Just south of Fredericksburg, Virginia, as I made the turn from US Highway 17 to County Road 2, I looked across the open field to my right and saw two derelict houses at the edge of a piney woods. Raised off the ground, as is not uncommon in the Tidewater, they were simple single-story frame houses, fronted with porches and punched-out windows. They looked pathetic. Ah, the poverty of the Old South, I thought as I was reminded of so many similar sights from my youth in Alabama and all across the region.
But as I whizzed further down the road, cars and trucks ahead, behind, and flying by, I reconsidered. When those houses were homes, how poor did their residents think they were? Were they starving? Probably not. Did they know the people around them, and were they known by them? No doubt. And would they have given of what they had to someone in need? I would be deeply surprised if the answer were no.
I have no way of knowing whether they were white or black, these people who once called that intersection home; but I could be confident that they worked hard for everything they had, and were then grateful that they had it. It is so easy to look upon such rough circumstances and rejoice to live now in such abundance and comfort. But at what cost have we gained our ease?
We have so much food we have to watch our diets to keep from ballooning out of our clothes. There is nobody we encounter daily who would not garner or offer authentic sympathy if air conditioning, heat, or plumbing were to fail to function properly for even hours, much less days. Communication, entertainment, and mobility are features of every life we encounter.
Yet there is sadness; sadness everywhere. Is it because people need more – more comfort, more ease, even more opportunity? Politicians pound the podium asserting this or that group needs more, more accommodation, more assistance, more opportunity. This lot can only hope to thrive, can only achieve their potential, they say, if someone gives them more! But is that really what people need – more?
Mother Teresa once said that it is a poverty that a child must die so that you can live as you wish. That got me thinking that besides and far beyond abortion, our civilization has promulgated many new poverties.
It is a poverty to have more stuff than you have place to keep it. It is a poverty to be able to satiate your every craving by laying down a card or pointing and clicking. It is a poverty to call “friends” people you’ve never seen or heard. It is a poverty to identify yourself by your hobbies or your collections, or to think that your career will define who you are. It is a poverty to be alone in a crowd, and even more of a poverty to crave anonymity. It is a poverty to be bored.
Even the poorest among us have more, can do more, and know more than any other people who have every lived. Yet do we have more joy? All evidence points precisely to the contrary.
Everyone knows Jesus told people to give to the poor, but would be hard pressed to cite a when He gave a poor person any money or clothing or any thing at all. One might gather that the good he wanted us to accomplish in giving anything, would be in our getting shed of it, rather than anyone else’s acquiring it.
Aside from this instruction on how to fight poverty (our own), what Jesus does give is the one thing He has most in abundance: His life. And He gives it as food. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ is the best remedy for the impoverishment of identity and relationship and life into which we relentlessly plunge ourselves. As we worship the Holy Eucharist in this weekend’s Feast, look upon Christ in the elements of the altar, and see God’s idea for the “war on poverty.”