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The poverty of wealth

Carter Boyd | Monday, September 2, 2013

In our seemingly overzealous capitalistic society, the dire extremes of excessive wealth juxtaposed with a desperate life of poverty exemplify the unjust problems which exist within our economy and systems of governance in 21st century America. In all of history, never has there been such a discrepancy in the haves and have nots in our society. There seems to be a far greater number of people suffering from a deficiency of services deemed necessary for a sustainable, healthy and decent standard of living in this world. These services include food, shelter and health care. My summer experience provided me the opportunity to see firsthand those in need and gave me a glimpse of how we as a community can help those in need.
This summer, I spent time outside of Boston serving in Lawrence, Mass. and commuting from Andover, the next town down the highway. While I had been cognizant of the discrepancy between the two extreme financial groups existing in this nation growing up, my time this summer memorably had me experience both lifestyles simultaneously. Andover, for the most part, is a town for the affluent. Many of the houses are mansions, perfectly quaint and red-bricked. There are great schools, barely any crime and deep financial security. In contrast, Lawrence, or as one Boston publication deemed it, “The City of the Damned,” is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts and the country. In this poverty-stricken immigrant city, I served at an organization called the Lazarus House, which acts as a homeless shelter, thrift store, soup kitchen and food pantry while providing educational courses and job placement for thousands of impoverished men, women and children. 
Working with the guests in all of the various forms of ministry in the organization, I was able to hear countless stories of personal struggle, loss, hardship and pain, but along with these, I also heard beautiful stories of triumph, gain, blessings and healing. The experiences I built up in an eight-week immersive service program compelled me to further realize and ponder the deep injustices that exist not only in our world but in our nation, states and communities. Although many of us have worked with the disadvantaged and downtrodden, it is evident that many of us also live in a bubble at Notre Dame as we are somewhat hidden and distanced from some of the pains and sufferings of the world. This makes it difficult for many of us to recognize and act on the deep-rooted injustices that affect so many other individuals battling the ravages of life below the poverty line. It is hard to comprehend how so many can live in destitution, barely making it from day to day on welfare with no home and a few ragged pairs of clothes, while those around us seem to have what they need and more.
   Great examples of this phenomenon exist here at Notre Dame within the South Bend community. There are parts of South Bend that are stricken by poverty, with people dependent on soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters within a few mile radius of Our Lady’s University.  Consider going, seeing and helping at Our Lady of the Road, the South Bend Center for the Homeless, The Catholic Worker or any other organization that meets the poor people in our community where they are trying to provide comfort, services and smiles to them. 
I take the words of President Fr. Jenkins to heart when he says Notre Dame needs to “heal, unify and enlighten for a world deeply in need.” When I look at the golden dome, I know many enjoy its beauty, but I think of the humble woman who gave birth to her son in a manger and how they were appreciative just to have a stable for shelter. The Basilica has provided inspiration and spiritual growth for many, but I have relished the times I attended mass in the Log Cabin Chapel, with its refreshing simplicity. I know our religious places of worship and sacramental statues are so important to our society, culture and religious spiritual journey. That’s why it has been refreshing that Pope Francis is encouraging us to be less materialistic and to simply help the poor and those in need. Pope Francis has shrugged the thought of a fancy car and has tried to live in a less extravagant apartment at the Vatican. Maybe we should follow our Holy Father’s lead in prayerful thought and consideration of others.
I challenge all of my fellow Domers to help those in need just a little more than we normally do. Let’s raise the bar on helping the poor, sick and downtrodden in our community of South Bend. Reach out to those in desperate need of your help. I encourage you to apply to work in the SSLP program through Notre Dame. It will be a life-changing experience for you and the lives of those you touch. Seeing the Notre Dame alumni helping the poor and unfortunate, as well as mentoring the students of Notre Dame, encourages me to continue helping those in need. Will we hear the call? Will we as a university work harder to alleviate the poverty that surrounds the glow of our dome?
And when will it ever be enough?