special occasions and holidays. Many, including myself, enjoyed beautiful and amazing spring break trips (trips many will never be able to afford the luxury to take). We live in a materialistic society that tells us if we do not have shiny, new, and beautiful things to post on social media then we are an outcast. We are not doing it right. That is, on the other hand, not true.
The Church teaches about the need to care for the poor and the expectation Christ has for us to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We are surrounded with such a great array of saints who have paved the path for us to know how to care for the poor in ways that make an impact. They became saints, lived a life reflective of Christ, and pointed others to our Lord while ensuring those less fortunate were not forgotten and someone cared. They did more than write a check to a non-profit group. They did more than drop $5 in the hand of a homeless person and pat themselves on the back. They sacrificed to give comfort to another. We are all familiar with stories of St. Francis of Assisi, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, St. Padre Pio, and St. Clare of Assisi (to name just a few). It was the disciples and early church which set the precedent for how to eliminate poverty among themselves. They did it. If they did, we could as well if we all obtain the right heart.
“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. Thus, Joseph, also named by the apostles Barnabas (which is translated ‘son of encouragement’), a Levite, a Cypriot by birth, sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles.” (Acts 4:32-37 emphasis mine)
Do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating for all of us to go sell everything we have and dump it at the feet of the priest and bishop. However, let’s take a long look in the mirror, and we could go without that $6 Starbucks coffee each morning and have a cup of regular coffee at home, while giving that $6 to buy a meal for someone in need. We could minimize our vacations from spending $3K on an expensive trip and, instead, go camping or stay at a cheaper hotel and take your own snacks, while using the money you would have spent to buy someone a nice suit and some clothes for a job interview and to wear to a new job. Rather than purchasing the most expensive satellite or cable package, we could reduce it to a cheaper version and then use the extra money we are spending to buy a bag or two of groceries for a neighbor.
It does not even have to be money that we use to help those in poverty. It could be showing up with a lawn mower and volunteering to mow their yard without any expectations of reciprocity. You could go and sit with an elderly person in a nursing home and talk to them, show them love, and be willing to help them eat or whatever they need from someone. Since we are approaching spring and summer, you could share vegetables and herbs you grow with your neighbor or another in your church. I like to go fishing and, for those who enjoy fishing, you could share your catch with someone you know does not have a lot of money to purchase groceries.
There are those, however, who are in a position to make a greater impact. There are families who own 2 or 3 boats, who might have a vacation home for the summer, or who choose to purchase the vehicles most people cannot afford. These are the families that can make a great impact by selling extra boats and summer homes. (who “needs” a vacation home anyway? No one) Many live in luxury homes that could be downsized. Why pay a mortgage that is higher than a lot of people make in their paycheck? Selling the house and downsizing it could enable you to give more to help those in need who do not have a suitable home. The profit from those sales could be given to the priest and the priest could be asked to identify some of the poorest within the church and to distribute it to them. This kind of gesture could help put a roof over someone’s head and food on the table they may not otherwise have. Those who own businesses can increase the wages for their workers to enable affordable income for the families rather than pocketing bonuses for themselves to pay for those expensive vacations or all the “toys”.
When I was youth director and we were planning to take some of our youth to the Steubenville Youth Conference, I remember a retired lady coming up to me after Mass one day and handing me an envelope with some cash in it. She told me to use that cash and give it to any youth that I thought may not have a lot of money for food or to purchase something from the conference as a souvenir. I carefully prayed about and meditated on which youth needed it the most. I may not have always been privy of their personal home life situations, but I felt that I knew enough about them to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in giving it to the one who the Lord intended for it to be given. I pulled the youth aside the morning we were leaving and asked her to talk to me for a minute. (I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of the others). I told her a lady (the woman asked for it to be anonymous, so I never told the youth who gave the money and I never mentioned it to anyone else) had given it to me and asked me to give it to someone within the youth group to use during the conference trip. I told her I felt like she could use it and her smile is something I will never forget. It was not a lot of money, but it certainly was enough for the child to use for food and to purchase a rosary and a book. The money helped that youth, I am confident, to feel like she belonged and not feel awkward because of not having a lot of money for food and things at the conference.
Imagine what could happen on a greater scale if we would all ask the Holy Spirit to guide is in how we can make sacrifices to help lift others up out of need. The apostles did it. The early church did it. The saints did it. There is nothing holding us back from doing it other than our own greed, selfishness, pride, arrogance, and blind eyes.
Social outreach programs are wonderful and government programs such as unemployment and tax credits put a band aide on the situation for many families. Imagine what would happen if the church decided to see others truly as Christ sees them. The early church did not need any government subsidies or tax credits to eliminate poverty within themselves. We, too, can make a substantial difference if we ALL would choose to sacrifice a little.