Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Real poverty...

...is lying in your nursing home bed, in a room as ugly and barren as a jail cell, with no roommate, no one to talk to. With no evident possessions, not so much as a Christmas card to show someone outside cares for and thinks of you. You can't even make it down for the Mass and (belated) Christmas party, just wait for Father to bring you Communion and a small gift. Just wait, and let the thought that God is punishing you gnaw at you until it is all that you can talk about.

I wandered away at that point. The man couldn't unwrap the gift, his hands were too gnarled, so I did so very noisily and out of sight. Father listened to the man, and tried to convince him that no, this was not God's punishment for something he'd done. (I neither heard nor sought to hear what.) "It doesn't work that way." I tried too, when I brought the gift back, but...it's the overriding thought in his mind. His situation must be his fault, he must have brought this on himself. He's Catholic; he'd just received the incomparable gift of his Lord in Communion...and yet that same Lord is, must be, punishing him.

I don't know why that place is called a "nursing home". It is absolutely not a home, and nursing - as in caring for the ill, for the whole person and not merely the diseased or crippled body - is simply absent. What it is, is an institution; a holding pen for people until they finally die. When Mother talked about the spiritual poverty of the West, that is what she meant - people who have all their physical needs met, but are utterly ignored as persons.

It's nothing new. And yet it is always new, with as many different forms as there are people affected by it. Something old is something we become used to, and something we are used to is something we lose the energy to fight against.

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