Story as Sacramental

 

Today’s Gospel reading reminded me of another blog post I’d written some years ago. First published March 27, 2013, it is presented below.

I found the following story on Facebook recently.

One day Buddha was walking through
a village. A very angry and rude young
man came up to him and began
insulting him.
“You have no right to be teaching
others!!!” he shouted.
“You are as stupid as everyone else.
You are nothing but a fake!!”
Buddha was not upset by these insults.
He just smiled. The man insulted him
again and again but the only reaction
he could get back from the Buddha
was a
smile and silence. Finally he stomped
his feet and left cursing.
The disciples were feeling angry and
one of the them couldn’t keep quiet
and asked the Buddha, “Why didn’t you
reply to the rude man?”
The Buddha replied, “If someone
offers you a gift, and you refuse to
accept it, to whom does the gift
belong?”
“Of course to the person who brought
the gift,” replied the disciple. “That is
correct,” smiled the Buddha.

I liked the story, so I “Facebook-liked” it and shared it. Though I’m Catholic rather than Buddhist, I felt this story was very much in keeping with my own ideals. Just change the character of the Buddha and it might as easily be a story out of the Gospels, or from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.

But, as any writer can tell you, changing a character in a story ends up changing the story. Once I put St. Francis in the Buddha’s role I came to realize how a Christian — a true follower of Christ in the way that few besides Francis have ever managed — would have handled the situation differently.

Francis would have upped the ante. He wouldn’t have simply refused to accept the “gift” of Hate, but would have offered the gift of Love in exchange. Which, in turn, got me thinking about an interesting point of Catholic  theology. We are told that all religions, all traditions, point the way toward God. But it is only in Christ that we find the fullness of Truth. The Buddha’s way in this story is good and wise, a challenge that most of us would not be up to. That’s fine, as far as it goes. But Christ would have us take it that one step further.

Another story:

A young man approached Christ and asked, “What must I do to gain eternal life?”

In reply, Jesus turned the question back to him: “Why do you ask me? Do you not know the commandments?”

“I do,” the young man insisted. “And I  try to live them every day!”

And Jesus looked at him with love. “Then only one thing remains,” He said. “If you would be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then come follow me.”

In the Biblical version, the young man goes away sad because he has many possessions and is not ready to part with them. In the Franciscan version, Francis and his followers rejoice that their many possessions allow them to give generously to the poor.

A religion, any religion, is ultimately made up of the stories we tell ourelves. Stories which inspire, guide, help us make sense of the world we live in. Any story that pushes me or challenges me to improvement is a good story. Any religion that accepts such a story is a beneficial and important part of civilization.

Which is a large part of why, even with all the problems plauging the Church, I remain faithfully Catholic. This is where I mind Christ, where I meet Christ, where I take his stories and make them my own. With Christ, the journey takes a lifetime. Perfection is the goal, and there is always another step that can be taken toward that end.

Some Facts About Child Poverty

Among the richest nations of the world, the United States has one of the worst child poverty rates. A 2014 UNICEF report ranks us 36th among the 41 countries studied. Some reports say as many as 44% of our nations children currently live in low-income or poverty situations.

Poverty in this context refers to living at or below the Federal Poverty Threshold (FPT), or $23,850 for a family of four. Low Income is defined as at or below 200% FPT — research has consistently shown that families in the US need about twice the FPT to meet their most basic needs. This Low-Income threshold is currently estimated at $47,700 for a family of four. See this link for more details.

To make the numbers a little less abstract, consider the following. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. At that rate, a person working a full-time (forty hour per week) job will make $15,080. A two-parent household, if both parents work full-time at the federal minimum wage, will bring in $30,160.

In fact, at the current federal minimum wage a family of four would need to work approximately 136.5 hours per week, or 3.16 full-time jobs, just to reach the low-income threshold. And that doesn’t take into account the cost of child-care while Mom and Dad are working all those hours.

 

For Additional Reading:

Living in Poverty

There’s a lot written about poverty and the people who live in it — nearly all of it written by those on the outside looking in. That’s why I found it refreshing to come across a post from a couple years ago, written from the perspective of someone actually living through it. It is an honest, thoughtful, heart-breakingly forthright meditation on being poor in modern-day America.

“Rest is a luxury for the rich,” author Linda Tirado tells us. “You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves.” Later on she says “It’s best not to hope.” Hope too is a luxury for the rich.

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long-term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.

“Nobody likes poor people procreating,” she says, “but they judge abortion even harder.” It’s a perfect summation of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” attitude we so often take with the poor.

The article does contain a few profanities, but it’s definitely worth a read. Check it out at the link: Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense