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Saturday, November 7, 2009


Sometimes I think that poverty is kind of glorified among Christians. After all, Jesus had a special love for the poor, while he had many warnings for the rich. And of course, Jesus was poor himself too. Many of the saints have chosen a life of poverty and found great joy in it. However, while voluntary poverty may be of great value, I also think it is important to understand the reality of involuntary poverty in today´s world.

Not that I am any expert on the subject, but from my experience at Andre House and what little I´ve seen here in El Salvador, there is not much that is good or admirable about a life of involuntary poverty. It fosters crime, violence, broken homes and unhealthy relationships, as well as unhealthy communication methods and coping strategies. It is usually accompanied by a sense of despair and hopelessness. Many of the poor have been told by society that they are worthless and will never amount to anything. I can even see this with the kids here where I am living. Nobody really believes in them. Even many of the workers and teachers have given up on them and the kids know that and internalize it, and eventually come meet peoples expectations of them. A life of involuntary poverty is often one of misery and desperation - one of living in survival mode.

However, poverty or simplicity, when voluntarily embraced, can be very life-giving and enriching. It helps us to focus on the things that matter most and to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. It prevents us from becoming too attached to our worldly possessions and it encourages a life of service, hospitality, and generosity. It reminds us of our need for God and slows things down enough for us to spend some time with Him.

Obviously, some of these aspects of voluntary simplicity may be present within involuntary poverty, just as the characteristics I have offered of involuntary poverty may be found elsewhere too. But when talking about simplicity, poverty, standards of living, etc, I think it is very important to recognize the enormous difference between the voluntary and involuntary forms. For many of us, no matter how much we choose to embrace St. Francis´ "Lady Poverty" we will never know what it is like for the many people who are poor without choosing to be. May we always be slow to judge and while encouraging voluntary simplicity, work to overcome the dehumanizing involuntary poverty found in our world.


Erin said...

Thanks for this post! Insightful!

Arleen Spenceley said...


Aaron said...

An excellent post. But I had a question (and this is a real question, not a veiled criticism): When Christ says, "Blessed are the poor," He doesn't say, "Blessed are those who choose to be poor." Are there also blessings associated with poverty that even the involuntary receive? What was He talking about?

Matthew said...

I think the blessings Jesus speaks of are ESPECIALLY for the involuntary poor, though they include those who choose to live simply too. But even though He blesses the poor, of course this does not mean that God does not want us to help alleviate their pain or work to overcome poverty.

Anonymous said...