Years ago when I left religious life and moved to a new city I truly owned little. I got a teaching job relatively quickly, but it afforded an incredibly low salary. Because I had no credit history, I had to be ‘creative’ to convince the manager of an apartment complex to let me move in, and for a while I had no furniture to speak of. Often things were a bit desperate; to say the least, it was pretty tough. I learned a fair amount about poverty during that time. There were many nights when my prayer was to be able to pay for rent, food, and to keep my decrepit car from needing yet one more repair. But in all of that, I never despaired because the Lord was incredibly gracious in keeping me from ever getting down to that last penny. God never abandoned me or left me destitute, even if I didn’t have much. In retrospect I see that I was actually quite rich; that is, I was rich in the kindness of others and rich in the care of God. Whenever I was at the end of my money, someone would come through with a kindness, or something would happen that would help my needs to be met. The result is that I have never doubted that with prayer, God will meet our needs if we trust in Him. This does not mean that I got whatever I wanted, when I wanted it. Rather, it means that God gave me what I needed as He saw fit. Please don’t be mistaken: there was suffering involved, especially since there were no guarantees for anything. But I learned an incredible amount during that time especially in recognizing my spiritual poverty in the need to rely on God, to trust in Him no matter what, and to respond in gratitude when I felt His comfort or received His aid. Notice I did not say the gratitude was only for what was received; of course there was gratitude there, but what meant more was experiencing His love and His presence offered especially through family and friends. It taught me to embrace the poverty which is not about things or the lack thereof: it is about putting all of our trust in God, in His wisdom, mercy, and love.
In his Letter to the Philippians St. Paul described this poverty.* He wrote, “Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me…. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:12-13, 19, italics mine) The truth of this, often missed in the midst of difficult times, is that there are great riches in God and He freely offers them to us. While we do need the material to live, it is the loving touch of God that sustains and underpins everything: we are certainly not alone and have more than we think in our friends, family, and church communities. And whether we are materially rich or poor, the Lord will give the spiritual aid we need, the strength to persevere when we need it most. He is always with us and nothing can separate us from Him. (Romans 8:31-39)
We must also realize that we might be the ones to help those who see no end to their suffering. Just as people came to my aid in unexpected ways, perhaps we are called to reach out from our surplus to help those who do not have the means to survive financially or who need assistance at home for whatever reason. When we participate ‘in person,’ we become Christ to others, a strong message of evangelization as we offer mercy, kindness, care, and action. If the occasion also arises that we can verbally evangelize, such as praying with a person, we can also do that. No matter how we feel about our level of eloquence, a simple prayer is as powerful as one with lots of verbiage. The point is our sincerity and intention, not the amount or type of words used. We can also give ‘anonymously’ through donations of food, clothing, money, and goods (even blood!) to organizations that distribute them.
It is important to let the Holy Spirit guide us to do and say what our hearts discern as we put the works of mercy into action. But above all, we need to cultivate in prayer the recognition of our own spiritual poverty; that is, that we can do nothing without God’s help and that with it, we can do all things. In this time of pandemic in which so many are suffering physically or economically (or both), it is important to ask for what we need as well as to offer what we can. Our poverty is our wealth: all of us are poor because we need to rely on God for everything, and as a result all of us are rich in God’s mercy, love, and compassion. As we share with one another of our mutual richness in poverty, let us continually trust in the love of God. Indeed, we will see that we can do all things in Him who strengthens us.
May we have the courage to put everything we have and everything we are into God’s hands! May we turn to the Holy Spirit for discernment as to the best use of our time, talent, and treasure! May we find freedom in embracing our poverty and the richness of God’s grace! May we be diligent in sharing the trust in God and the holy poverty we embrace! And may we learn to love as Jesus does! Let us meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* This was the second reading from the liturgy of the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
1. My photo, Mt. Cook, New Zealand: I chose this because of the low clouds which partially obscure the mountain.
2. Photo, broken bread: Bread is the food of the poor and of the rich.
3. Icon, Seven Works of Mercy by Olivuccio di Ciccarello da Camerino: This is one of seven icons by the artist in the Vatican Museum Pinacoteca.
4. My photo, Giverny, France: This was taken in the gardens of Claude Monet in Giverny.
5. Icon, St. Francis Patron of Colorado, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose this because the saint who is most identified with both material and spiritual poverty is St. Francis of Assisi. You can find this for purchase, if you want a copy, in one of many mediums at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-francis-patron-of-colorado-186-william-hart-mcnichols.html
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart