At the beginning of the sermon on the Mount Jesus gave us the Eight Beatitudes. [Matt 5;3-10]. The first one is “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I cannot claim to know exactly who Jesus was referring to with this nomenclature in his first blessing, even though we have always been taught that this beatitude shows God’s preferential love and blessing for the poor. For me the “poor in spirit” are not just those among us who struggle with lack of material and financial means, but those who have no hope or ability to change their lot in life. Those whom Jesus says we will always have with us, those whom we, as a society and especially as followers of Jesus, are commanded to care for. Here in the U.S., the Poor in Spirit is the homeless man lying under a cardboard box in an alley; the drug addicted prostitute whose life consists of surviving one day at a time; the mentally challenged adult who has young children and no support persons, the heroin addict whose family has given up on him/her.
I feel I have met some of God’s Poor in Spirit while doing home visits as a member of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. These persons are not the majority of our clients, most of those who call SVdP are in a situation where, with just a little outside help, they can get back on track. Like the single mother of five who just started a new job, but whose gas tank was empty. SVdP filled up her tank so she could get to and from work for the next two weeks until she received her first pay check. Or the family of four whose father was very excited about his prospects. He started a new job at a major company just a few weeks earlier and now they looked forward to a better future. But the months of attending classes and too little income put his family behind on many of their bills. SVdP was able to step in with the needed help. I could feel the energy of hope permeating the whole family.
We also have many repeat clients who will continue to need SVdP’s help into the foreseeable future; the elderly or disabled who subsist on their monthly SSI check of $750, who need assistance when they run short due to unexpected expense. There are the grandparents and other relatives who are now raising two or three or even more children of parents who are incarcerated or addicted and incapable of caring for their children. Extra food is needed, since in many cases the safety net of SNAP and other programs to help dependent children has not been utilized yet. Our hearts go out to these caregivers and we pray with them for the spiritual and physical strength they will need for the years ahead, as well as healing for the children’s parent(s).
But the ones who break my heart and leave me feeling like we didn’t really help are the Poor in Spirit, those who have no hope and no plan for their future. I cannot say why one person has hope and another does not. Why some of us are able to access that spark inside that prompts us on and gives us trust in a future full of good, and why others, no matter how much help they get, still cannot see their way forward. It seems that they cannot access that place where hope springs eternal. Two such persons we visited have weighed on my mind and heart long after our home visit.
The first was a man who looked much older than he was and who smelled of alcohol. He wept openly as he told us about his adult daughter who was prostituting herself for drugs while he tried to care for her teenage daughter. He asked for help with rent, but we learned he was too far in arrears for us to prevent his inevitable eviction. We prayed with him and let him know we cared. Before we left we asked him if he knew about the homeless shelter in the city and if the counselors at the high school were aware of the situation with his granddaughter. He said he did and that yes the school was aware and that she had a relative to go to if he became homeless.
The second was a single mother of a baby and a toddler who, with the help of a local agency, was trying to stay housed. She had no income and no way of paying the $700 rent that was due in a few weeks. She had very little furniture, no phone, and no job. She did receive over $400 a month in food stamps, so at least no one was going hungry. And although she was young, she did not look or act healthy. The lack of cleanliness was evident as the baby crawling on the cluttered floor put a cigarette butt in his mouth. We ascertained that she was working with a social worker so we felt the children’s care was being monitored. We encouraged her and told her how important it was that she make it to her upcoming job interview, but she did not seem very enthusiastic. We tried to help her, but felt our band-aids would not prevent the inevitable. So we prayed with her and said goodbye wishing her luck.
On home visits like these, as we hold hands and pray the scripture from the Old Testament Prophet, Jeremiah;
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me, says the Lord. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me and I will change your lot; [Jer. 29:11-14]
I know we are hearing from a God who loves us and does not want us to be hopeless. It is not God’s will that we have nothing good to look forward to. Yes, the God we put our faith in does have a special place in his heart for the Poor in Spirit. Blessed are they, and his Kingdom is theirs. It is not a kingdom of this earth, a kingdom of material blessings and physical comfort, but the spiritual kingdom Jesus taught about on the Mount over 2,000 years ago. This is my hope and I pray that we can pass this hope on to others by our humble attempts to visit and help God’s special ones.