The next need within the Church was for some people to identify with the poor. Some of its members had to be identified with the poor, for the spiritual well-being of the whole Church. The notion that came into my head was the use of storefronts. You cannot be paternalistic toward the poor, that is, live somewhere else and just drop in once in a while and do some kind of social work. You have to become poor.
Identification with the poor is identification with Jesus Christ. True, he did say that “the poor you will always have with you.” But he also said, “I was in prison, I was hungry, etc.” We cannot forget this judgment that awaits us. I pondered very seriously that judgment.
Again, this kind of thinking was radical and unique. We were pioneers. Women just didn’t live in storefronts with hoboes! Certainly not! However, it worked. It worked for the hoboes, and it worked for the many, many people who came to join us. I understood that begging and being one with the poor was (and always will be) a crying need of the Church.
Poverty, identification with the poor. Then, because I was lecturing and constantly being questioned by everyone, I recognized the need to live by the Gospel. I possessed a New Testament which I carried with me at all times. The only answers I gave people were from the Gospel, from the scriptures.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Fragments of My Life
Reflection – And so we continue with Catherine’s reflections. I was talking with someone recently who was telling me about a family he is good friends with. They consciously live a simple life, embracing in an appropriate way poverty and austerity in their family life. This person mentioned that this family has been criticized by others in the community because they are giving a bad witness to the Gospel.
I had to ask him to repeat this, as I couldn’t quite fathom what he had just said. It seems that some people believe that the Gospel looks more attractive if people who are publicly identified as Christians live wealthy, shiny lives of privilege and comfort. Since I have been an ardent follower of Catherine Doherty since I was 19 years old, I can’t quite figure that one out, but I guess it’s true.
It must have some connection with the prosperity Gospel that is all too prevalent in North American Christianity. The idea that God rewards his faithful followers with big cars, big houses, big careers and (depending on one’s zip code) big hair seems to have a certain endurance and persuading force.
But… Jesus Christ was rich, but became poor for our sake, to make us rich out of his poverty. But the richness there is richness in grace, richness in love, richness in joy and in peace. A wealth of faith, not temporal goods.
This choice to live a poor life with the poor (and of course this will look somewhat different according to your personal vocation – a father of a large family cannot live like a Franciscan friar) is a deep thing. Riches all too easily—almost always—insulate us from life, or at least we try to have them do that. But Jesus didn’t insulate himself from us, and does not insulate himself from us.
Riches are a means of control of our world. But if we really love, we give up control and surrender our hearts to our beloved. If we love as Jesus loves, which is the whole summation of Christian ethics, we surrender our hearts to the world Jesus died for.
This poverty business is a deep matter, deeply at the heart of the Gospel and our Christian religion. This is why Catherine had such a conviction of it at such an early point in her apostolic life, and why it pursued her and wouldn’t let her go throughout her life.
She was never comfortable with comfort; never sure that she was poor enough, that MH was poor enough, that we really had identified with Christ to that extent. And she was no doubt right – it is a profound business.