"Don't forget the poor!" And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi.This is how the Pope described the choice of his name, he has spoken of "a poorer Church for the poor" but, maybe I am a bit stupid, I am not sure what "poor" means.
I understand it in the context of a poor village built on the side of a rubbish tip with no water, no food, no education or no real weatherproof shelter. Its occupants by my standards are poor.
But what about the man who earns vastly more than his neighbours and yet spends it on some expensive destructive vice, such as drink or drugs or even the opera or an education, which means he cannot feed himself. Is he poor or feckless? I am always troubled by talk about the "deserving poor", we certainly rarely hear about the "deserving rich".
I had a friend who was Friar, I stayed with him in his friary, it was the only monastery where I have shared a bedroom with two of the community. It was in the poorest block of flats, on the poorest estate, in the poorest city in the country. The furniture was all recycled, the food was incredibly cheap but very good. They had used their skills to make an old car seat into a comfortable chair and rather beautiful chair, they knew where to borrow the tools and they had the imagination to design it, and to make a good food they knew what ingredients to use to feed five for a quarter of the price the part-time prostitute next door spent to feed her three children. Were these Friars poor? No, their education, their social background, their contacts, their imagination, even their physical and mental health as well as their organising skills marked them out as being almost an alien life form.
I suspect many non-Western cultures are socially heavily stratified, there are the poor who are distinct from the rich. Poverty in this context is about the lack freedom, something not far above slavery. In some Liberation theologies it has, I think, a particular meaning that is connected to class struggle.
As for the Church being poorer, I am not sure what that means either.
Most of our money is in real estate: buildings. Do we sell off the ancient and culturally significant buildings in city centres and the devotional art within them and move to the cheaper suburbs. Certainly we exist as a Church to proclaim Jesus Christ, we not museum keepers. But what about our Catholic schools and hospitals, again we are an NGO supplying education, medical care or any other services, should those be given away to local communities, and the equipment in them, do we just use the cheaper and less advanced, should a Catholic hospital have a highly expensive CATscan or employ expensive staff, where does poverty come here?
As far as education is concerned, do we as Church stop sending students to the better universities in solidarity with poor and less advantaged, or even stop sending the then to university at all. Education is after all the opener to many doors and to influence and power, should we disdain all that?
I have known old Jesuits who kept all they had in a small suit case, ready to move to do the will of their superior at a moments notice. Here poverty was an internal thing, a lack of attachment to created things. Is that what Pope Francis means by a "poorer Church", or is it a Church stripped of its artistic heritage. Is it detachment, or is it a cultural desert?
Again in the West, or should that be the North, society might tend to suggest that those who are poor would include any who are poor by gender, sexual orientation, race, religious or non-religious belief. "Poverty" is obviously the buzz word of this Pontificate, just as "Continuity" was for the last one. It is importantant that we begin to understand it if we are to be loyal sons of the Church.