Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” ~Matt 5:3

 A priest came to our convent and gave a class on the liturgy to our Sisters, and something he said really struck me.  At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there’s a point where the priest holds up Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and says, “Ecce Agnus Dei…Behold the Lamb of God…” The word “Ecce” is translated as “Behold” but really it’s more accurate to say “Wow!”  The priest was saying that it is the Person of Jesus holding up His own Body and Blood, and looking at all of salvation history, and all the actions of grace that has led to the culmination of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery (His Passion, Death and Resurrection) and all those He came for, which includes each one of us, Jesus holds all of this up and says to His Father, “Wow!”

 This is what the Lord wants to do with us at every moment of our existence on this earth and into eternity.  He wants to hold up the mystery of our lives, all the joys and sorrows, the deepest desires of our hearts and the most compelling questions that are at the core of our being.  He wants to transform us into Himself, so that we can step back with Him and say to the Father, “Wow!”  To stand in Awe at the wonders He has done in our lives; to stand in Awe at life itself, not just our physical life, but also a share in His Divine Life. 

 One of the ways we as Christians, and most particularly as consecrated Religious Sisters, do this is through the evangelical counsel of poverty.  As consecrated Religious, we profess the vow of poverty, and yet Jesus tells all of His followers, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  With every Beatitude the natural and human response is to recoil and step back from the Blessedness that Jesus teaches us.  At every point in our life we tend to seek comfort and riches, and not poverty, mourning, hunger, thirst, persecution.  The Beatitudes leave us uncomfortable! 

 Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

 The greatness of man lies in his conformity to the likeness of God.  We have been made to look like Jesus Christ.  He is the blueprint. The Beatitudes are the road map that sets us on the right path.  Jesus says to us, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  We can be like Thomas and say to Jesus, “Master we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?”  In the Beatitudes, Jesus shows us what this Way looks like.  If we look closely, we see that He is giving us a portrait of Himself and of every disciple that chooses to follow Him on the royal road of the cross.  The Beatitudes are paradoxes – when we begin to see through the eyes of God – the values of the world are turned on their heads. 

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” –Isaiah 55:8-9

 This is what it means to be poor in spirit; to have a radical trust in God for everything; to trust that God will meet all of our very real needs and desires, and so not to worry about anything for ourselves.  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  “See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, will he not much more clothe you?” 

 When we have this radical trust in God, then our gaze moves from ourselves, out to others.  This is why during the Visitation, Mary had the inner capacity of heart to think of Elizabeth in her need.

 In our poverty – God comes to us if we say yes to Him.  In Mary’s poverty, God visited her and she said FIAT- Yes.  He became flesh in her womb.  The Kingdom of Heaven is within her, for the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus.  Every time we say Yes to God, when he visits us in our poverty – God is given a space on earth again.  Through our daily fiats we will one day repeat with St. Paul, ‘it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.’ ~Galatians 2:20

 Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis commented on this first Beatitude saying, “another way to translate this in more explicit words, ‘How fortunate those who beg for their life’s very breath!…’ to be poor in spirit is to be totally dependent on God even for our very breath.  Jesus puts at the head of His beatitudes those who do not forget that “without God you can do nothing!”  The Jewish people knew this and it is interesting to note that the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the soundless letter “Aleph;” that is before you can say anything you must first take in breath, take in air from outside ourselves.  The poor in spirit depend on God in the same way that our lungs depend on air.” 

Our God longs to be with us, to give us His life, peace, joy, strength, freedom, healing, forgiveness and mercy.  He constantly desires to draw us deeper into His Sacred Heart to show us His Divine Love for us.  He comes to be with the ones who need Him, who rely on Him just as they rely on their next breath. 

 Why is it ‘blessed’ to be poor?  Our God came to us as the poor one and He remains with us in the Eucharist, longing to give us the Kingdom of Heaven- the gift of Himself.  Perfection is in subtraction not in addition.  When we create space for the mystery of God, for the mystery of Love, then He can come and fill us.  Love can only be given to the one who has space to receive the Other.

Jesus said to Blessed Angela of Foligno, “Make yourself a capacity and I will make Myself a torrent.”  The vow of poverty is a radical act of faith that God is true to His Word.  When we let go of all the attachments of this world and participate in Christ’s poverty, nothing can compare to the joy and interior freedom of living wholly for God in service to vulnerable human life.