Poverty depicts lack or deprivation. It can happen at the physical or material level, as when we lack the basic needs of food, water, shelter, or significant income to meet our basic needs in life. Material poverty can be so disheartening, and it is a reality we see around us and in the whole world.
A second level of poverty happens at the psychological level, where people experience profound feeling of being unloved, unlovable, and uncared for. At this level, others feel so deprived of love and connection with others that they feel very sad, anxious, ashamed and guilty, lacking in confidence in themselves, in others and in life. Some at this level may not be lacking in material things, but deep inside them, there is a sense of emptiness that can drive them to seek relief in drugs or reckless living, as is often found among the so-called Hollywood celebrities. Others in this group simply surrender to depression. Psychological poverty can result from events in one’s life, as when people come from broken homes or go through divorce and are constantly hunted by a feeling of shame, failure and unworthiness.
A third level of poverty takes place at the spiritual level, where people feel that their entire life has been so meaningless and empty. This feeling could be irrespective of one’s concrete achievements or it can be the result of a wasted living. Fundamentally, it expresses a deep feeling of disconnection to the whole of life and its meaning. This inner state of disorientation masks itself as a strong yearning for connection with God, the Ultimate Source of all meaning in human life.
We each can find ourselves at one or two or even the three levels, and we need healing wherever we may find ourselves. But it is material poverty that we easily see around us. The other two kinds can be hidden from public, and so people can be dying for love and meaning unless they open up and seek true healing from God and from people whom God has providentially placed in their lives as messengers of His Paternal Consolation.
These three levels of poverty have graces hidden behind them. They each provide us the opportunity to move out of ourselves to reach out to those who need us; these poverties are like “hallowed grounds” in which we meet God in others. To “see” the poverty of our brothers and sisters and be moved with compassion to care for them is to be tuned in to the heart of God. Whenever we do so, the best in us is brought forth. It is this hidden grace that Mother Teresa responded to and became the bright light in the darkness of Calcutta; it is this hidden grace that brought out the best in St. Damien of Molokai who died serving the ostracized lepers of Molokai; it is this grace that turned the rich and queenly Elizabeth of Hungary into servant of the poor and the suffering that she turned her palace into a haven for the poor; it is this hidden grace that gave St. Catherine of Siena the courage to confront with wisdom the spiritual and moral poverty ravaging the papacy and church of her day; it is this same grace that gave Blessed Solanus Casey to care for and listen to the afflicted many hours a day and for over four decades; it is this grace of poverty that made the frail St. Andre Bessette so strong as to work tirelessly for the poor, sick and suffering.
Human life is like the Ecosystem. We are all part of a long chain of interconnectedness, with God as the foundation. We must bear the burdens of the poor, the weak, the suffering with the amount and kind of strength and grace we are given by God. But we must be able to “see” this poverty for what it is. In order to see it, we must be able to see God in our lives and in others for only then can we know that we serve God in serving others.
The problem of the rich man in this weekend’s Gospel is that he could not see God either in himself or in Lazarus. He sees only himself and his pleasures. His torment in hell is the torment of selfishness and self-preoccupation. Hell is selfishness; heaven is selfless love!