Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Have More Than Money on Your Mind

Just months after professing my Jesuit vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, I asked my superiors to send me to Bolivia to work on my Spanish; instead, they sent me to India to work in a leper colony (such is the vow of obedience sometimes).

Leprosy still exists in the poorest corners of the globe and those who suffer from Hansen’s disease (as leprosy is medically termed) are still considered untouchable. The colony – more like a compound about half the size of Georgetown’s main campus – featured a medical ward, a school for children of patients, a small farm and a series of bungalows where the patients and families lived.

y primary job was to push people to and from the dressing room on a rickety wheelchair. Some days, I worked in the school and visited the elderly. The first few weeks, I griped a lot about the plain food and stifling heat. I felt useless: I couldn’t speak the patients’ language (mostly Hindi) and did not share their religion (mostly Hindu). Had I come 8,000 miles just to push wheelchairs in unbearable heat?


y mentor there, a 75-year-old Jesuit who had been in India for nearly 50 years, let me complain for a while and then put an end to it. “They have something to teach you, Kevin, so start learning from them,” he said.

Chastened, I let myself be schooled. The residents and patients reminded me about the virtues of simple living. They showed me how to leave room for “being with” others rather than just “doing” all the time. They inspired me with their abiding faith in God and their commitment to each other. They taught me to distinguish between what I really needed and what I merely wanted. They revealed to me how cluttered my life had become – even after taking my vow of poverty. Raised in a culture of affluence, I was socialized into filling my life with things.

How seductive is the lie of materialism – the more stuff we have, the happier and more secure we will be. Too easily do we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are what we buy. Meaningless stuff piles up, isolating us from one another. The pursuit of things – and the illusory security they promise – make us competitive and controlling. Easy, instant gratifications ultimately leave us feeling very empty and downright lonely.

I’ve been thinking about the lessons of India in these last few months of grim economic news. Those hurt by the economic downturn walk among us on the Hilltop, even within the confines of this affluent ZIP code. Look closely and listen attentively: Some worry about paying tuition. Others have parents who have lost jobs. Those graduating this semester wonder how they will begin to pay off student loans if they can’t get jobs. Staff with limited incomes and families to support lose second jobs and watch their spouses lose their jobs, too.

The news is dire and the pain is real. But there is hope, if we seize the opportunity of this moment to go back to basics. Now is the time to free ourselves from the hold that material possessions have on us.

Simplify your life and savor the freedom that comes with abandoning the frenzied drive to get, buy or earn more and more. “Waste” time with friends and family and with your God in prayer. Share a cooked meal among friends instead of going out. Enjoy long conversations with one another about what you are learning. Revel in the beauty of nature instead of spending money on entertainment.

In short, consider adapting the way you socialize, being with each other without spending a lot of money and focusing less on stuff and more on relationships. In this way, we make sure that our less fortunate friends remain a part of our campus life.

Liberated from the clutter that divides us, we build a closer community. We teach each other the most basic of lessons: We are loveable even without all the stuff we thought we needed to make ourselves worthy of love.

This is the moment to stand in solidarity with the left-out and the left-behind, the stepped-on and stepped-over. Acknowledging the gifts God has given us, we choose gratitude over greed. We offer our time, talent and treasure to lift up those on the margins of our economy. We keep the poor and voiceless at the center of our prayer, our study and our work.

We pray and work for the day when we all will be lifted up by the rising tide of a more just economic order. But as we wait, in this time of austerity, let us tend to the human longings that lie deeper than the desire for the next best thing – the hunger for lasting meaning, for human connection, for life’s simple pleasures and for the God who assures us that hope will have the last word.

Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1988 and is executive director of campus ministry. He can be reached at As This Jesuit Sees It . appears every other Friday, with Fr. Maher, Fr. O’Brien and Fr. Schall alternating as writers.

To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.

More to Discover