REFLECTION: Some notes on poverty PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 February 2015 14:33



It’s obvious that we have to do all we can to combat bad poverty. That’s the poverty that dehumanizes us, that undermines our dignity as persons and as children of God. Anything that stands in the way of what we ought to be, both in the natural level and with respect to our supernatural destination, should be rooted out.

And in this Year of the Poor, it’s understandable that we are called upon first to do something about the plight of the many people suffering under some yoke of human misery like hunger, unemployment, ignorance, injustice, and other forms of privation.

These in themselves are already a very formidable task that deserves our immediate action. We need to pray and offer a lot of sacrifices for these causes, sparing nothing to resolve them. But our understanding of poverty would be gravely deficient if we regard poverty exclusively in this light.

There’s a lot more to poverty than this common and most wonderful sense of empathy and sympathy with our fellow citizens in dire necessity. There’s a good poverty that is actually a virtue to be desired and cultivated.

It’s the poverty that makes us more and more human, and that fosters our relationship with God and with others. It gives us the proper attitude toward all earthly goods and our temporal affairs, delineating how these ought to be pursued, used and developed.

It’s not true that good and Christian poverty is averse to possession of material things or to involvement in business, politics, arts, fashion, etc. Or that it has to be lived exclusively in the original Franciscan style of austerity. In this case, only the Franciscans who follow the original charism would live Christian poverty.

Good and Christian poverty is very much compatible with being a millionaire or billionaire, with a lot of possessions, etc., but whose heart is completely detached from them. He only uses them exclusively for God’s glory and for the good of all men.

He who lives good and Christian poverty, even if he is a millionaire or a billionaire with lots of possessions, would certainly stay away from any form of ostentation, vanity, and arrogance. He lives a simple life despite the many things he owns. He avoids idleness and ego-tripping. Rather he is always busy for God and for others.

He knows that all earthly goods, whether naturally endowed or acquired through human labor, come from God and belong to God. He knows that they are meant for God’s glory and that they have a universal destination for the good of all people

He is not averse to exploiting these goods to their maximum potentials, following God’s command to our first parents to “subdue the earth,” and doing this exploitation of the earthly goods always in accordance to God’s natural law and the law of love and justice.

Since he has a lot of possessions, he knows he has to give a lot more. He knows he has to be generous, sharing not only what is in excess of his needs. He knows he has to give everything, following that indication Christ gave to the rich young man in the gospel “to go sell what you have…and come follow me.” (Mt 19,21)

Good and Christian poverty therefore knows how to use material things. We have to disabuse ourselves of a misconception of good poverty that links it with a certain pettiness and small-mindedness.

An example of this is the suggestion that as much as possible, the churches and the liturgical celebrations should be using the minimalist style—few or no candles at all, few or no flowers, altars, reredos, vestments and vessels should be as bare as possible, etc.

While I can see a certain value to this approach, it should not be imposed on all of us, and especially with the insinuation that the use of rich ornamentation in churches and in the liturgical celebrations is per se against Christian poverty.

All these things need not be mere decorations that only tend to show off. They can be the magnanimous efforts of a lover who wants to show his love with material things to his beloved who, in this case, is God, Jesus Christ, our Lady, all the saints.

Remember that gospel episode when a woman brought precious oil to bathe the feet of Christ. Someone murmured that it was wasteful and that it could have been used to help the poor. But Christ corrected him.

For me, diamonds and precious stones are better used in sacred vessels than when they just dangle on somebody’s neck or ear or nose.