National Catholic Register

Commentary

Getting the Most Out of Poverty

BY Melinda Selmys

January 15-28, 2012 Issue | Posted 1/9/12 at 12:15 PM

 

“You must not set your hearts on things to eat and things to drink; nor must you worry. ... Your Father well knows you need them. No; set your hearts on his Kingdom, and these other things will be given you as well.”

For a long time, the American dream has been founded on ideals of wealth and self-sufficiency. From Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” to the God-helps-those-who-help-themselves philosophy of Honest Abe, American culture has saturated itself with temptations to avarice and to the pride of the self-made man.

The collapse of our economic integrity is a natural consequence of a consumerist, internationally exploitative way of life. The God who levels mountains and raises valleys is calling us to repentance, to reconsider our financial assumptions, and to turn to the spiritual poverty of the Gospels.

Here are eight handy scriptural sayings that will help you to get the most out of your poverty:

“Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).

Most people, when the purse strings get tight, are inclined to cut back on their charitable contributions. This means that those who are most in need end up sinking even further into poverty. Their sufferings cry out from the stones, and the chastisement mounts. Be generous, and you will receive generosity.

“And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon” (Luke 16:9).

Community is one of the greatest bulwarks against the direst sufferings of poverty. If you have extra, give it to your friends. Be generous with your relatives. Eschew the worldly wisdom that lending to others destroys relationships; this is only true if you resent giving and expect repayment with interest. Remember that financial suffering comes to everyone and build up a series of relationships in which generosity can be practiced without shame or humiliation.

“Take heed and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

The pain of economic hardship is often the pain of a heart that has given itself to mammon. The yoke of poverty is lightened by fixing your hopes on God. Rejoice in worldly privation; it is an opportunity to free yourself from greed and save yourself a lot of trouble in purgatory.

“You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (James 5:5). Make an examination of your financial conscience. Do you make excuses to justify expenses that drive your family into debt and financial anxiety? Do you pay your just debts? Do you evade taxes? Do you provide others with a fair wage? Have you been fair in sharing your inheritance with your siblings? Do you hoard wealth and possessions? Do you tempt yourself with ad-rich magazines that flog a lifestyle which you cannot afford? Do you exploit every loophole in your business dealings? Are you demanding and usurious with those who owe you money?

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3).

I guarantee you, the widow who dropped her mite into the temple treasury did not go hungry that night. If you feel poor, and especially if you can’t see a way out of your financial problems, make a gift to someone who is in greater need than you. Literally, give it up to God. Make that radical act of trust in divine Providence. If you’ve never tried it before, you will be literally astonished by the results.

“He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Luke 1:53).

Cultivate a spirit of poverty. Take this opportunity to become detached from worldly things. The average North American home contains 300,000 objects. This is where your treasure is. Share it; give it away; use it to serve God. Let it go.

“Ask, and you will receive” (John 16:24).

It’s very easy to get caught up in thinking that you need money. Money is just a token of exchange, a means of obtaining things of actual value. Figure out what you really need, and ask for that. Be audacious: God loves to give impossible gifts that cannot be mistaken for the fruit of your own labor.

“If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Notice that St. Paul does not say, “If a man has no money, let him not eat.” There are innumerable ways of creating economic value without involving money. Learn how to do more things yourself. Harvest the neglected bounty of God’s creation. Look for solutions to your problems that cost less or that cost nothing at all. Let God employ your time, and you will not go hungry.

Melinda Selmys is a staff writer at VulgataMagazine.org.