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The Graduate

Poverty: Itís not always what it seems

Megan Kinsella
MSN Class of 2013

(3/2014) Imagine this: you're walking through a narrow street in one of the many slums of Calcutta, India. Foul-smelling piles of trash litter the muddy street and young children search for water in disease-ridden puddles. All of the people you encounter as you walk are poor, homeless, sick, dying, or suffering in some other horrific way. Orphans wearing rags are begging for food, the threat of verbal and physical abuse by passersby always imminent. Lepers lie on straw mats lining the street, flies landing in their putrid sores. You cover your nose and mouth as you walk, the stench too powerful to handle.

Now imagine: you're sitting outside a coffee shop on a university campus in Southern Louisiana, watching students walk by on their way to class. A soft breeze blows through the ancient cypress trees and the sun is warm upon their faces. The entire world is smiling. Each student is decked out in clothes from the latest fashion trends, some texting on their new iPhones, some listening to music through their earphones, and others sipping on $5.00 cups of their favorite mocha-latte-frappe-caramel-coffee.

 

These two very different scenes with very different people in very different living situations have one major similarity. In each scenario, there is an overwhelming need. Let me explain further. The human beings in each scene are all missing something, and this absence is crippling their ability to find true fulfillment and joy.

The need in the first scene is easy to identify: millions of people in the world are living in physical poverty, without the material goods necessary to thrive in the way that we all, as human being, have the innate right to thrive. All over the world there are people suffering due to an extreme lack of access to proper healthcare, shelter, food, and clean drinking water. As members of the physically impoverished population, they have a need that is not being met, which is inhibiting them from being all that they could be otherwise.

The need in the second scene is a lot more difficult to detect because it is not a need that can be seen through physical observation. You have to dig deeper in order to discover itó sometimes a lot deeper. But it is there nonetheless, in every single city in the world, on every college campus, in every school, and in every home. It is the overwhelming, undeniable need for Jesus Christ. There is a spiritual poverty that exists in our world that is just as damaging, if not more so, than physical poverty. Because of original sin, we all have an inclination toward rebellion and brokenness. There is an emptiness inside every single human heart that no earthly thing can fill; Not material goods, not earthly pleasures, not even any human relationships can fill the void in our hearts that is meant for God. This need for God and the absence of Him in so many of our lives causes confusion, disordered living, and eventually great loneliness and despair.

Whenever we have a need, we do everything in our power to meet it. I have an itch, so I scratch it. Iím hungry, so I make myself some food (or pay to have someone else make it for me). I miss my family, so I pick up my cell phone and call them. Easy, right? For some, maybe so. But, for many, itís just not that simple. Both the physically impoverished and spiritually impoverished individuals in our world are in need, and do not have the ability themselves to fulfill that need. This is precisely why God tells us in Scripture that it is our job to be our brotherís keeper. One of the most important commandments He has given us (second only to loving Him with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind), is to "Love your neighbor as yourself." And how do we do this? We can fulfill His commandment by helping to meet the physical and spiritual needs of those around us!

The Church, in one of its many roles, is always seeking to fulfill the physical needs of humanity. In January, Pope Francis addressed an audience of hundreds of the worldís leading economists, businessmen, and philanthropists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In his short but very direct message, the Holy Father urged the businessmen and economists of the world to nurture a "broader sense of responsibility, a growth of equality, and ultimately greater distribution of wealth." He spoke in order to cultivate awareness of the great responsibility they have as leaders to include all members of our society, embracing an "integral promotion of the poor, which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality." He told them that because it deals with the common good of all of humanity, this kind of economic approach is a "concern that ought to shape every political and economic decision, but which at times seems to be little more than an afterthought." He closed with a simple request: "I ask you to ensure humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it." Because we are all members of the Body of Christ, all sheep in the Good Shepherdís flock, it is our responsibility to provide for our brothers and sisters in need. Some of us have the ability to do so much for and give so much to to the poor, and others have hardly anything to give at all. But, Pope Francisí address is a much-needed reminder, to myself and the world, about our need to uphold the dignity of human life.

Spiritual poverty is no different: there is a need that must be filled. The difference, though, is that it is a hidden need, an unknown need, which creates more difficulty when trying to provide for it. Since August, I have been at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, serving as a missionary to the students here. The college students that I serve are not physically impoverished. They have privileges that many people in the world are not lucky enough to enjoy. They have many meals a day, constant access to transportation, heating and air conditioning, clean water for drinking and bathing, and so many other unnecessary amenities. And yet, I am here. I am here because Iíve seen that so many of these students are dying to know the merciful love of Jesus Christó and so many of them donít even know that they are missing out on something so crucial.

In my own life, I have come to know that there can indeed be happiness without God, but it is always fleeting, never everlasting. In John 10:10 Jesus tells us, "A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly."

If we seek to find complete fulfillment in material goods and human relationships, we are always going to fall short. However, Jesus offers us an amazing promise, something so much better than our mundane existences in this worldó He promises abundant life, and all we have to do in order to obtain it is follow Him. I am here to invite the students that I meet into a growing, life-changing relationship with Christ, and then walk with them on that journey. There is such a great need, and God asks us to help fulfill that need by bringing His love and mercy into the world.

God calls us to serve Him and His people in so many different ways. Pope Francis has summoned the business elite of the world to use their influence to create more equality and less poverty in all societies. God has called me to Southern Louisiana to do my best to spread His love and promise of eternal life to college students. Now my question is, how is He calling you?

Megan graduated from Mount St. Maryís in May and is now a full-time missionary for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. She is serving at the University of Louisiana Lafayette for the 2013-2014 school year, working primarily with student-athletes.

Megan graduated from Mount St. Maryís in May and is now a full-time missionary for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. She is serving at the University of Louisiana Lafayette for the 2013-2014 school year, working primarily with student-athletes.

Read other articles by Megan