Sunday, June 1, 2014

On Poverty and Detachment

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ~ Matt 5:3

Oh, how I struggle with this beatitude. My will is strong, yet relinquishing it has also been the hardest and the most freeing thing I've done. Being chronically ill forced me to spend hours in deep prayer and contemplation. I don't give up easily but how long will it take me to learn that it is in giving myself over completely to His will that I become truly happy? Am I completely poor in spirit? No. I am far from it. But even from a year ago, I see progress. Instead of praying for a contract, I pray to become a better writer. Instead of praying for a baby, I pray to be made whole and holy, a better wife and mother. Instead of praying for a specific outcome, I pray Thy will be done. Of course, I have to say this fifty times a day because my own desires are so strong. And I still have difficulty separating doing everything for the love of God to receiving some measure of earthly rewards.

St. Alphonsus says, in order to become holy we must banish from our heart all that is not for God. A heart that is filled with the things of the earth has no room for the love of God. He who brings a vessel filled with earth to the spring will never be able to fill it with water until he empties it of the earth with which it is filled.

The Saint asks, how does it happen that so many pray and go frequently to Holy Communion, and still make no considerable progress in the love of God? The reason is doubtless because the heart is full of self-esteem, of vanity, self-will and attachment to creatures.

Who me? Guilty, guilty, guilty. Now that my son is learning to drive, I am learning how to detach in ways I hadn't dreamed of. Back to the Saint:

The poor in this world do not possess poverty of spirit from the mere fact that they suffer the want of the goods of this life. Poverty of spirit consists in the desire to possess nothing but God. The truly virtuous poor desire nothing but God, and for that reason they are immensely rich.

Those who are always intent upon increasing their earthly possessions are in great danger of being eternally lost. For the desire of money is the root of all evils. ~ 1 Tim 6:9  The wealthy can practice poverty of spirit by giving alms and performing good works.

Our detachment from the things of this earth is proved by our resignation to the will of God ...  Faith teaches us that nothing happens without the permission of God ... for our good. We must remember Job who said, "the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away."

As always, St. Alphonsus gives us some practical ways to develop detachment.

1. Dwell on the thought of death. On this day the riches and honors and pleasures of earth are all lost. We cannot bring them into the next world, where only virtue can accompany us.

2. Meditate upon the poverty of Jesus Christ. He wished to induce us to love poverty as He did, for poverty, by detaching us from earthly riches, enables us to share in the treasures of heaven.

3. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs *is* the kingdom of heaven. Note the present tense, the poor in spirit receive special graces here on earth now.

4. Love God without reserve. He who loves God is not anxious to gain the esteem and love of men; all his efforts are directed to one end, to please God, the only object of his love.

5. A hidden and obscure life affords great security to those who sincerely desire to love God. Our Divine Savior Himself deigned to teach us this by His own example, for He spent 30 years in the obscurity of Nazareth and the workshop of a humble carpenter. 

Three years ago, I discovered this beautiful Suscipe prayer by St. Ignatius. It has been a great help:

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me. I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.


Leandra Wallace said...

Oh, a teenage driver! That must be nerve wrecking! I don't want to even think of that day coming. But I'm sure he's a safe, responsible driver, or is learning to be on anyway! =)

Mirka Breen said...

<3 Powerful meditation.<3
I only know the happiness that comes from being where and doing what I'm supposed to do. It's both common and rare.

Gary Ludlam said...

Wonderful thoughts, and challenging. My problem is that there is so much to be attached to! One thing that helps me is reflecting on those times where I've gotten what I wanted and still wasn't happy! My greatest joy always seems to come in self-sacrifice, but I still don't learn my lesson.

Marcia said...

I love the point about a hidden and obscure life. Of course, "hidden and obscure" can be desired for selfish reasons, too.

Vijaya said...

Leandra, your day will come. My boy was born with cars on his brain ...

Mirka, sometimes God's will stumps me. Of course, if an angel came to make things clear, I'd probably die of fright.

Gary, looks like detachment is going to be a life-long exercise. Self-sacrificial joy is a little bit like writing ... the joy comes after.

Marcia, true. I think of the desert Fathers, how they strove for this, and how people flocked to them. So much for being hidden and obscure :)

Faith E. Hough said...

How did I never notice before that present tense "is"?? I am just flabbergasted by that...and my mind is reeling with all that it means. Thank you so much for pointing it out!
Poverty is a hard, hard virtue, but it's true that the more we meditate on death and the life to come, the easier it is. Still, it's always felt to me a little like bribing a kid with candy: "Do this hard thing, and you'll get a lollipop when you're done!" But the truth in that "is" makes it so much more meaningful: if you are poor in spirit, you already have a reward. Amazing.
Sorry for just over-excitedly repeating what you already said so eloquently!

Vijaya said...

Faith, St. Alphonsus pointed it out to me! And of course, I had to read all the beatitudes and the last one is also in present tense ... yup, about being persecuted for the faith. Oy.