Poverty that enriches
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We are, of course, more familiar with the poverty that truly impoverishes and dehumanizes us. And it’s right that we do everything, in the different levels of our life, from the personal to the social and global, to eliminate such poverty.
Hunger, illiteracy, ignorance, marginalization and isolation, unemployment, social injustice and inequality are some forms of this terrible kind of poverty. We need a concerted effort to tackle these problems present in all levels of society and aspects of our life.
But there’s another kind that we need to be more familiar with, because it is what is proper to us. This is the poverty that enriches us actually, because it precisely deprives us of things that we tend to accumulate but which separates us from our true and ultimate wealth, God himself.
This is the poverty spoken of in one of the beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s a very strategic kind of poverty, so indispensable in the struggle for our salvation and perfection, given our wounded nature and the confused state the world is in.
We need to understand this kind of poverty not so much under the light of not having this or that, a matter of self-denial and privation, as under the light of being more in God and in love. We need to see and live the organic connection between the depriving part and the enriching part. Otherwise, we will distort its true face and beauty.
This is the poverty taught and lived by Christ, as well as by the saints through the ages. It can have different manifestations, but the core essence is the same. It’s a matter of emptying our heart of earthly things and attachments to fill it solely with God. It’s not so much a question of having more or less as a matter of being more or less with God.
While its usual practical implications and measure lean more on the economic, financial and material, this Christian virtue of poverty now challenges us in more subtle, intangible categories.
Yes, we have to continue being wary with the rampaging waves of consumerism, commercialism and materialism afflicting our society today. But now, we have to give due attention to how we are developing and living this virtue in the way we use our time and other resources like energy, freedom, creativity, etc.
It’s in these areas where we have to check whether the self-denial and detachment involved in poverty actually leads us to get close to God and to others, whether it’s a poverty that makes us love God and others more.
Poverty is not purely a negative virtue. It is a very positive one, and of the type that needs to grow at the behest of love. It’s never idle or sterile. It’s a very fruitful kind of poverty, and exciting as well.
In the use of the Internet, for example, we need to see if such use makes us grow in love for God and others. If the Internet, now with its many programs like the social networking systems, blunts rather than sharpens our life of prayer, our family life and our apostolic work, then obviously we would not be living poverty well in that area.
We have to realize that the Internet has the tendency to stimulate and absorb us. It consumes a lot of our energy such that we can be completely exhausted to do other things that are even more important though less attractive to us.
Christian poverty can involve the way we resolve not only our lack of money and things but also our tiredness, our lack of time, our other weakness and difficulties that tend to put us down one way or another in life.
Do we manage with God’s grace and our effort to contend with these negative conditions, which are definitely other forms of privation, with heroism and greatness of heart, with generosity in self-giving or do we buckle down to the sheer demands of our physical conditions even other more important concerns still need to be attended to?
We need to realize that this is also one clear area where we can develop and live Christian poverty. Do we manage to make ourselves more available to others, more flexible to the varying demands of the times when we find it hard to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations?
Are we prodded to be more magnificent in attitude when big challenges come our way? This is where true Christian poverty comes in.