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BY JUDITH LYNCH
I don’t want to be poor. Recently I wrote a blog piece for CathNews about poverty. It wasn’t published and for that I give thanks.
As I pushed the send button I was struck by the sudden realization that what I had written read like a not-very-good homily; impersonal, lots of out there church-speak, but not much gritty, challenging Christian substance.
Because poverty, whatever shape it takes, is not only challenging but downright uncomfortable and it’s not something I want to experience. Writing about poverty from the comfort of my well-appointed study was easy. Living with poverty wouldn’t be.
I blame Pope Francis for my unease. Till he came along, with talk about poverty backed up by experience, I felt justified hiding behind a Church that too often gave lip service to what it called its option for the poor.
Poverty was what people in third world countries experienced. It was disturbing, but what could one person do? It was the Church’s responsibility, not mine.
Well-run religious institutions worked in a multitude of charitable endeavours and my very occasional donations of money or time left me off the hook, free to live my life in the comfortable manner I assumed was my right as a tax paying Australian.
What’s so good, so God-like about being poor? I always thought poverty was something to be avoided at any cost. The Gospel says ‘Blessed are the poor’ and I struggle to find anything about being poor that I would consider a blessing.
I’ve never been poor. In varying degrees, we Australians have access to protection from heat and cold, running water electricity and medical care.
Now we have a Pope who’s always talking about the poor, nudging the Church, and me, into picking up where Jesus left off. In my head I hear Francis saying that any follower of Jesus worth their salt has to feel the sting of poverty personally. That’s challenging.
Actually, Pope Francis isn’t wholly to blame for my current soul-searching. The news last week showed graphic footage of the factory complex collapse in Bangladesh. In a 7.30 report, a representative of the fashion industry spoke passionately about the part we have played in this tragic event.
What amounts to slave labour in an Asian country is feeding our appetite, or should that be my appetite, for bulging wardrobes of cheap seasonal clothing. I am fooling myself that I am a good Christian if my standard of living comes at the expense of someone from a distant land.
So, it's thanks to Pope Francis as well as that 7.30 report, that I keep asking myself this question: What does it mean for me, a 21st century Australian woman, to walk in the footsteps of the Poor Man of Nazareth?
I don't for one minute think God means me to do a Francis of Assisi and live in a cave, but living with a consciousness that more is not necessarily better and that poverty has many different faces, might affect the standard of living that I hold dear. And I don’t know that I am ready for that just now.
Judith Lynch is a writer who lives in Melbourne. More of her writing appears at tarellaspirituality.com
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