The Spirit of Poverty
The virtues and their acquisition is especially done through the sacred liturgy. Though we could discuss many such examples, we will here focus on one: let us venture to better discover and obtain the rich Christ-like virtue of poverty.
“And Satan said to Jesus: All the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me” (Mt. 4:9). Here is the delusion of pride, to offer to the very Creator of the planets, galaxies, sun, moon, and stars a few specks of His own creation! “All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.” What is poverty? It is man moved to godliness, the spirit which views dust as dust and longs for heavenly riches, eternal and incorruptible. What are worldly kingdoms, palaces and robes compared to the halls of eternal glory in company with the King of kings and countless legions of angels and saints robed in holiness?
This was the first unspoken sermon of the Savior: The omnipotent owner of all things chose to have nothing in order to teach us the virtue of poverty, the happiness of poverty. For no man on earth was happier than Christ, possessing at all times the vision of His Father. And indeed, no woman was ever happier than the Virgin Mary, having like her Son nothing, yet always possessing in her mind and heart the vision and love of her Son, who is God.
But if we earnestly examine ourselves we notice a great dissimilitude. Our hearts are set upon creatures and “where a man sets his heart, there is his treasure” (Mt. 6:21). Whence does our stupidity come which justly merits rebuke from our Master? We inherit this disorder from our first parents; it is a consequence of the great sin against the spirit of poverty! We have to understand that man was made lord over the creatures of the earth, and they were to be in perfect subjection to him as long as he remained subjected to the Supreme Being who made all things. But he broke this subjection; he preferred a creature (the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) to the will of the Creator. As a fitting punishment, creatures no longer are in perfect submission to man; they strive after mastery over the now weak and disordered man.
Even before original sin, man had the spirit of poverty, even in the midst of earthly delights with no wants whatsoever. For he was supernatural (by grace) and lived a godly life; he was perfectly ordered, having his mind and heart set and attached upon his heavenly Father. Did he then not care for anything or anyone else other than God? No, precisely because he was so rich with the Spirit of God, he could have the spirit of poverty. Genesis tells us that he dressed and kept the paradise of pleasures; and with the bestowal of Eve he acclaims in loving admiration that she “is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” He views and holds these gifts as sacred realities due to their Source, due to the One who keeps them in existence, due to their purpose as helps to his eternal end of possessing the Beatific Vision. However, sin blinded his (and therefore our) vision; God is no longer clearly seen and served in His temporal gifts; we easily stop at the creature, making them obstacles to our End.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Indeed, the new Adam infinitely rich in grace, virtue, merit, and heavenly power comes to restore in us the spirit of the sons and daughters of God, the spirit of poverty, the spirit of ordering all to the glory of the Trinitarian Creator.
“And opening his mouth he taught them saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:2).
Why “poor in spirit” and not simply “poor”? It is due to it being essentially a matter of spirit. It profits a man nothing to have nothing (to be poor) and yet have not the spirit of poverty. What is this spirit? No: we must rather ask, whose is this spirit?
By baptism one is no longer the same person as he was before. Yes, there is an ontological (on the level of being) transformation into godliness. By the infusion of the ineffable grace of the Holy Triune God, this subject of the sacred rite becomes an adopted son or daughter of the Heavenly Father, a mystical (nevertheless very real) incorporation into the Person of Christ, therefore producing a god (small “g”). And hence, a corresponding new spirit is breathed into this child of the new Adam, the spirit no less than the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the Spiritus Sanctus!
What is, or rather Who is this Spirit possessing us? He is the Spirit of the infinite love between the Father and Son. “Deus est caritas.”
But how does this all tie in with our present topic on the religious virtue of poverty? Perhaps it may best be discovered through use of an analogical example. John wishes to marry his own beautiful Sally. Each time he sees her, he professes to her his unfailing love while they speak of their future life together. John can’t get over how lucky his fate is. Sally comes from a well-to-do family; they have the nicest home in town, she drives in the seat of the latest model Audi, her ears and neckline decorated with diamonds sparkle in his eye, her taste in dress boldly states that money is no factor. Poor Johnny! He is madly in love...madly in love, not with Sally, but with what she has. He sets himself up for disaster; he may gain the riches of Sally, but the door to the happiness of love is already slammed in his face by his own greedy hand!
We need not unfold the apparent comparison with Johnny and us. To love our Lord God with all our heart, means just that: all our heart. I have not the right to love anything or anyone else besides, due to the will of my Father that I love only Him. The Father loves only the Son, the Son loves only the Father, this love is only the Holy Ghost. The Father loves His creations only through, with, and in His eternal Word (the Son); the Son reciprocates this eternal love in the manifestation of the glory of His Father. This is Their Spirit, this is the exact same Spirit poured into the sanctified sons of men, the Spirit of one love for God and His glory, exclusive of all other loves.
Does this imply that Adam may not love Eve, or that they may not love the delights of Paradise? Of course not, but the creations of the Good God are only to be loved in Him, as He alone is their existential and essential beginning, preserver and end. Evil entered the heart of man when he loved Eve and the delightful fruit outside the will of God. “Tu solus Sanctus. Tu solus Dominus. Tu solus Altissimus!”
God has given to some more, that they may more easily love Him in the poor and in His Church by their generosity. He has allowed others to have less that they may more easily love Him in their benefactors and be more dependent on their Heavenly Father whose loving providence extends to our increasing gray hairs—“even if a mother was to forget her child, I will not forget you.”
Let us meditate upon this Spirit in us and pray to live according to His gifts. What a tragedy for us to live for goods and beauties, and thereby to forfeit the possession of Goodness and Beauty, God Himself. “For this is eternal life (happiness), to love the Lord thy God…” This is the spirit of poverty.