Poverty of spirit is an interesting concept. Jesus speaks of it during His sermons on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God”. What is this poverty of spirit that is to fill our lives with blessedness? Have you ever wondered what Jesus really meant when he spoke those words of beatitudes?
Let’s look at the concept of poverty first. To be poor is not to be self-sufficient. It is to be uncomfortable in many areas of our lives: perhaps to go without food, or medication, or shelter, or clothing. Physical poverty is a very unattractive thing, it is a painful reality. Jesus had a particular love for those who were poor, powerless, and persecuted. He reached out to the widows, children, lepers because they represented those rejected by society. Remember the famous words of Jesus to his apostles who were trying to let the master rest by keeping children away from him: “Do not stop them, let the children come to me, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”. Jesus recognized a positive quality in the poverty of children, in their simplicity, that kept them closer to the Kingdom of God.
Poverty, therefore, can be a freeing experience as well, a positive one. Perhaps this is why so many saints freely chose to be poor. Christians like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clair of Assisi, among many others, gave away their wealth and chose to follow the Lord in poverty. They remembered the words of the Lord to the rich man: “If you want to be perfect, sell what you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me”. In following the Lord’s advise and embracing radical poverty saints found new freedom in following Christ.
But what does it mean to be poor in spirit? The other word in spiritual poverty has to do with our interior life, our spirit. The same positive effects that come from physical poverty should be applied to our life of faith, our interior life with God. To be poor in spirit is to realize that in our relationship with God we are not in charge, to realize that any movement towards God, even our desire to move towards God has to come from Him. A person who is spiritually poor recognizes his own weaknesses, inability to pray, distance from the beloved, and instead of rolling up the sleeves in order to bridge the gap between himself and God he smiles, takes a breath, and says to himself: “You must do it Lord, because I am so poor that without you I can do nothing”. Spiritual poverty allows us to stand before God, even when we feel a great distance from Him, and realize that He will be faithful, He will bring us closer, He will, because I cannot. A person who is spiritually poor allows God to be in charge of the relationship, realizing that even when it may seem that nothing is happening in my prayer life, God is doing something, and that fills me with joy, peace, trust, and love.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God”. Let us remember those words in our own spiritual journeying towards God, continually asking Him to help us be poor. And when we get uncomfortable with the idea that God must do all this work in me, we can do something as well. We help create a proper environment for spiritual poverty in our lives by trying to live a physical life of greater detachment: buying less, giving away more, and spending more time in prayer and thanksgiving for what God continues to do in our lives.
May we all become blessed by embracing spiritual poverty, a simple approach to life that allows God the room He needs to bring us closer to Him.