Who is Poor, Anyway?

As a college student, I never thought twice about poverty. As a matter of fact, I looked down on my peers when they gathered in the student center to take the L train to serve at the soup kitchen. Don’t get me wrong—I did care about hungry people. I just thought there were more important issues in which to invest my heart. I was a relatively independent young lady with big goals: I wanted to be a Naval Officer and achieve justice for women in the military. I had my eyes set on changing systems more so than on seeing people.

My heart was also after another big system: the abortion industry. I saw abortion as one of the greatest injustices against women and children, and I fought long and hard from the ages of 12 to 22. There wasn’t one pro-life thing I didn’t try my hand at, from praying at abortion clinics to opening my apartment to women in crisis pregnancies to lobbying in Springfield, IL, and Washington, DC. Yet my eyes were still more focused on systems than on people.

In the midst of all my aspirations, I was a pretty serious Catholic. I went to Mass nearly every day and tried to pray the Rosary. But I didn’t sit still for too long to listen. Divine intimacy wasn’t on my radar. But something started to turn in my heart my sophomore year when the campus culture became more accepting of abortion—I felt at a loss, because I felt like I was failing. That is when I finally started to pray, not just believing in God but believing that He wanted to know me personally and realizing that I wanted to know Him, too. I finally met Jesus after being Catholic my whole life.

The main way this went down was by going to Eucharistic Adoration. My best friend at the time was similarly ambitious and growing in his faith too. We were not into the college bar scene, but there was a bar on Clark Street that specialized in beers from Belgium. Not too far from there was an adoration chapel. We’d hit the bar around 9, drink expensive beer and discuss how we could change the world for Christ and then go to adoration. Sitting in the silence, that “something” started to grow in my heart and opened me up to a pretty shocking invitation: Jesus was actually asking me to become a religious sister. I have to admit: Jesus and I had a pretty long, hard fight for a couple of years before I could finally say yes in freedom. But that wasn’t the only shocker He had in store. I thought I’d join a religious community that took care of women and children in need and help to end abortion. The community to which Jesus led me was focused on caring for the poor!

The funny thing is, I didn’t fight it. I just knew it was right—I can’t explain how in words. I just knew.

One night when I was a young sister, I was walking between buildings at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels on Chicago’s West Side, where our community, the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago, lives and serves. It was already dark, and my eye was immediately drawn to a group of girls who couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 years old. They had a stroller with a baby. One of the girls was scantily dressed in a lacy top and cut-off shorts. She stopped in front of a chain link fence, and one of the other girls began to take pictures of her as she posed in overtly sexualized ways.

It was as if that “something” in my heart made sense in that moment. My whole life I’d been focused on changing systems to help people. But what Jesus wanted was to change my heart to help people. He wanted me to know people, love people, serve people. He wanted me to give my life to specific, concrete people who had hearts and stories. He wanted me to see Him and love Him in every person.

I’ll never forget that night and the lesson I learned. It was the beginning of discovering the terrifying yet beautiful truth that my life is not about me! I thought the poor people were “out there,” but in reality, the poor person was “in here,” in my own heart. Because I took the risk to let Jesus touch my heart and lead me on a specific path, now I am more free to love and to serve and to see with my heart why Jesus so loved the poor. Could you imagine what the world would be like if we stopped trying to change systems and started trying to let Jesus change our own hearts so that we can truly care for the poor among us?

Sr. Alicia Torres, FE
Sr. Alicia Torres, FE
Sr. Alicia Torres is a member of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago, a religious community that carries out the mission of the Church through service to the poor, evangelization, teaching and Eucharistic Adoration. She studied theology at Loyola University Chicago (BA) and Mundelein Seminary (MDiv), and received her MA in Teaching from Dominican University in River Forest. She currently works at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels on Chicago's West Side, and serves as a religion teacher in an inner city Catholic School. She has been involved in many media projects, including competing & winning on the Food Network's Chopped in 2015 and has contributed articles to several online and print outlets, including First Things, Catholic News Service, America Magazine and Living City.

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