What Type of Spiritual Poverty Do You Suffer From?

Anabelle Hazard - Poverty


Most people born in a land flowing with milk and honey (like my husband and children) rarely understand how people struggle to survive in another part of the world.

They don’t know what it’s like to have to collect water from a communal hand pump and bathe in a public, roofless cell without a shower, using a bucket and cup. They can’t fathom how a one-bedroom tropical hut can still be home for a family of 12 without air conditioning, stove, refrigerator, or toilets. They couldn’t imagine life without canned peaches stored in a pantry or living with a bag of only one good set of Church/work/day clothes. They’ve not regularly endured having to walk dusty roads to the nearest market, bus station or town hall in the midday tropical heat. And likely, they’ve never slept on a bamboo-slatted floor with backache for a mattress and hunger pangs for a pillow.

For one weekend, as a part of the Theology curriculum of my Jesuit college (its ok to admit I’m Jesuit-educated now that Pope Francis I is our new shepherd, right?), I lived among the poorest fishermen in the Philippines and did all of those things that my husband and children probably think I made up. Brief though a time it was, the smell of fish and salt-air wafting in through open windows still lingers in my memory. And when I remember the laughter of ragamuffin children rising above the sound of waves tossing hardworking outriggers, it takes me back across oceans. After twenty years, what’s left a lasting impression in me is the simplicity and humility of the poor.

This frugality of the third world country where I grew up, was hard to shake off after I migrated to a culture of consumerism. Though there was still an invisible spending bar I couldn’t cross, I had no trouble accepting (and expecting) lavish presents from my husband, sisters and parents; spoiling my children with toys they took for granted; and hoarding discount clothes, clearance rack shoes and used books for myself. Things I soon learned would “decay with rust, can be eaten by moths or broken into and stolen by thieves” … or wind up in garage sales.

The definition of poverty took on a whole new, painful meaning for me when I read the words of the saints and spiritual leaders of our time:

1. Blessed Mother Theresa: “The spiritual poverty of the West is greater than ours… You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness…They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don\’t know what it is. What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”

2. Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen: “It is a well attested fact that those people who are most impoverished in their souls try to cover this inner destitution by extreme luxury on the outside. The more naked the soul, that is, the more devoid of virtue, the greater the need of the body to give the appearance of possession through fantastic dress, display and ostentation. The more the soul is clothed with virtue, the less is the need for outer compensation.”

3. And lately, Pope Francis: “It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the ‘tyranny of relativism,’ which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.”

As someone caught between memories and realities of two opposite worlds, I can hardly begrudge the lifestyle of people who’ve grown up with affluence as the norm and poverty the exception nor condemn those who live in stark luxury in developing countries. But I constantly challenge myself: what can I do to alleviate my spiritual poverty and what more can I give those who live in material poverty?

© 2013. Anabelle Hazard. All Rights Reserved.

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12 thoughts on “What Type of Spiritual Poverty Do You Suffer From?”

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  3. Jesus speaks to “certain of the Pharisees” when he speaks of himself as a hen gathering her brood – “LUKE 13:31”: it must be the party of Paul of Tarsus that considered the Parthians as the real threat for Jerusalem. Paul must have known Jesus in Jerusalem before he was crucified. I thought at the moment that this is also the party that the second disciple who enters the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus belongs to – “JOHN 18:15”, http://bible.cc/john/18-15.htm . The comments that conclude that the disciple whom Jesus loves is speaking of himself here do not have Bach on their side, it seemed to me, because the meditation in Bach’s PASSION makes us follow someone else – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJzh1S_eu8M . We are now lead to a third party which is not that of Pilate either: Paul does not mention the main witness of the resurrection if Jesus, that must have belonged to that third party, MARY OF MIGDAL, s. “1 CORINTHIANS 15:3-8”.

  4. Hey fellow Atenista! Thank you for this article! As part of being in our Jesuit school, I went immersion twice, (college and law) and will be going again early next month as part of my internship with a human rights law group. They were both wonderful experiences! Yes they lived very humbly, but their warmth, love and hospitality were truly inspiring.

    Last October, I lived with a Mangyan (Indigenous People) family for a few days. And our foster father and his son spent the whole afternoon digging and building a toilet out of banana leaves for my partner and I. They bought and cooked a live chicken dinner for us, a feast for people whose food consists mostly of dried fish and vegetables. Living with them, with their peace, humility and love, one feels so close to God. And it is deeply humbling to be living with and cared for by people poorer than you.

    Thank you again for writing about your college immersion! They helped me see things in the right perspective. Despite my wonderful experiences, I’m still a little anxious about my immersion next month. It certainly isn’t easy to live without the comforts of a bed, showers or electricity. But it is definitely one of the most rewarding experiences one can have.

    1. Jesus calls himself a hen. – I’m not sure if I ever read more serious lines coming from America than yours. We were talking about the atmosphere of my childhood, more than five decades ago, and that reminded me how I had been reading your lines these days. But only at this moment what Jesus is saying after he sees the woman who suffers from a spirit that bows her together – eighteen years! – came to my mind – “LUKE, the MEDICAL DOCTOR, 13:34”, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2013:11-34&version=KJV .

    2. Jesus uses the number EIGHTEEN himself – LUKE 13:4 – and it is impossible that his lesson of patience should not correspond to the EIGHTEEN YEARS of suffering of the woman and to the lesson of the fig tree of MARK 11:11-25.

    3. I understand the anxiety but it is the one lesson I have taken from our alma matter to heart. Like you, my experience with the humble poor have blessed me tremendously.

    4. I think those who live in poverty want their children to have a good education: they think it is unjust that education should depend on money. Now, what we have to decide first: the Church teaches that a woman must not teach. If the CONSTITUTION of a country wants a woman and a man to be equal, the Church must act against that CONSTITUTION. We discussed this point at the moment. France is now fighting against “gay marriage”, and I said that “gay marriage” is not an issue that America has to find a solution to. “Jesuits” came back after the struggle for the DROITS DE L’HOMME that Great Britain was responsible for, although Great Britain did not have a CONSTITUTION: but the “Jesuits” that came back were a new, different religious order. The CONSTITUTION that asks why a woman can never be a teacher in America is older.

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