When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” he was talking about far more than whether we own anything of material value. Undoubtedly, there is great merit in forgoing the things of this world and living in simplicity. But that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
To be poor in spirit means to live in a state of spiritual poverty by embracing humility, meekness, and love of God and neighbor. Spiritual poverty is a way of embracing the gift we were given in our Baptism as a priestly, prophetic, and royal people of God. The Catechism says, “Jesus Christ is the one whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit and established as priest, prophet, and king. The whole People of God participates in these three offices of Christ and bears the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from them.” (CCC, 783) We exercise the office of Christ in the way we respond to the world around us. That is, in our attachment to God, attachment to our fellow man, and our attachment to creation. Spiritual poverty means striving to have holy, well-ordered attachments and we do this in three ways: priestly, prophetic, and heroic attachments.
It’s not as complicated as it may sound so let me give you an example of each.
Consider what the priest does at holy Mass. He praises God and then offers and consecrates everything back to God. Although we are not ministerial priests, we can emulate that attitude in our daily living. Before our son was shipped out on his last deployment to the Middle East, our family was allowed to visit with him for five days where he was stationed. We planned a day trip for each of those five days and one of them included a drive up into the mountains of El Paso. Even though I’m terrified of heights, I agreed to go for the sake of the family. At one point, we stopped at an overlook so that the family could enjoy the beautiful view. So as not to spoil the fun, I forced myself to take in the same scene they were all taking in and in the process, I discovered that it was all quite beautiful. I realized that God in his greatness had created them and I praised God for them. Then I further realized that if God could create such a marvel of nature, then God in his greatness could bring our son home safely. When our son did return home from deployment safely, I remembered the mountains and praised God for them again.
This is seeing the world around us for its symbolic as well as its practical value. St. Augustine called this “hints from God” and St. Bonaventure called it “God’s footprints in daily life leading us to his fatherly heart.” While on an evening walk along the shore of Lake Michigan with our dog, Ms. Daisy, I noticed that the lake and horizon met in a misty sort of way. If I looked at it with a critical view, the horizon formed a crisp clear line. But if I looked at it with a relaxed view, it had a muted undefined effect. The line changed back and forth depending upon whether I was looking at it critically or in a relaxed way. I came to the realization that that’s how all of life is! If I look at life with a critical view it divides the sky (divine) from the lake (human) and I can’t see how they work together because I’ve mechanistically separated them. Viewing life in a relaxed way and with trust in God allows the divine and human to blend and work together. That’s an example of how God speaks to us to the world around us.
Heroic attachments can also be called divine indifference. That is a balance between attachment and detachment to possessions and enjoyments. Granted, we need certain material things like food, shelter, income, and transportation, but we can foster an attitude of independence from them. Once while my husband and I were engaged, I was hanging around at my mother-in-law’s house waiting for him to get home from work. My mother-in-law’s house was a bit like Grand Central Station and was a natural gathering space for my husband’s large family. One of my sisters-in-law came in and went into the kitchen. She opened up the refrigerator, rummaged around in it for some time, then stepped back and let out a huge sigh. “No Miracle Whip?” she lamented. “Well, then I guess I can’t have a sandwich.” Does one really need Miracle Whip in order to nourish one’s body? A simple act of heroic attachment (detachment) would’ve been to make the small sacrifice and eat the sandwich without the Miracle Whip.
Spiritual poverty isn’t a matter of giving up things that we need but rather of adjusting our attitude to the world around us and discerning the things that we don’t need. It means daily to praise God and offer all things back to him, to see the world for its symbolic as well as its practical value, and to practice a divine indifference toward material things. When we strive to be truly meek and humble, we realize that everything we are, do, and have is completely dependent upon God and God alone. From that springs holy, ordered attachments to God, our fellow man, and creation.
Image: Wikimedia Commons