Tag Archives: Spirit of poverty

28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Maybe Jesus’ message concerning our material wealth can be reduced to this: in the end it will be easier to have been poor than to have been rich — meaning that the more we own of money and material things, the harder it is to manage their use and distribution in a way that is consistent with the mind & heart of Jesus.

I have often heard people tell of the almost unbelievable charity of their parents as they struggled to make a place for themselves and their families here in America. They’d often end by saying, “But the nearly incredible thing was that, no matter how little we had, if my parents knew of someone who had less or nothing, somehow they always found a place for that poor person at our table.”

The spirit of poverty isn’t always found in the poor, but it seems to shine with special brilliance when we do find it there. On the other hand, I know many well-to-do persons, including close friends and members of my own family, who possess that same quality of almost unlimited generosity.

But I still think that it is much harder to manage what we have in a truly Christ-like way when we possess very much, when we are rich. The operative concept here is attachment. What we own is attractive and precious to us; in a way, it is like our offspring, our children. We love them; we don’t want to give them up, these material things that have become such important parts of our lives. We know we certainly don’t need them all; we also know that, while we are enjoying our luxuries, others are in desperate need and would be helped by our sharing more with them. But then we tell ourselves that we’ve come through hard times, too, and that what we have now we earned by the sweat of our brows and by our ingenuity and wise decisions and by taking some pretty big risks along the way.

It’s an on-going struggle, I know very well. I am confessing that it is in my life that the struggle goes on. I’m not judging others or accusing others of anything. The agonizing is my own: do I hold on to too much when others, near and far away, are dying for lack of food or water or housing and I am living so well? I don’t know for sure. And what am I asked or expected to do? I don’t always know that, either.

The nearest I can come to a resolution of this nagging problem is my conviction that we must at least cultivate a feeling, a sensitivity, for the plight of the poor and turn that into concrete action, no matter how small. True, none of us can save everyone in the world. We are limited in what we can do. I remember hearing the world-renowned theologian, the late Monika Hellwig, a friend of mine, say that, although we can be radical in all our thinking, we cannot possibly be radical in all our actions. We can reach only some of the many who need our help.

What if we turned to the wisdom of our Judeo Christian ancestors and pledged to give one tenth of our income to the needy poor? Tithing, that’s called. Or some other approximate percentage of our wealth?

It could be that that would be the first step toward a pattern of really Christ-like compassion toward persons in desperate, degrading, dehumanizing need. Who knows where that will lead? It certainly would put us into closer union with the compassionate Christ — and add peace to our own lives.

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33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2017

Because Jesus made it such an important priority in his teaching, we often talk about the spirit of poverty. Is that a myth for us fortunate people who want for nothing essential and have so many comforts besides?

But, short of absolute poverty – of giving away everything we own and then living with only what is absolutely necessary for life — what can we and should we do?

For the past 60 years I’ve been going to the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, sometimes just for a day. I think it’s good for me to expose my mind & heart to the wisdom of men who see the world through the lens of virtually uninterrupted attention to the presence of Jesus.

But my monk-friends’ life of monastic simplicity, of owning absolutely nothing, is not for me; I’m sure of that. My spirit of poverty has to be expressed in other ways. To the rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to reach eternal life, Jesus said that his charitable caring for others was enough and then reminded him that there was another option open to him: if he chose to, he could sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow him in a special way. It was an option, not a requirement; the young man would know somehow after prayer and reflection whether it was for him or not.

I think that most of us middle class American Christians identify with that rich young man. If that is so, we are left with a requirement that has to be met: Jesus expects us to determine what our stewardship pattern should be, asking ourselves questions like these:

Do we ever do without something we’d like to have so that someone else may have something he or she desperately needs?

Are we generous in sharing the use of the things we own?

Do we in general try to make do with our possessions and not keep replacing them just for the sake of novelty?

Do we make sure that a decent portion of our income, no matter what earning category we are in or what our present needs are, goes to those who are in dire need?

Are we willing to share our time with those who need our attention, even if that is inconvenient for us?

Do we practice good ecology in the use of fuel and food and other gifts of the earth, not merely to save money but to make more available to those who have not enough for a basically human life?

And so on…

The power of the middle class, the power of the Christian community, is in doing good together. None of us can eradicate degrading poverty and provide for millions of our fellow humans. What is asked of us, what is expected from us who say we are the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, is to act in harmony with the best efforts of good people everywhere – of whatever religion or nationality. The church will have become fully the Body of Christ on earth when such generous, conscientious sharing is its normal way of life. In the meantime, as we move closer and closer to that goal, each of us who hear the Gospel must act now if we are going to give an acceptable account of our stewardship.

To be a partner with Jesus in providing for others a share in the necessities of life is a work so satisfying and so peace-giving that we will inevitably discover that Jesus calls us, not really to do without, but to gain so much more.

HOMILY FOR 33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2014

Because Jesus made it such an important priority in his teaching, we often talk about the spirit of poverty – as we sit in comfortably air conditioned or heated rooms, well dressed, well fed, and with plenty of money in our pockets.  Is that so-called “spirit of poverty” a myth for us fortunate people who want for nothing essential and have so many comforts besides?

But, short of absolute poverty – of giving away everything we own and then living with only what is absolutely necessary for life — what can we and should we do, what lifestyle are we entitled to as Christians, as human beings?  Are we expected to strip down our lifestyles to the point of imitating monks in their cloistered monasteries?

No, unless we feel inclined to such an extraordinary life.  Once or twice a year, I go to the Trappist Monastery in Massachusetts, sometimes just for the day.  I’ve been doing that for almost 60 years because I have come to realize how much I can profit by exposing my mind & heart to the wisdom of men who see the world through the lens of virtually uninterrupted attention to the presence of Christ.

But my monk-friends’ life of simplicity, of complete material non-ownership, is not for me; I’m sure of that.  My spirit of poverty has to be expressed in ways different from theirs.  To the rich young man who approached Jesus to find out what he needed to do in order to attain eternal life, Jesus said that his just and charitable ways were enough and then reminded him that there was another option open to him: if he chose to, he could sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow him in a special way.  It was an option, not a requirement; the young man would know somehow after prayer and reflection whether it was for him or not.

I would think that most of us middle class American Christians identify with that rich young man.  If that is so, we are left with a requirement that has to be met: Jesus expects us to determine what our stewardship pattern should be, asking ourselves questions like these:

Do we ever do without something we’d like to have so that someone else may have something he or she desperately needs?

Are we generous in sharing the use of the things we own?

Do we in general try to make do with our possessions and not keep replacing them just for the sake of novelty?

Do we make sure that a decent portion of our income, no matter what earning category we are in or what our present needs are, goes to those who are in dire need?

Are we willing to share our time with those who need our attention, even if that is inconvenient for us?

Do we practice good ecology in the use of fuel and food and other gifts of the earth, not merely to save money but to make more available to those who have not enough for a basically human life?

And so on…

The power of the middle class, the power of the Christian community, is in doing good together.  None of us can eradicate degrading poverty by providing for millions of our fellow humans.  What is asked of us, what is expected from us who say we are the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, is to act in harmony with the best efforts of good people everywhere – of whatever religion or nationality.  The church will have become fully the Body of Christ on earth when such generous, conscientious sharing is its universal way of life.  In the meantime, as we move closer and closer to that goal, each of us who hear the Gospel must act now if we are going to give an acceptable account of our stewardship.

To be a partner with the Lord of Life in providing for others a share in the necessities of life is a work so satisfying and peace-giving that we will inevitably discover that Jesus calls us, not really to do without, but to gain so much more.