Option for the Poor

When Pope Francis was elected, I remembered hearing about the church’s “preferential option for the poor” about 20 years ago and now have some hope that the church, and society, and maybe even me might give more thought to those in need.

The option for the poor asks everyone to realize the plight of those who struggle to survive and to put the needs of the most vulnerable members of society above selfish interests. But who are “the poor”? And are we really supposed to care about “the poor” when we are struggling to pay the bills and every paycheck buys less of what we need? And how do I draw the line between what I need and what I want?

Those are the questions I struggle with, and I have no answer. The following poem sent by a friend, who wishes to be anonymous, helps me put poverty into perspective but does not answer my questions. Perhaps it is a daily, even hourly decision. Do I “need” that $80 haircut when all I am doing for the next six weeks is teaching school? A $12 haircut won’t frighten children or violate the dress code. As for mirrors, I gave them up when I turned 60. Sixty-eight dollars would feed a Third World family for a month or more. OUCH.

I’m pasting my friend’s poem in my wallet. Maybe that will help.


I have never been in a sand storm

But I have had grit in my eyes

And was driven crazy by the discomfort

One must feel in the desert.  I have been

Out of work, taking whatever job

I could, selling door-to-door,

on the phone, selling lies to honest people,

and yes, I know what it’s like

Not to pay the bills and feel  

the crushing pain in my chest,

toss sleepless in the nights and feed

My three daughters mushroom soup

Mixed with cheap noodles for dinners

with peanut butter on day-old bread

for lunch.  I know this and much more, 

But I do not know what it’s like

Being poor all your life and feeling

The pain and humiliation every day

You’re alive knowing there’s no escape.







2 Responses to “Option for the Poor”

  1. Susan Says:


  2. Susan Says:

    I meant to say that there is plenty of poverty right here in Illinois, throughout the state, as can be seen at http://www.ilpovertyreport.org/. Not so poetic, but another way of giving meaning to the issue.

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