Mt. 5: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Mt. 6:24 “No servant can be a slave of two masters. For either he will hate the first and love the second or he will be devoted to the first and think nothing of the second. You cannot serve God and Money.”
The person who, according to Christ’s example, is poor in the Gospel sense, has come to depend entirely on God in all that he is and does. (Act 17, 28) He bears witness to his concrete faith in the eternal welfare of man, to the whole mystery of our divine son ship and of the riches of God’s Kingdom. Guided by the wisdom of God, he respects the true scale of values, preferring – on the practical level the Kingdom of Heaven to the earthly kingdom.
The spirit of poverty is indispensable above all to the apostle. The Masses will always be poor, in spite of all technological progress. Our real personal and collective poverty should be clearly seen by the faithful as well as by those we are trying to bring to Christ, or else they will not believe those who come announcing the Kingdom of Heaven.
Poverty does not mean wretchedness: that is never acceptable, either for men as a whole or for isolated individuals. The vocation to real poverty is a different thing from misery, even if in certain ways one resembles the other.
“Poor” means neither “dirty” nor “lacking in taste”. The home of poor people can be perfectly clean and even rather tastefully arranged. Neither does “poor” mean “cheap”. A castle purchased cheaply is still a castle and not a poor dwelling. A poor man often rents a house, for example: he cannot afford to own it, even though – in the long run – it might be more economical for him to have bought it. The truly poor man is often not in a position to economize really by buying good and durable things.
We must also take care not to confuse poverty with the state of owning nothing. A person can deprive himself of all his property-rights and still live a comfortable life, thinking he is poor while, all along he lacks absolutely nothing. There is a great danger of slipping into a kind of “poverty” that is either hypocritical or an illusion. Actually, the poor man feels he has more than enough as long as he has access to all the goods he needs, even if they do not belong to him and can make use of them.
When comfort and ease of life take hold of a religious Society, a general slackness appears along with them. Our spiritual influence decreases greatly and the people who know us are terribly scandalized.
The members of our Society must not see in the evangelical Counsel of poverty only a “simplification” of life or an ideal of economy and moderation: neither is it simply a kind of wisdom which knows how to get along happily with very little, or a kind of spiritualism, despising secular goods, or even a means of being able to come to the aid of those who have been deprived of everything, – although this kind of charity is necessary. Rather, it is the act of abandoning all these goods men usually possess in order to show others that it is possible to cling to something else, to other goods, – invisible, but entirely real and authentic, – and to the Supreme Good, God.
This testimony should not be simply personal but institutional, – that is, given by the entire religious Society as an Institution. As such, this testimony is a sign of radical detachment, recognition of the absolute transcendence of Christ’s messianic gifts. The Institution means the entire premises, houses, reception areas, chapels, dining areas, as well as gardens, automobiles, photography and projection equipments, etc… This whole institutional set-up should be subjected to deep scrutiny. It is in this realm that poverty is often least evident. And it is precisely this that is most public, visible, and observable.
Here are some suggestions that should help in the practice of evangelical poverty:
- To expect everything from God, and do everything in our power to cooperate with his work.
- Before the Lord, to recognize our absolute need and our deep-seated lack of power, is to attract to us the power and the abundance of Christ. In order to be given all we need and more, we only have to tell God all we lack. “They have no wine..”, said Mary at Cana.
- To hold all our personal talents and goods in common, in order to be able to provide for the needs of each one.
- Apostolic poverty demands of each person all his strength, service and effective work, and a wise use of his time.
- To be satisfied with the essential, in everything: housing, food, clothes, vacations, and so on. To avoid what is luxurious or superfluous, or useless. It is hard to define what is necessary; it will differ with age, health, one’s own activity. But this is the ideal toward which we must tend according to the grace of God.
- To want to live like the poor. The poor man;
- is satisfied with little,
- wastes nothing,
- is grateful for what he is given,
- complains about nothing,
- works with his own hands
- hires no one unless it is necessary,
- is not afraid of the most humble tasks,
- possesses nothing that smacks of luxury, vanity, comfort, or superfluity,
- is willing to be of service to every one,
- takes good care of whatever he has,
- avoids lavishness,
- engages in no useless spending.
- To accept joyfully any suffering that results from poverty. We are truly poor unless we suffer from poverty. Christ suffered a great deal, everywhere, on account of his poverty: in Bethlehem, at Nazareth, and in his apostolic life…without even a stone on which to rest his head.
- To move always in the direction of greater poverty. The person who has the spirit of poverty always feels he has too much, and he tries to cut down on his possessions. He always fears being burdened with possessions and often reminds himself that the poor have less than him.
- To avoid becoming attached to what we do possess, or have at our disposal. Signs of attachment: to miss things that we have had to leave behind or to give up, – to be afraid of losing what we have or of being deprived of what we are allowed to use, – to become annoyed or angry at the loss of our own things, – To seek anxiously to preserve or to increase our possessions.
- To deprive oneself as much as possible of the “over-comfortable” or of the “best-quality” things: accept to do without the essential from time to time; to give generously to the poor, particularly to the members of our society, generally not to refuse to the person who asks for something; to visit the poor and take an interest in them, helping them to improve their lot.
In its deepest reality, poverty is humility in relation to God and to others, in complete openness to Him who is the source of all good things, in acceptation of the human condition, courageously recognizing its limitations and our failures. It is the joy of hidden service, and thanksgiving for gifts received and also for the success of others.
In order to be real, this evangelical poverty must be translated into concrete form, without being identified with the form itself. In this way, it will express the evangelical detachment pre-supposed in the true consecration of self to God and to man, in our Society.
“…You know the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 2 Cor 8: 9