Blessed are the poor in spirit
Presence of God
O Holy Spirit, show me the way which leads to true poverty ofspirit and give me strength to walk therein to the end.
I. When we cooperate with the action of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they produce in us fruits of virtue so exquisite that they give us a foretaste ofthe eternal beatitude of which they are a sweet pledge. For this reason, we call them beatitudes. For each gift there is a corresponding beatitude : the beatitude which corresponds to the gift of fear is poverty of spirit : "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5, 3).
The gift of fear, the purpose of which is to liberate the soul completely from sin, tends to extinguish in us the desire for earthly things, which is the principal cause ofsin. Therefore, it urges us to a life of total self-detachment so that, stripping us of all selfish proud desires, of all cupidity and concern as to worldly things, it gradually establishes us in perfect poverty ofspirit. In the face of all that life can offer us in the way of honors, satisfactions, affections of creatures, comforts, and riches, the Holy Spirit repeats in the depths of our heart the words ofJesus : "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast...and come, follow Me" (Mt. 19, 21). This means, not only to desire nothing more than what one has, but to give up even this; not to be eager for riches, pleasures, consolations, fame, nor earthly affections, but to sacrifice all these things which fill the heart with the world, and prevent it from being filled with God.
The Holy Spirit spurs the soul on to material poverty, teaching it to be content with little, curbing its desires for the necessities of life, but He urges it even more to poverty of spirit, for without this, the former is of no worth. "The lack of things," says St. John of the Cross, "implies no detachment on the part of the soul if it retains a desire for them, that is, if it is still attached to them....The things of this world neither occupy the soul nor cause it harm, since they enter it not, but rather the will and the desire for them, for it is these that dwell within it" (AS I, 3,4).
II. Poverty of spirit includes detachment not only from material goods, but also from moral and even spiritual goods. Whoever tries to assert his own personality, seeking the esteem and regard of creatures, who remains attached to his own will and ideas, or is too fond of his independence, is not poor in spirit, but is rich in himself, in his self-love and his pride. "If thou wilt be perfect," says St. John of the Cross, "sell thy will. . . come to Christ through meekness and humility; and follow Him to Calvary and the grave" (SM III, 7).
In like manner, one who still seeks the affection of creatures, and the joy and satisfactions which they can give him, is not poor in spirit; neither is he who goes in search of consolations and spiritual delights in his devotions and relations with God. Poverty of spirit consists in being entirely stripped and empty of all these pretensions, so that the soul seeks and desires only one thing : to possess God, and to be thus content, even when God lets Himself be found only in darkness, aridity, anguish, and suffering. Here is that perfect poverty of spirit which frees the soul from all that is not God; this very freedom constitutes the reason for our happiness, because "the soul that strips itself of its desires, either to will or not to will, will be clothed by God with His purity, joy, and will" (J.C. SM II, 19). The beatitude promised to the poor in spirit is the possession of God, a possession which will clothe them with His infinite riches. This is the goal to which the Holy Spirit desires to lead us; let us second His action by responding with docility to His invitation to detachment and total despoliation. The more generously we renounce all that is not God, the more we shall enjoy the beatitude promised to the poor in spirit.
"O Jesus, our book of life and our salvation, Your first companion on earth was extreme, continual, perfect poverty. You, the Almighty, the Lord of all things, willed absolute poverty in order that we might unite love and poverty as one.
You became poor in everything : poor in material things, poor in Your own will, poor in spirit, beyond anything that we can possibly imagine, infinitely poor, because Your love for us was infinite. You were poor like those who possess nothing, who do not even ask for what they need. You were poor in possessions, in friends, in power and human wisdom, poor in reputation for sanctity, in worldly honors, poor in everything that exists.
"You also wished to glorify poverty by Your words and You said ‘ blessed are the poor, ’ and that the poor would judge the world.
"But, oh! shame and sorrow! Today, O Lord, this poverty of spirit which You taught and exalted so highly, is rejected and fled from by almost all men, and even those who preach it and glorify it by their words, in reality, deny it in will, desire, and actions.
"Oh! truly blessed is he who, following Your example, O Christ, has chosen poverty for his companion! Truly blessed, as You said, is he who, not only by his words, but by his will and by his life, embraces poverty of earthly goods, poverty of friends and relatives, of consolations and vain knowledge; blessed is he who shuns honors, dignities, and the reputation for sanctity.
"O Lord, if I cannot strip myself materially of all earthly things, at least permit me, I beseech You, to become detached at least in spirit, and not once only, but every day and every moment. Oh! truly blessed is such a poor one, for the kingdom of heaven is his!" (St. Angela of Foligno).
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