Back in 2012 I ran a series on Reflecting on the Beatitudes with some of my #CathSorority sisters. I think it’s time to revisit, don’t you think? Enjoy these over the next few Fridays of Lent!
When I first applied for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I was a senior at Canisius College. I wasn’t attending mass regularly, I had amassed a luxury sedan worth of debt, and I was determined to be an international correspondent for a newspaper. God had different plans. On October 13th, 2006, He dropped three feet of snow on Buffalo, NY in the span of 12 hours or so. The leaves were still on the trees, so the trees came down – and all the powerlines in the city with them. We woke to no heat, no lights, no water (not even cold, the pump was electric) and no way to cook anything. We were miserable, and we complained as loudly as we could before we fled the city in our roommate’s all wheel drive SUV to set up camp on her family’s living room floor.
Five days later, when the power came back on and classes resumed, I finished my application to JVC Southwest. I checked the boxes to apply for jobs in the Phoenix area. I was done with snow, bring on the heat. My application went in the mail on October 21st 2006.
But that was before I understood something very important about Jesuit Spirituality. On JVC retreats we learned that we are called to live in solidarity with the poor. We are called to go and experience their suffering & oppression, to allow our hearts to be broken by it in the same places God’s heart is broken by their struggle. I thought I had signed up for a year of work in the sunshine, and I’d go back to normal life at home. I didn’t know that I had surrendered my life to God – and when you do that, He isn’t satisfied with a year. He wants the rest of your life, too.
So fast forward to October 21st 2007. I’m living with four other young women in a three-bedroom house on the safer edges of the “ghebarrio” in Phoenix. I’m teaching fourth grade in a Catholic school, teaching the children of immigrants – some documented, most undocumented. Every single child in the school qualifies for free lunch. Most of the parents have little more than an 8th grade education. I saw families torn apart when one parent was caught and deported. I saw kids who we were pretty sure the school breakfast and lunch were their only meals. Little boys whose older brothers were in gangs, and that was all they wanted to be when they “grew up.”
Some of the children I taught lived in homes in which the power, water, and gas had been shut off. For weeks at a time they lived in the world I woke up in the day after the snowstorm – but they couldn’t escape to comfort and hospitality.And they didn’t complain. You never heard a word out of them about it. Not like spoiled-rotten me, bemoaning and bitching as loud as I could. I know that at least for that year, my entire perspective changed for the better.The problems of poverty are crippling. Our culture is set up in such a way that the deck is forever stacked against he poorest of the poor. The problem is compounded with undocumented migrants, who cannot even hope to open bank accounts or apply for loans. So they utilize payday loan places, where they pay exorbitant interest. They struggle with sometimes two or three of the jobs people of my demographic wouldn’t even consider applying for. Meanwhile the only hope for their children is education – but the crises at home, the constant day-to-day struggle of poverty, keep the kids in crisis mode, so they can barely remember what happened yesterday, let alone to finish their homework and bring it back. So, as a teacher you change what you’re doing. You teach the kids where they are, not where you hope they’ll be. You make accommodations when you can, and you pray and pray and pray. You work as best you can to build the Kingdom – to make it on Earth as it is in Heaven.
But that’s not where the Jesuit spirituality ends. As a JV – now a former Jesuit Volunteer (FJV) – I am “ruined for life.” I cannot see the world through the middle-class, white, college-educated glasses I once wore. I have had a very small taste of the suffering & oppression of the people the world has forgotten, people our culture seems happy to continue trampling on without a second thought. People who work harder every day than I ever had in my life – and who still have nothing to show for it.
And I can’t go back. My heart has been broken as God’s is, and I can’t ignore it or forget it.
So I know that for the rest of my life, no matter what else I am doing, I have to work to alleviate the situation of the poor. I can’t support someone in an election who would trample on them even more than they have been. I can’t seek to escape to the suburbs of windings streets and identical houses. The truth is, right now, I am not doing anywhere near enough to serve the poor in my community. I make excuses of being busy with work and with youth ministry – but they are simply that, excuses. The words of the beatitude say that those who are poor in spirit will see the Kingdom of Heaven – they don’t say we won’t have to work for it. And that’s what we’re supposed to do – we’re supposed to work to re-make our homes, our neighborhoods, our country in the image of God’s Kingdom in Heaven.
To live in solidarity with the poor is to understand even a fraction of their struggle, and to remember it – in where you choose to shop, in what you do with your “extra” money, in who you vote for, and in the conversations you have with your friends and family. To live in solidarity with the poor is to know that our culture is only as inclusive, positive, and forward thinking as we are in regard to the least of us.
To be poor in spirit is to be with the suffering, the oppressed, the trampled-on in spirit. Remember that when Jesus came, he was a member of the poorest, most oppressed people. He spent time with beggars, he ministered to people who had nothing. He commands us, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.” Jesus is our ultimate model for living in solidarity with the poor – for being poor in spirit. So, today, writing this, I ask myself:
Our post today was written by Katie. She is a wife to Adam, mama to Gus and lives and works in Arizona.