Monday, 23 September 2013

Poor or Poverty in Spirit

Matthew 5, 1-3. Now Jesus seeing the multitudes went up into a mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came to him. And opening his mouth he taught them saying: Blessed are the poor in sprit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This first Beatitude is a vital beginning; failure to consider this step means failure to get anywhere spiritually. Without emptying ourselves we are unable to progress to meekness, mourning, justice and mercifulness. We will always have some personal motive, known or hidden to ourselves for what we do or are doing. Until we make some progress in Poverty in Spirit, giving up all for God, we remain like the disappointed rich man in the Gospels. How could we be really meek seeking only God's will and the love of our neighbour if we are loaded up with personal worldly attachments - merely wanting the "feel-good factor" will suffice to dampen our progress.

How are we really to understand Pope Francis' recent interview emphasising the mercy of God without progressing from poverty in spirit, through meekness or humility before mourning for sins, those of our neighbour or country and the Church itself, and confront the dual Beatitudes of justice and mercy? In recognising our own sinfulness and lack of humility and sorrow for our own sins we are in a better position to treat with empathy those who suffer and weep under the weight of their own serious sins, looking for a way of obtaining forgiveness.

Pope Francis has not gone soft on the mortal sins of abortion, contraception and so on but is warning us not be so rule-blind that we fail to see the wounded, suffering from their sins in this spiritual battlefield, that is we fail to see the true illness of the fallen and seek to help them without ignoring the sins that caused the terrible wounds from which they are suffering. Those of us who can see and are not blinded by past sins, prejudices, pride and rules of life are able to be just and merciful to the fallen. If we are to discern and understand the path Pope Francis appears to be encouraging us to take, we could do no better than attempt to understand the Beatitudes and make these our way of life.

Those who have tried living the Beatitudes will know that it is the journey of life and progress requires the intervention by God to help us as we cannot advance under our own steam. If we but try He will meet us more than half way. The stripping process will be most painful at times and we will probably hate some of the losses, being tempted to give up and retire to the broad way, leaving it to Purgatory, if we are lucky enough to get there, to strip us until we become at one with God. As we progress we will find that poverty in spirit, meekness and mourning are both interactive and supportive of each other: as we reach increasing meekness or humility we recognise the seriousness of more and more of our sins and as we mourn for them, seeking forgiveness, we become detached from those worldly attachments which led us to sin seriously and are strengthened to give them up. We go repetitively or cycle through these Beatitudes towards perfection, most probably achieved in the next life.

So let us now make a start by being open-minded about ourselves and try live a life of poverty in spirit which is, with God's grace, within the reach of all of us irrespective of skills or situation. We now have to develop awareness, understanding and the virtues of honesty, giving of self, time and skills, enthusiasm in all situations we find ourselves, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, friendship with all-comers, gentleness in our interactions with others, lending willingly with no expectation of return, large-heartedness, open-handedness, carefree about our success, failures, gains or losses, free from any fears, living in the eternal present, free from human respect, not being anxious, accepting losses and avoiding thinking "what's in it for me?", not grasping for anything or anybody, free to always discern and answer God's calls, and carefree about all things and all situations. Can we rise to these challenges, accepting failures along the way and never giving up? If we act as God's stewards using prudently the graces, talents, mind, body, and health for God's purposes and accepting that God may take any of these away with our permission, we are on good ground.

As we progress we need to remove any false judging of others and remove the false self or the mask behind which our real self hides, like some sociopath. We need to really try to become what God wants us to be and not what we want or desire. We will be led along some out of the way paths but it will not be a dull journey.

At the higher levels of progress we seek to remove all inordinate spiritual desires for self-seeking comfort or self-enhancement in spiritual methods, prayer, fasting, pious practices, devotion, religious books, meditation methods, contemplation, virtues, marks of heroism or sanctity, recollection, interior peace or sense of the presence of God. When we feel that we are detached totally in our spiritual and temporal actions we are at the threshold of sanctity and Heaven. The devil will ensure that he does all he can to dissuade our advances.

