People walk past makeshift homes in early May at a shantytown outside Manila, Philippines. CNS photo/Francis R. Malasig, EPA

Luke Stocking: Inspiring words offer a simple message

  • November 12, 2018

Live simply so that others may simply live. These words haunt me. These words inspire me. 

I could not tell you where I first heard them or felt the imperative they contain. But I know they are words meant for me, especially as we mark the second World Day of the Poor. 

You see, I am extremely rich. I knew, irrevocably, my identity as a rich man the day I met Raymond in 2007.

Raymond lived in an environment that nearly one-sixth of the human family calls home. He lived in a slum. This slum was in Manila, the Philippine capital. 

It was my first solidarity trip overseas with Development and Peace. We were staying in a community facing eviction to make way for the redevelopment of the railway tracks that ran alongside their homes. Our partners there were accompanying people through the eviction process to ensure they were compensated fairly and treated with dignity. 

One night Raymond and I were sharing a beer and getting to know each other. During our conversation, it was revealed that Raymond and I were the same age. Not only that, we both had two children and those two children were the same age and the same gender! 

“Raymond,” I said, “we have a lot in common.” He took a sip of his beer and chuckled, “Yes, but you are very rich. And I am very poor.” 

It wasn’t resentful or envious the way he said it. It was just true. 

We don’t often think of ourselves as belonging to the proverbial one per cent, but it doesn’t take much to get into that club on a global level. 

If your net income is over $45,000, you make the cut. It is from this place that we must ask ourselves how we are called to serve the poor — for we know from everything our tradition teaches us that is it vital to our spiritual development. 

Whenever I lead solidarity trips overseas for our volunteer members at Development and Peace, I always use an article written by Fr. Albert Nolan called, “Spiritual Growth and the Option for the Poor.” He outlines four stages of growth. The fourth stage is marked by solidarity. 

He writes, “Real solidarity begins when we recognize together the advantages and disadvantages of our different social backgrounds and present realities and the quite different roles that we shall therefore have to play while we commit ourselves together to the struggle against oppression.”

This is quite simply what we have been trying to do at Development and Peace for 50 years now, to commit ourselves together with the poor to the struggle against oppression. 

I would argue that this is a very particular way of serving the poor. It is rooted in the belief that serving the poor is not simply an obligation to take care of people who fall through the cracks of a global socio-economic system that is working just fine. 

To this day, there are still those who believe that the work of international development and fighting global poverty is to help “raise” poor countries up towards the standards of rich ones by using the same system which worked for them. That belief, however powerful and attractive it is, runs into two problems. 

The first problem is recognizing that many of our expectations as consumers, whether it be the price of clothes or the price of bananas, are predicated on the labour of the poor. 

The second problem is one of ecological limits. We now know that if all seven billion people on the planet were to consume resources at the rate of the average North American, we would exhaust the natural resources of the planet in very short order.

And thus, we arrive at the call to live simply so others may simply live. 

At first it may sound like a simplistic formula to give away one’s wealth and embrace poverty. It’s not. Instead it is a call to collective action as allies with the poor and oppressed of the world that will bring about authentic human development, for both rich and poor. 

As Catholics, we do not define development as a process of generating increasingly complex economic institutions and technological advances that in turn generate ever greater amounts of material wealth and prosperity. We define development as the movement from less human conditions to more human conditions. Making that journey is one that begins with hearing the cry of the poor. It is a journey that requires sacrifices from those of us with great wealth and power. 

That is the part that sometimes haunts me. But I also know it is a journey that will ultimately get us to the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done — on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

And that’s the part that inspires me. 

(Stocking is Central Ontario animator with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.)