Listening to RTE Radio 1’s Rattlebag programme in the car this afternoon, there was an interview in which there was discussion of what it meant to be poor.
In the brief moment for which I listened, between two sets of traffic lights, the speaker seemed to be saying that people who had money could choose their problems, while those who had no money had their problems imposed upon them. He seemed to regard people who had money and problems as having made some sort of lifestyle choice about what problems they would have.
It was a troubling thought, because it suggested that all our problems were essentially material ones; that material wealth meant that a different set of options were available, even that a choice could be made to have no problems.
Maybe the guy had encountered people very different from the ones I have met in the past twenty years of parish work. The big problems in the lives of the people I meet are concerned with life, health and love.
All the money in the world does not bring back someone who has died in tragic circumstances; abundant wealth is of no use if you have no health, and, in the words of Lennon and McCartney, money can’t buy me love.
Compared to the big problems, much of what causes people angst in a welfare society where a basic minimum quality of life is assured seems easily remedied.Some of the happiest, most contented people I have met have been living the most frugal of lifestyles, particularly older people living on no more than state pensions. The loneliest person I ever met was a millionaire.
Saint Paul writes to his friend Timothy, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that’.
In Paul’s view of the world, if the big problems are out of the way, then there is nothing much else to worry about; I wonder if he heard Rattlebag this afternoon.