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