Through our increasing detachments and self-denial we will begin to see God in all things and situations even the most cruel, despicable and barbaric ones. This is why Pope Francis sees us as wrong in complaining about the barbarism of the world today: we fail to see God's work going on in the middle of it all. We need to discern God in the ugly, the marginalised such as gender-confused people, mentally sick, poor and destitute and even in ourselves. We will love only according to God's will and have and give peace thereby drawing all things and people to ourselves through the love and homage we give out.

As we progress, our trust in will God deepen and thereby we will achieve freedom from worry and insecurity from which our Western World is suffering so acutely. Then we will achieve infinite freedom to have perfect wealth or riches by owning nothing but having everything. At the end of this supremely difficult journey we will, with God's grace, achieve total abandonment to Him such that God is in all and all is in God.

To close this topic we have the perfect model in Jesus Christ who according to John Nicholas Grou's Maxims:

Constantly united to the Father.

Entirely devoted to His glory and to His good pleasure.

Infinitely beyond all perishable pleasures, riches and honours.

Chose and embraced poverty and obscurity, toil and suffering, humiliations and opprobrium in the extreme.

Detached from all natural affections and feelings, always and in all things dependent on grace.

So submissive to grace's workings as never to think or will or desire or do anything apart.

Never thought of his own interests or own glory.

Never attributed anything to himself.

He maintained a state of perfect devotedness to His Father's interests.

We can do no better than keep this model before us.

The next topic will be the Beatitude of Meekness and an attempt will be made to define what it is not. It is impossible for us to measure our progress in meekness, for the moment we think we are meek is the moment when we are not meek. But to discern our attachments and associated sins we need to progress in this Beatitude. Pride gets us to the point of saying "I have not sinned and therefore don't need to go to Confession or require God's forgiveness!".



The Preaching of the Beatitudes, H J Coleridge, Burns Oates 1876

The Eight Beatitudes, George Chevrot, Sinag-tala 1981

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The First Beatitude - Poor in Spirit: What it is not

Matthew 5, 1-3. Now Jesus seeing the multitudes went up into a mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came to him. And opening his mouth he taught them saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

The first fundamental rung on the Beatitudes Ladder to Heaven confronts us with achieving poverty in spirit; we cannot skip this stage in our journey to Heaven, for we cannot serve both God and mammon.

It is wonderful how Pope Francis is placing emphasis on the Beatitudes because, as mentioned in a previous blog, these are the very rules by which men lived who saved Europe and the Church from destruction, and painfully built up a new civilisation. A revival of the Church in the West, as in the past, can only be achieved by a mass return to living the Beatitudes. It would be a glorious time should Pope Francis, through his lifestyle and preaching, become known as the Beatitudes Pope: then the Church would be in a state of certain revival, saved from the secular abyss into which the West is tumbling with accelerating speed.

We shall start our journey by attempting to define what poverty of spirit is NOT, so that we don't imagine we are attaining this virtue when we are not. A key test is the Job Test: what are our reactions when something we value, such as health, partner, children, home, riches, etc, are suddenly taken away from us? The outrage and pain we suffer is a measure of our attachment to such things of this world and detachment from the will and love of God. He owns all that we are attached to and we are only temporary stewards of them. This is why poverty of spirit is a very tough virtue to attain and progress will always be slow and difficult unless God intervenes to strip us of our worldly attachments.

We are not poor in spirit if:
  • We are not voluntarily poor or impoverished or, if we are, we don't accept God's will in the matter.

  • We choose those parts of God's will to accept or to ignore: we decide our family size, our job or vocation, our need to do more interesting things than worshipping God, our need when and how to pray, those who we will relate to, our style of life including pre-marriage and post-marriage liaisons or affairs and so on.

  • We are rich or relatively so and would fight to keep all that we have against all-comers including God; we belong to a we-want and must-have-now culture.

