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Poverty and generosity

30 November, 1999

Last autumn, when the global financial crisis began to bite, Paul Andrews SJ began to reflect on the prayer website “Sacred Space” about how the financial turmoil was affecting his prayer.

All this financial turmoil seems to touch my prayer in two ways. Sometimes I feel moral indignation at the greed of the fat cats whose desire for ever-greater profits has exploited the weak. I hope that they may move from blindness to a sense of the real world of people, and realise the futility of their greed that wants more and more money. ‘What does it profit to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of your soul?’ (Mk 8:36.) But I know that such indignation is not always from the good spirit; it may be mixed with schadenfreude in which there is little charity. I need to watch it.

At other times I feel fear and insecurity for myself and my loved ones. This pushes me to look at myself. Does insecurity make me more self-seeking and less caring about the needs of others, lessening my humanity, clouding my sense that people matter more than money? Or does this worldwide turmoil strengthen my compassion? Poverty is not good in itself, but where it leads to a deeper dependence on God and coexists with generosity it can be a rare grace – remember Jesus marvelling at the widow’s mite (Mk 12:41-43).

Trop est avare à qui Dieu ne suffit.
‘You’re too greedy if God is not enough for you.’

Then we asked the tens of thousands who use the website: how has this turmoil affected you? Well, we opened the floodgates, as stories poured in from people all over the world. Here are four of them.

‘This makes me think long and hard’, wrote Amy, ‘not about the “fat cats” but about my own need to cut down and share more. So often we do not realise how much we have been given, and take too much for granted. We need to forget about pointing out the speck in others’ eyes, and concentrate more on the log in our own. For myself, the financial crisis has pricked my conscience. It has made me more conscious of the many luxuries in my life, and how many people live without these things. In my own workplace, for example, I never realised how many people are struggling just to make it every day – single parents living paycheque to paycheque – and here am I worrying about the need to replace the wallpaper in my kitchen.

It is good to be reminded of how truly blessed I am, and also to be prodded to let go of more of the ‘wants’ in my life in order to be able to share the blessings I do have with those who have many more ‘needs’ in their life!’

This letter from Harold is powerful because of the circumstances he is facing: ‘We want to thank you for your daily prayer line. My wife of 47 years is currently ill, and we have lost over 50% of our life’s savings due to the recent financial crisis. We raised a large family and thought we had a little nest egg to rely upon in our old age. Well now, God had different ideas, didn’t He?

‘You see, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is embedded in our hearts, minds and souls, and with the Trinity on our side we never, ever, lose faith or accept defeat. Our God has power over greed, immorality and all such evils in this world. So our advice to those who are bitter over this financial recession is to make the best of what God has given you. Laugh, be happy and accept life as it is. The best is yet to come. God will never forget you or forsake you.’

Ellen looked back to the 1980s. ‘It was the bottom of the recession. My young husband had died suddenly, and the remaining money was reduced by the recession. I was fortunate to hold on to enough to support our children, and then as they went off to live their own lives, there was precious little left for me. All around me others were suffering worse than me, and grasping at my widow’s mite. I felt bitter and despairing, trying to hold on to my pennies, until, inspired by Mother Teresa’s words about love and giving, I set myself to giving it away instead of so desperately holding on.

‘It worked as dramatically as flipping a coin! Hearts opened, and talk was good again, and laughter rang from the house, and with decent spirits restored, the feeling of a good team and good work soon restored the money. With hearts strengthened from the little miracle, any remaining evil ones were easily put to rout, by their own avarice. I will never forget it, although the circumstances were pretty extreme, to bring on such a miracle moment, and I am in no rush to repeat it. The whole thing brought me new awareness of the importance of the give/take balance in life, and how, rich or poor, there is always a way to get that life-giving reciprocal energy flowing among good folk.’

Finally Marilyn reflects: ‘We are in this morass because we trusted too much in money. People bought more than they could afford, and banks foolishly allowed and even urged them to do it. I am thankful for times of crisis like this where we learn that money cannot be depended on, that God is sufficient for all of our needs, and that everything besides God will pass away. I have found it helpful to recognise what God has blessed me with: good health, a close, loving family, supportive friends. When reflecting on the parts of my life that are most important, material goods and finances are not at the top of my list. C.S. Lewis said something like: “God doesn’t promise us security. He promises us moments of joy and ecstasy on the way.” 

This article first appeared in The Messenger (March 2009), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.