the virtue of poverty

What ought we to think of poverty? The common vision of it fails to lead to understanding for as with so much of what we perceive these days to be true what rolls off the tongue is too often unrelated to reality.

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit

While this may sound reminiscent of a Gershwin tune1, there is an important distinction to be made within a specific context when one speaks of poverty and its constituents. What lies at the heart of the matter, as often is the case when considering the depths of human suffering and the plight of those living in unimaginable destitution, is precisely how to corrupt the hearts of those who have abundant means to care for those who are in such desperate need.

To this end, seemingly endless programs have been implemented and literally thousands of organizations have been instituted, all with well-intentioned goals and objectives, with catchy slogans and heart-rending marketing campaigns, to solve an intractable human condition which only becomes direr with each passing day.

That there are those who are destitute, lacking in nearly every basic necessity for life ought to neither be denied nor ignored, especially by anyone who hopes to be placed on the right side of the king come judgment day. However with the means to do so, anyone who feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, clothes the naked,  provides care for the ill, welcomes the stranger, and visits the prisoner, will be abundantly blessed by God.2

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven3 and we fail to comprehend. He tells us “The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me4 and we miss his point completely. He says “Toe-may-toe” and we hear “Toe-mah-toe” and our inclination is to just “call the whole thing off.” Likewise, those who would call for the eradication of poverty are guilty of calling Jesus, the Son of God a liar. It is they who are mistaken and lying.

Why do we not get it? As with so much of what bombards and pummels our minds these days it boils down to a poor choice of words, coupled with a desire to avoid as much as possible any unpleasantness which would threaten our personal utopian worldview.

Those who are in most need are not poor; they are destitute, possessing none of the basic necessities of life. The destitute lack in virtually everything upon which to survive. Destitution is a social condition created soberly and deliberatively through the godless actions of some over others; it is the direct result of man’s inhumanity toward man. Destitution rests upon the willful and deliberate actions of those who care only for themselves and who place no value on human life. It will be those who will be placed on the left of the King, to whom he will say, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

We most often consider poverty and the poor in economic or financial terms — those who have little financial resources or material possessions are poor, those whose incomes fall below a certain point, the so-called poverty line — and to a limited extent it is accurate to say so, but only to a point. For poverty is much more and encompasses far more than the contents of one’s wallet.

Poverty is both a biblical and a Christian value. We seldom consider it to be so but it is as confirmed by no less than Jesus Christ. As Saint Paul tells us “our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”5

Clearly Jesus had little material possessions so how could he be rich if not through nonmaterial means? God was the source and substance of his wealth and as God no one could be richer than the Son of the Father. By becoming man, through his incarnation, he who was rich became poor, reduced to the meanest poverty in order to bring the richness of salvation to all.

A poor person feels dependent on God; this bond is the foundation of his spirituality. The world has not favored him, but all his hope, his sole light, is in God.The poor person is someone who knows that, by himself, he cannot live. He needs God and other people in order to be, flourish, and grow. On the contrary, rich people expect nothing of anyone. They can provide for their needs without calling either on their neighbors or on God. In this sense, wealth can lead to great sadness and true human loneliness or to terrible spiritual poverty.”6

Most religious take a vow of poverty, a solemn declaration of forbearance to worldly possessions. Saint Francis of Assisi asked those who would follow him to wear poor habits, work to support their community, and to acquire no material goods. Such a penurious vow sits sourly on the stomach; cultural and social norms would prove quite the opposite to be the case for we have been brainwashed to believe that the measure of our success in life rests solely upon all that we may acquire and possess. It is not the sanctity of our souls but the size and quantity of our toys which has become our abiding creed.

So why do some deliberately eschew all the toys for a life of poverty? It is quite simple: they do so in order to be closer to God.

Saint Francis of Assisi wanted to be poor because Jesus chose to be poor, because to Jesus poverty was a virtue not a fault or failure. Jesus became poor to show us the best possible way for us to know God and to find our way back to him.

“The Son of God loves the poor; others intend to eradicate them. What a lying, unrealistic, almost tyrannical utopia! I always marvel when Gaudium et spes declares: “The spirit of poverty and charity is the glory and witness of the Church of Christ” (GS 88). We must be precise in our choice of words. The language of the UN and of its agencies, who want to suppress poverty, which they confuse with destitution, is not that of the Church of Christ. The Son of God did not come to speak to the poor in ideological slogans! The Church must banish these slogans from her language. For they have stupefied and destroyed peoples who were trying to remain free in conscience.”7

1  George and Ira Gershwin, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”, 1937.
2  Mt 25:31-46.
3  Mt 5:3.
4  Mt 26:11.
5  2 Cor 8:9.
6  Robert Cardinal Sarah, God or Nothing:: A Conversation on Faith with Nicolas Diat, Ignatius Press, August 31, 2015.
7  God or Nothing.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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