Poverty Sunday

[This is a talk that I gave after the Masses this weekend to introduce our Vote Out Poverty initiative.]
I am here to speak about an initiative we are undertaking as a faith community to reduce the ravages of poverty. Poverty is an issue in this community. At the end of August, Fred Sickle told me that our St. Vincent DePaul Society had already spent $11,000 to help the needy in our community. Poverty is a problem in Georgia, North Carolina, the United States and the world.
I want to begin with a story. In 1860, Patrick and Catherine left County Mayo, Ireland in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy known as the Great Hunger. They made their way to America on a coffin ship, so named because many, many people died en route to America. They settled in Pennsylvania. In 1880, Patrick, my great grandfather, died in a mining accident in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
They left conditions of terrible poverty in Ireland. I am still pained when I see things like the famine sculptures in front of the Customs House in Dublin—bedraggled, gaunt refugees clutching small bundles of all they have and looking upward with hunger hallowed eyes. Even though the famine which caused one million deaths and one million emigrations happened over 150 years ago, the Irish people are still dealing with it. In recent years, Mary Robinson, their president, told them that they needed to explore the pain they still feel. Even more, now that Ireland is the very prosperous Celtic Tiger, they need to reach out to people in similar poverty today.
I tell you my family story because your family stories are probably somewhat similar. We are second and third generation and our families have done well over time. We are blessed that we were born into our particular families. Certain groups of immigrants had a much easier time than others of getting ahead in America. Many people today, unlike our forebears, do not believe their children will have a better life than they now have.
We have a responsibility to ease human suffering, especially poverty in America and around the world.
Commenting on the Rule of St. Benedict, Abbot Basil Pennington said:
The real meaning and fulfillment of our lives is precisely in being who we are. . . .It is not in amassing great wealth, having [one or two] beautiful homes, having people think well of us, and accomplishing things—for they will die as quickly as we do. Essentially it is being Christ in the world today. Living the Christ life to the full. . . .This is the meaning of our lives. (At 128-29)
When we alleviate human misery we are living the Christ life to the full.
For this purpose we are enlisting your support for an ecumenical, non-partisan campaign to Vote out Poverty. Poverty is not a partisan issue. The campaign was initiated by Sojourners. Twenty one national groups—Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Islamic—are supporting this initiative. The goal of the campaign is the same as the goal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development—reduce poverty by 50% over the next ten years.
I will not bore you with the facts about poverty in the U.S. The detailed facts are in today’s bulletin insert. Suffice it to say that something needs to be done when 37.3 million people (roughly 1 out of every 11 people) in America, the richest nation on earth ever, live in poverty. Something needs to be done when almost 17% of our American workers are unemployed or underemployed.
Being faithful to the scriptures, we have no choice but to work to alleviate the human suffering of people in poverty. Reducing poverty is not an option for us. As far back as the book of Deuteronomy, the author writes, “Let there be no poor among you.” Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is shown as having a special care for the oppressed, the widows, the orphans, the strangers, and those in poverty.
Jesus continues the tradition. Speaking as the Good Shepherd in Jn 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life and that you might have everything you need.” Jesus emptied himself so that we might have life, eternal life now.
He makes it very clear in Matthew 25 that we will be judged by one set of standards. It will not be the size of our houses or the balances in our checkbooks. He will ask us at the Judgment of Nations, “Have you fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, sheltered the homeless, welcomed the stranger (the immigrant), cared for the sick and visited the imprisoned?”
We have the wherewithal to alleviate poverty. We simply lack the will. On the weekend of the 27 and 28, we will be asking you to fill out commitment cards. On the cards you will simply be asking our leaders in Congress to develop realistic plans to meet the goal of reducing poverty by 50% over the next ten years. You are also asking them to honor the U.S.’s commitment to the UN Millennium Goals to reduce world poverty. It will only take a few minutes and you will then put the cards in a box. We will then make copies of the cards and send them to all incumbents and candidates for the Senate and House of representatives. We will ask them to sign a pledge to reduce poverty.
Thank you for helping Jesus liberate those oppressed by poverty. Thank you being Christ in the world today.
I will be in the gathering area if you have any questions or comments.
May the God of Peace bless you!


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