“Blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”
Gospel of St Matthew 5:3
I wrote yesterday on Heavenly Treasures and poverty in the sense of detachment from everything that is not God. Often, when we consider the idea of poverty, it is this sort of poverty of which we think. But there is a deeper form of poverty, one which produces even greater riches, and one which we often overlook, even in the midst of our best intentions. It is spiritual poverty.
In ‘The Ignatian Adventure’, Father Kevin O’Brien explains what we mean –
“All of us are called to “poverty of spirit,” or spiritual poverty, which describes a stance of utter dependence before God, not in any demeaning, servile sense, but in the sense of the Principle and Foundation: God is God, and we are creatures created to praise, love, and serve God. Before all else, we depend on God for our happiness and fulfillment. While we are grateful for our talents, abilities, wealth, and achievements, we are free enough to offer them to the service of God and others and to let go of them when they get in the way of that self-giving.”
One of the dangers of the spiritual journey is that we might be tempted to think that any good which comes of our endeavours is the result of self; that we have achieved something. “God has answered my prayers” may have an inherent – if hidden – sense that He has responded to us, that it is our achievement. The reality is, of course, somewhat different; it is not that God has answered us, so much as we have answered Him – we have responded to Him in answering His call to prayer in the first place.
Other times, we may almost bargain with the Lord, reminding Him of the good deeds with which we think our hands are filled, asking Him to notice this and, in return, to do as we ask Him. Again, the reality is not quite as it seems to us, for our hands are generally filled with nothing but misery and human failing.
And this, perhaps, is the key to the idea of spiritual poverty – the profound realisation that we bring nothing to the Lord, for He is God and so how can we, mere creatures, add to His infinite majesty? Our hands are empty, in other words.
At least, they are empty in our approach to Him; but they are filled before they leave Him.
This is the second part of the key to the idea of spiritual poverty; that all we have, is pure gift from God. Our sinfulness and human frailty is ours and comes from us alone; all grace, conversely, is pure gift, which comes from the Lord and is His alone to give as He wills or not.
This poverty denotes a sense of humility, this realisation that we are as nothing before Him – we are like a speck of dust riding a sunbeam, or a grain of sand swept along by the ocean currents.
And yet, despite this, He loves us with an infinite love; He calls us by our name, and we are His. For us He was made man; for us, He suffered His Passion; and for us, He died on the Cross.
One of the best ways of seeking this spiritual poverty is simply to gaze upon the Crucifix, to empty our hearts of everything except sorrow for our sins, and to beg His mercy and His grace. He will never fail us in this prayer, if it comes from a contrite heart.
Perhaps it was with thoughts of this sort in mind that the great apostle Saint Paul wrote one of his most profound texts –
“I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ Who lives in me.” (cf. Gal.2:19-20)
Clearly, this poverty of spirit is something the Lord calls us to, since He spoke of it when teaching the Beatitudes during the Sermon on the Mount. This text describes explicitly the life to which we are all called, and to which every one of us must aspire.
And if the Lord calls us to such spiritual poverty, then it must be possible. Looking at the lives of the Saints, our brothers and sisters in the Faith, we can see so many clear examples of the realisation of this spiritual poverty, and of the good fruit it bears.
The Little Flower, the great St Therese of Lisieux, realised this perfectly in her treatise on the Little Way. If any of us need hints on walking the path of spiritual poverty, we would do well to read her autobiography, The Story Of A Soul.
Only when we are able to truly empty our hearts of self and of self love, will the Lord fill them with His presence and His grace. In that spiritual poverty, we will be given the greatest of riches.