“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ( Matthew 5:3 )
Great ! Who are the poor in spirit ? What does it mean ? How do you know if this is something that you have gotten a handle on or not ? Why is it important enough that Jesus listed this as the very first of the Beatitudes ?
These are good questions. Who is poor in spirit ? Franciscans hold as part of their treasured chrism, the idea of spiritual poverty. At the same time, neither has there been such a divisive point in nearly all of Christendom, as the idea of poverty, what it is, and how it is exercised.
For the majority who do not belong to religious orders, and who live our lives out “in the world”, there are 2 types of poverty.
First, what spiritual poverty is NOT. Spiritual poverty is not, an experience of material poverty borne of a lack of the basics of life. It is not the poverty of unemployment, or under employment where the struggles for day to day existence is a reality. It is not borne of slavery or a lack of control over ones livelihood or destiny. It is not the result of oppression or disaster.
It is also, not a point in our lives where we have been subject to this type of poverty, but have surrendered to the idea that there is no other reality for us, and so we just accept the fact as the status quo, and attempt to find some meaning there.
Instead, spiritual poverty comes through detachment from the material things of this world.
This is where you maybe thinking… “Thats all fine and good but I still have to live, and we can’t all live in a cave “.
Spiritual poverty, does not require that we are devoid of all material possessions. Instead, Spiritual poverty is an interior process. It deals with how it is that we regard the material things in the world, both in what we own, or use, or have possession of, or control over.
Most people have possessions. Great or small, it does not matter what that thing is.
What is important is how you regard that possession. You may legally own that thing.
but, what does it take to own that thing. Does it make you take time, efforts, money, or value of some sort, away from your relationship with God.
One day Saint Francis and one of the brothers, were walking along the roads of Assisi, and the brother said ” Brother Francis, I really want a book… I have thought about it , and I would really, like to have a book !”. Francis replied … ” OK, let’s say you get a book. If you have a book, then you need a shelf… you will need a wall to hold the shelf, a house to hold the wall, a door, and a lock to secure the house, and possibly people to guard the house and to make it comfortable… Do you really need a book ? ”
The Franciscan view of material possessions, is basically that we are guardians, of the possessions we are given. Our material possessions are a trust, that we hold which are not really possessions but blessings we are guardians of, blessings held for the benefit of others. Blessings we are given for a time, and to be passed on for the benefit of our brothers and sisters.
Well, thats great, except what happens when your married, or the other people in your life, in your family etc, are not in the same place that you are, or don’t really have the same view of poverty that you do ? Good question !
For this we look to another great Franciscan Saint, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.
Saint Elizabeth was a Princess. She lived in a castle, had servants, and by outward appearances could have had anything her heart desired. These were the trappings of
a life in court. St. Elizabeth however, spent her time working tirelessly to care for the poor, and the needy in their country. She would go out at night, disguised as a regular common citizen, and take food and bread out into the streets from the kitchens in the castle.
Maybe your married, and have children. Your family did not choose poverty, so how do you work out the balance of how things should work. They have needs, wants, desires. You have to find balance in the difference, of how you deal with possessions, and at the same time, have peace in your home.
Spiritual poverty can also be a matter of relationship. In your marriage, or in your family relationships, in relations with all our brothers and sisters, your poverty may come in the form of accepting that your view, might be different from others. You may find that you will need to sacrifice your need to communicate, for the sake of leaving the relationship in tact.
Is the discussion, or the winning of the debate you are engaged in more important than leaving the bridge between you standing, and allowing a place where after the discussion is done, that it allows for your relationship to continue ? In poverty, you may need to accept that they do not agree with you, and you have to find language that allows your relationship to continue without being damaged beyond repair.
Spritual poverty, is, like many other parts of our life, a life-long process and possibly we never really get to the end of that journey until we are in Heaven. This is why is it that we Franciscans call it ” The journey and the dream”.
May God give you the gift of His peace !