Why Do We De-Personalize the Poor?

by Mark Votava


I used to think the poor where so different from me, but I am coming to see that we are the same.  Back when I was younger, I remember seeing a man inside of a dumpster where I worked at a car wash.  This was one of my first encounters with someone who had no place to live.  I remember feeling sad as many questions ran through my head.

I was raised in the suburbs so poverty, diversity and so much of real life was something I was sheltered from.  My parents never really talked about poverty as we were a struggling family who was on the path of the American dream.  I guess the poor were looked down on as I heard a lot of friends use the phrase “that’s ghetto” if something did not measure up to the status quo we were all taught.

Living at a Catholic Worker community has taught me that the poor are Christ.  How we treat them is how we show our love for Christ.  I am learning to live with others who have very little money and might be struggling with their health, both mentally and physically.  Sometimes the pain is too great for my friends and I want to fix it all, but I am realizing all that I can do is be present because it is beyond me to fix anything.

I am learning to stop talking about the gospel and start living it.  This has been a great practice for me as I am understanding that embodying a way of love, presence, vulnerability, humility and compassion is much more powerful than anything I will ever say.  I am leaning to listen and learn from the poor who are becoming some of my best friends in everyday life.  This has been so freeing for me as I am discovering my true self in the process.

  •  Hospitality is an act of love

Hospitality is not a gift for a selected few, but a practice to be followed by the body of Christ in everyday life.  Hospitality is a holistic practice in the parish.  We cannot create a holistic counterculture without practicing hospitality among us in the place we live.  Hospitality is an act of love.

  •  Becoming much more like Christ

Hospitality will shape us as we practice it.  We will become much more like Christ as we practice an inclusive hospitality with our neighbors in poverty.  As we practice this, the poor will be seen, heard, valued, loved and brought back into restorative friendships that will help them with the loneliness that haunts them each day.

  • The way of reconciliation and peace

This is the way of the cross.  This is the way of life.  This is the way of reconciliation and peace.

  •  To be of the poor

Gus Gordon writes, “…Christian communities are called not only to be for the poor, or working on behalf of the poor.  At the most profound level they are invited to be also of the poor.  This entails an exodus, a going out of one’s place of perhaps privilege and entering into the world of the poor and accepting it as one’s own.  Praxis as a service to the poor transforms into a praxis in the midst of the poor because the world of the poor has become one’s place of residence, not merely one’s work.  In this solidarity with the poor one begins to share in their lives, sorrows, joys, hopes, and fears.  And in many instances this solidarity goes deeper and begins to take up the cross of Jesus…” 

  •  Sharing life with the poor

The body of Christ is to be of the poor in the place we inhabit.  We need to live in the midst of the poor in everyday life together in the parish.  Our presence is to be a presence to the poor, oppressed and marginalized.  Hospitality and solidarity with the poor are intertwined.  We need to share life with the poor.

  •  Created in the image of God

We need not to fear this way of life anymore.  The poor are just like anyone else in that they are human and have dreams, desires, needs, pain, loneliness, joy, fear, confusion and value.  They are created in the image of God.

  •  The poor are often times forgotten

They have a body and need food, sleep, a place to live, showers, work to do, friendships and meaning in their lives.  The poor live and die just like everyone else, but are often times forgotten.  Sometimes there is no funeral to remember them or celebrate their lives when they die.  This is so sad.

  •  A people who are not afraid to live with the poor

Christians should be a people of the poor, a people of great risk, a people who are not afraid to live with the poor.  But this is not how most of society lives towards the poor, oppressed and marginalized.  We are called to be a holistic counterculture that doesn’t allow the values of empire to define our reality.

  •  Love and hospitality should shape us more than American values

The love and hospitality of Christ should shape us more than the American values of capitalism, consumerism, individualism and comfort.  The poor are tired of hearing propositional statements about the gospel and want to experience a hospitable love from Christians in the parish.

  •  We have closed our doors to hospitality

Where has our love for the poor gone?  The poor are everywhere, but we have closed are eyes to friendship and reconciliation.  We have closed our doors to hospitality.

  •  The greatest heresy in our times

This is the greatest heresy of the church in our times.  The early church was a church of radical hospitality to the poor, oppressed and marginalized.  We are called to the same as followers of Christ in the parish.

  •  De-personalizing the poor

Shane Claiborne says, “It is much more comfortable to de-personalize the poor so that we do not feel responsible for the catastrophic human failure that someone is on the street while people have spare bedrooms in their homes…” 

  •  Our comfortable way of life in America

We cannot de-personalize the poor as a way to keep them out of our homes, out of our lives and out of our minds any longer.  De-personalization fosters to our comfortable way of life in America.  It fosters to our seeing nothing wrong with our lack of responsibility for the poor.

  •  Apathy and individualism

If we de-personalize the poor, we do not feel so bad about the whole situation we are in.  De-personalization fosters apathy and individualism.  De-personalization is not from Christ at all.  Christ has come to give value to all human beings.

Why do we de-personalize the poor and close our doors to them?