About a week ago, a young university student came to me for spiritual advise. He struck me as a bright and articulate young man who came from a well-off family. The second in a brood of four, his father was a medical doctor, his mother an accountant.
Friendly and cheerful, his demeanor nevertheless concealed a dark and stormy interior. He was "lost", he said, "directionless", even "depressed". He struggled with his faith, with his trust in a good and loving God, he struggled with his ideals, especially in a society which, in his words, "seemed bent on taking the road to destruction".
"I think I'm slowly becoming an atheist", he said. "Or perhaps a very perplexed agnostic".
Listening to this young man speak, I remembered the words from a book written by our speaker at the seminary's philosophical conference last Friday.
"The Jesuit theologian, Jon Sobrino once observed, "The poor have no problems with God - the atheism of protest - so reasonably posed by those who are not poor, is no problem at all for the poor (who in good logic ought of course to be the ones to pose it".
"A great irony of the post-Enlightenment world is that the rejection of God's love in the face of human suffering has come principally from those sectors of society most blessed by economic prosperity and material security. It is not the poor who have become secularized".
"It amuses me", wrote Ignacio Ellacuria shortly before he died, "when people say 'God has disappeared from the world', because God has disappeared from Europe or the universities. But this isn't the world". Not only has religious faith not succumbed to the forces of secularization, but it continues to thrive and grow - particularly among the very peoples whose suffering is supposed to represent the most devastating argument against religious faith. Either the poor are horribly ignorant, infantile, manipulable, and untrustworthy, or else they're onto something. I prefer to believe the latter." (Roberto Guizueta, "Christ our Companion")
As I looked at the young man sitting, so distraught in front of me, I couldn't help but remember the rich young man to whom Jesus once said: "You lack one thing: go sell all that you have, give it to the poor, then come follow me". (Mark 10:21)
Time and again, it is the poor, most especially the most vulnerable of them, the children, the elderly, the lonely, and the ill, that have led me back to Christ, to my visions, my dreams, the powerful ideals of my youth.
If only this young man - I thought to myself - could have that experience, if only he too could get his hands dirty, if only he could, even for a while, walk in the footsteps of Christ who was himself poor, he too might find his redemption.
I did tell him that; he listened, but didn't really reply. As I said goodbye to him, I prayed that his heart may lead him to the poor, so that they in turn might lead him to the one who alone could satisfy the hunger I sensed he felt deep in his heart, in his very soul.