"It's ridiculous how wealthy those people are. They live in mansions, own several cars, and spend crores on weddings." You know, practically everyone compares themselves with someone wealthier and feel a sense of self-righteousness about how wasteful THEY are compared with us. But most of you reading this blog are probably privileged compared to the vast majority of the world and especially India.
- Are you fairly fluent in English? Many jobs and opportunities are open to you.
- Do you have an income big enough to be able to spend on little and big luxuries like eating out, going on holidays and buying non-essentials?
- Have you had the opportunity to travel abroad?
- Do you have a secure job and a steady income? Do you have savings?
- Do you have free time that allows you to spend hours on social media every day?
- Have you got an education or skills that enable you to earn money?
- Do you have friends and connections in the upper and upper-middle social classes?
Even if only some of these apply to you, you are privileged, and so am I. The point is not to feel guilty about our privilege - it is rarely helpful or productive - but to accept that we are indeed privileged, and therefore our conscience and our God expect us use our privilege well. 'From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.' Lk 2:48
So let's get down to it. What practical steps can you take to start embracing a life of Gospel poverty?
1. Ask God to open your eyes and open your heart: No one can force you to give up your privilege. You have to freely choose to detach yourself, and that is hard. I'd like to care less about 'stuff', but I love my stuff too much. But even wanting it is a great first step. God can work with that. Ask Him to soften your heart to those in need. 'Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.'
2. Get to know some poor people: Theorizing about 'the poor' doesn't change anything. Then Gospel poverty just becomes a quirky hobby like minimalism often appears to be. Start somewhere. Visit the home of your maid or watchman. Ask her if she knows anyone in need in her neighborhood. Ask your local parish if there is a family you can visit and adopt. Get to know them and their needs. Don't come in as a benefactor, but as a friend who is genuinely interested in them. Or get personally involved in a charity.
My group was once given a sum of money to give away, so I contacted a teacher at the school I was working with to ask if there were any families we could give groceries to. The teacher told me about students who couldn't afford three meals every day, and sometimes drank a glass of water in the night instead of eating. It shook me. That's what my little luxuries were worth to someone else.
3. Go through your stuff: Pull everything out section by section, and ask yourself if you have used each item in the past year, and if you really even need it. It's amazing how may things we keep just because we think we MAY use it sometime. If you're not sure, put the maybe items in one area, and check again in a few months if you need them. Regularly make bags of giveaways and connect with someone who serves the poor directly. (Don't put ragged or filthy or unusable clothes in there!)
“When someone steals another's clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not?" Saint Basil
4. Start tithing: Set aside (at least) ten percent of your income to give away. If you find it hard to remember, withdraw it, put the cash in an envelope, and label it. Ask God to show you to whom you should give it. Part of it could be to your church or faith community, but don't forget the poor. When you tell God you're available and your stuff is His stuff, He will take you at your word.
5. Evaluate your spending habits: Start keeping track of how much you spend on luxuries. Snacks, eating out, clothes and shoes, books, alcohol, parties, make-up and other beauty products, fancy ingredients, phones... you know your own temptations.
It's not bad to occasionally splurge, but when luxuries become habits and needs, then you know it's time to cut down. Ask God, "Where can I simplify? What can I cut down on? What can I give up this month?" Give up restaurants and outside food for a month. Or anything non-essential. Then take the money you would have spent and add it to the Giving envelope. (Pro-tip: If you are an impulse buyer, train yourself to wait 24 hours before buying something you are SURE you need. Leave it in the online shopping cart and close the tab. Most likely 24 hours later you'll change your mind.) Stay away from places and people who tempt you to waste money. Replace them with simpler pleasures.
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Cor 9: 6-8
6. Make a budget: Easier said than done, I can attest to that. But prayerfully plan for your month (with your spouse if you have one), and ask God how He wants you to be a good steward of what you have. Be responsible, but err on the side of generosity.
"At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.'" Mother Teresa
7. Give away something you are too attached to: Ask God to show you if there is something that you love more than Him, more than the people around you. I often share about an inspiring young Catholic missionary I met who told me he lived by the philosophy "Never own anything you cannot give away." Our possessions start to possess us, as Father Dubay puts it in Happy are You Poor, so we need to be proactive in exorcising these demons.
8. Give to all who ask: Give something to all who ask, even if it's a smile and an acknowledgment (when you feel uncomfortable about giving to what seem like professional beggars). Be willing to lend when someone asks for help instead of viewing everyone in need with suspicion. It is not a sin to be in need. If someone asks if they can stay with you, be hospitable. Offer a glass of water to the salesman who knocks on your door. Lend your stuff to those who ask. Don't make it a big deal if someone loses or damages your stuff. It's just stuff. Listen to the person who seems like they need someone to unburden to. When you know you are not able to give any more, when you are stretched too thin, it's okay to say no (kindly). But most of us are capable of more than we think we are.
9. Start a Gospel poverty Whatsapp group: Connect with people who have the same heart and desire. Share the needs you come across, or the stuff you want to give way. Let's use networking to benefit the poor. Do a book study of 'Happy are You Poor'. Read the Letter of James together. Plan a pilgrimage to Kolkata to be inspired by Mother Teresa. Read her writings.
In the end, we will only keep what we give away. If you could look at the last month and weigh what you gave away with what you spent on yourself, would you have an uneasy conscience? If so, today is the chance to begin again. Jesus is waiting for us to cut through the layers of our own stuff, and meet Him in the 'least of his brethren'.
My Forays Into Gospel Poverty
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