Blessed Are the Poor

By Father Brian Van Fossen
Campus Chaplain

How would you classify this person?  The biography begins with a male in his early twenties.  He is working a minimum wage job, a government subsidized job on the side and for the landlord of the apartment complex where he lives.  Most of these funds go to pay for his rent and food and the rest is going to bills.  When he cannot pay the bills he accrues debt that will take him years to pay off.

The food in his drawers mostly consists of dried noodles, beans, and sauces taken from the local fast food establishments.  These same establishments also provide for him napkins, sporks, and other necessary eating items.  When he does want a good meal, he relies on other people to cook it for him.  When he is in line for food, he takes a little extra to sneak back to the housing complex.

In that complex, he is living with people who are not his family but rather people in a very similar position as himself.  They rely on each other to get though the hard times and to celebrate the good times.  They have one bathroom which they share but they have their own space they can call their own.  He showers most of the time and keeps himself clean; except when he does not have the money for laundry.  He then “recycles” the cleanest clothes he has in order to get through the day.

Finally, he realizes that the place he is staying is only good through the winter months and then he needs to leave and find another place to lay his head and put his stuff.  He might go home; if there is room.  However, he needs to find a new job being that he might need to move out of his current area.  However, for some reason, he is hopeful and happy.

So, what box of society have you placed this person?  Would this be a person you would talk with on the street?  Is this a person you would want on your campus?  Do you know a person like this?  Would you consider this person to be poor?  Is this person someone you know or even you?  Is this person a resident assistant at a college in Pennsylvania in the 1990’s who is now a chaplain at Marywood University?

It is hard to believe how close college students are to poverty.  When looking at the scenario presented, it would seem that most college students can be considered poor.  However, our needs are being met: we have a roof over our heads, food somewhere on campus, clothing, shower, etc…  None the less, in a blink of an eye it can all be gone.  So what would happen if that occurs?  How would you “deal” with the change of socio-economic status?  Would you still be happy?

We can say to ourselves, “Well that would not happen.  We are good God fearing people and God wants us to be happy.  So it just cannot occur.”  Well how about these two quotes from the Gospel of St. Luke:  Jesus says to the rich young man, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18: 22).  He also states on the Sermon on the plain, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6: 20).  And then there is St. Luke’s account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31).  All these accounts would make one think that it is not good to be rich – according to Jesus.  So are we all called to be religious and profess poverty?  How can we live a life of poverty and still have a cell phone or I-pod or anything that is ours?

All these questions and many more will be looked at and discussed in this column of The Wood Word.  I would encourage you to write in with questions or comments to me and I will try to answer them in the columns that follow throughout the year.  I can be reached by e-mailing your questions and comments me at [email protected]  Then look to the next edition of the Wood Word to see if your question was chosen.  We need to confront global poverty – but not only physically – but also spiritually and communally.  Thinking globally and acting locally can be as local as in each and every one of our hearts.  I look forward to reading and, hopefully, answering your comments and questions.