July 2016 Print

Father of the Poor

by a Benedictine monk

“Veni Pater pauperum, veni dator munerum, veni lumen cordium.”

“O come Father of the poor, O come giver of gifts, O come light of hearts.”

These words of the sequence of the Mass of Pentecost help us to understand the concept of religious poverty. It is only when the soul has willfully stripped itself of its dependence upon material goods that it can call upon God as the “Father of the poor.” The soul that depends exclusively upon God knows true joy. This spiritual dependence begets a confidence that surpasses all material riches. It is through this confidence that the religious soul tastes the freedom of being a child of God. St. Francis of Assisi explained to his brothers that by renouncing material possessions, they receive all as a gift directly from God. The bitter pilgrimage of this life becomes like the delightful pathway of a child strolling through his father’s garden. The child possesses nothing, but receives all he needs from a loving Father. This gives the soul great peace. The only difference between the child of God and the man of materialism is that the former knows that he receives all from God and the latter does not. The materialist imagines that his possessions depend upon his personal excellence and cleverness. The religious soul is aware that he is loved by God and desires to love Him in return, hoping to rejoice eternally with Him in heaven. The anxiety of the miser is the fear of losing his wealth in this life and the absolute certainty of losing it at the moment of death. For the materialist there is no lasting hope.

To be able to see God a certain spiritual nakedness is required. A Carthusian monk once wrote: “Man can see God with the naked eye... [in many souls] it is the nakedness that is lacking.” Clear-sightedness comes from this spiritual nakedness. A soul detached from sin and from all the encumbering obstacles which separate it from God is the hallmark of this nakedness. The spiritual stripping of the soul is the example left to us when Our Lord was stripped of His garments thereby showing us His confidence in His Father. It was Christ, poor and naked, nailed to a cross that obtained for all of humanity the exceedingly great riches of eternal life. He invites us to imitate Him by renouncing enslavement to the possession of material goods. This does not mean that the religious soul possesses nothing: “O Lord, You are my inheritance. You are the one who will restore my inheritance to me.” The cleric says these words each time he puts on the surplice to serve mass or chant the office.

The office of matins for the feast of St. Agnes contains a beautiful passage concerning the wealth of St. Agnes. She was a thirteen-year-old girl stripped of her possessions and tortured, and when about to be put to death, she joyfully encourages her executioner to strike without fear. Our Holy Mother the Church describes her as being completely covered with jewels and precious stones. How can this poor, tortured child on the brink of death be presented as someone covered with so much wealth? Her wealth is obviously spiritual. She is covered with the virtues which she practiced during her short life. They are a gift from God that she joyfully offers to her Father. In the book of Ecclesiasticus we read: “In every gift show a cheerful countenance, and sanctify thy tithes with joy. Give to the most High according to what He has given to thee...” Every virtue that the saints practice is a gift from God. They are given the light to recognize this and the delicacy to return these gifts, united with their hearts, to God.

Everything comes to us from God and flows into our souls, and all must return to God, including our souls. The wealth of the soul that has vowed poverty, or at least has gratefully accepted it as coming from God, is the practice of the virtues flowing from God into the soul. True beauty and wealth of the soul is the possession of God dwelling and living therein by grace. In this way God Himself exercises His virtues in and with the soul. Material goods become only a means by which the soul practices virtue. A story from the desert fathers illustrates this truth. A monk was once given a basket of delicious-looking fresh figs. He decided through charity to give the figs to another he considered to be in greater need than himself. The second monk thought of another who should receive them, and the third monk offered them to still another until the figs returned to the first monk without so much as one missing. They became the figs of charity. In a certain way this is how the Father of the poor comes to visit His children. He gives a true gift that will last for eternity. He pours into their hearts the necessary light to be spiritually adorned with the practice of virtue. The gift of the material object itself becomes the means to love Our Father. The love of God is our true wealth.


“O come Father of the poor, O come giver of gifts, O come light of hearts.”