Monday, October 22, 2007

Poverty and Christianity

By special request of Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle.

One of Donna-Marie's commenters posed this question:
Why is it many Christians praise poverty? Why is it many Christians praise poverty while not living in poverty?

This question particularly hits home with me because as a Secular Franciscan, I take as my model Saint Francis of Assisi, who identified so much with the materially poor that he had absolutely no possessions of his own.

People who are interested in becoming Secular Franciscans often worry that they will have to give up their homes or cars in order to follow a Franciscan life.

And while I much admire Franciscans like the Friars of the Renewal, who truly do not own a thing in this world (but surely are building up many treasures in Heaven), not all of us are called to that kind of life.

In Matthew 5: 3, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." He does not say, "Blessed are the materially poor." Certainly to be materially poor is a difficult life, and most people would not consider it a blessing to be challenged to live that life. But the poor in spirit are the ones who realize that it is not material possessions that matter. They are the ones who are willing to be generous with the resources with which they have been blessed--so they can bless others. They do not hoard up their treasures for their own future selfish use (like the man in today's Gospel) but instead are ready to share their treasures.

In Luke 12:34 we read, "Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be." I believe that one who is poor in spirit is one who knows from where these treasures have come, and looks for opportunities to use these treasures to make life better for even one other person.

In that respect, my husband is a far better Franciscan than I am. He is generous to a degree that I am not courageous enough to imitate. He has brought a homeless woman and baby into our home (when Big Brother was an infant) so that we could give this woman some formula, diapers, baby clothes, and a chance to bathe her little boy. He has bought dinners for soldiers in uniform when he sees them in restaurants. He is far more gentle and generous than I am with Adventure Boy. It seems like he is energized by these actions--I find them stressful and exhausting.

Yes, I believe that he is a wonderful example of what it is to be poor in spirit.

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