  • We don't accept that we are nothing, men of mud with muddy eyes, and that God is the source of everything we are and have: He owns everything, especially us and our family.

  • We take pride in our intelligence, status, skills, bodily attributes, life-style and don't accept that these are given to us for the purpose of serving God and not satisfying our own personal ambitions or ego.

  • We pay lip-service to the Faith, picking and choosing that which pleases us most or brings the most social kudos or apparent psychological comfort, rather than accepting it, warts and all, for the love of God.

  • We and our needs are paramount over the life and needs of others, and we don't accept that our own life is given us to serve God, especially through others, and this gift of our life or another's is not to be squandered or given away to avoid personal suffering or the suffering of others: we are all owned by God and He decides, not us.

  • We don't accept that life can be hard, that we are going to die sooner than we imagine and held to account for our sins and impact on others, we fail to see that we are not important, we in reality are not in control and life is certainly not about us.

So let us perform an inventory of all that we have and enjoy, looking at each item and reviewing our reactions should God take them away here and now; then decide what needs to be done to cure this addiction. Here is a starter list: good health, excellent job, intelligence, holidays abroad, fine children in fine schools, small family costs, wonderful house and garden, enjoying all sorts of sports, high status in the community, goods - plane, car, boat, jewellery and riches of all kind, little debt, pleasures such as TV, Internet, ipad, iphone, Blackberry, Video Games, DVDs, books, good food restaurants to enjoy, wonderful friends and close family and so on. One day we will have to face a situation in which in order to save our souls, God through love for us will strip us of many and, in the end all, of our attachments. freeing us to enter His world.

So now after this review we may humbly admit we have a problem caused by our inability to proceed further due to our attachments or indeed addiction to the things of this life or world or the reactions from others if we tried. Hopefully we will even mourn or repent over our spiritual situation which we can either start correcting or at least accept that God will lovingly force us to in his own time and way and not ours. We cannot proceed further without God's help and so fervent prayer is now necessary and a conviction that we are in a bad way. To be honest, most of us in the West are in a bad way.

We may now start to get a grip of ourselves and start small by ridding ourselves of items we don't need, or giving up holding on selfishly to others, recognising that one day we all have to part company in this life. We may value our time so why not give a little to help somebody today.

If we have the audacity to attempt to really start living in poverty of spirit then we will find out who our real friends are and must expect opposition or even persecution with comments such as: "You and your faith", "if we all tried to be like you where would the country be?", "saints are difficult people to live with", "you are being inconsiderate", and so on. The greatest opposition will come unfortunately from our close family, friends and those we respected. It is then that we must not give up but take small bites when opportunities arise, and if our intention is indeed to achieve this virtue, God will most certainly intervene on our behalf so that opposition is cleared away. 

Look at Pope Francis' attempts to break out of the cage where he has been placed in order to practice poverty of spirit, to be greeted with joy by many, but derision and scorn by others, saying that he is dumbing down the office of pope or bringing the church into disrepute, rather than representing Jesus as a true vicar should do.

So we have to accept opposition to our attempts to practice poverty of spirit, especially in this materialistic world, even in small mundane ways as we travel along the narrow way Jesus marked out which leads to Heaven. Jesus never claimed that it would be easy but said that He would help us if we try and ask Him for it. On this first rung we will practice many of the other rungs of the Beatitudes, paving the way to each of them.

To close, we should try giving up something we are fond of today by taking a small step which we know about and not others; for example, we may be keeping something that we feel that we might need: well, maybe somebody else might need it now and more than we do. We shouldn't cause aggro in our homes or with our friends but just back off from our attachments or addictions bit by bit, using stealth if necessary. If we start stripping ourselves quietly and voluntarily now, this will leave God less to do when He has to finally prepare us for our heavenly home and we will suffer much less and avoid the temptation to despair.


The Preaching of the Beatitudes, H J Coleridge, Burns Oates 1876

The Eight Beatitudes, George Chevrot, Sinag-tala 1981