I have been considering poverty, what it means (what it seems that it has to mean) not only for those who take a vow of it, but for any one of us who would claim that poverty of spirit is rewarded by the kingdom of heaven. What is this, this first of the beatitudes, this Lady of St. Francis’ desire?
It seems to me that poverty is that which claims for itself nothing but God: the detachment which knows that our being is grounded in Him, and rejoices in all things as brothers of His love. And it is surprising, how difficult it can be not to saddle this world with our worship.
So often, instead, we turn to those things–the good and healthy things which can never satisfy our ache for the living God. Surely this is one of the most pervasive forms of despair: when we try to assuage our frenetic hunger with a friend or sibling or parent or child or spouse–or our own things, or deeds, or thoughts. All those excellent components of a human and Christian life which can never satisfy the singularity that is God’s call in the soul.
So we consume each other, ravening for God. We lean on a reed not meant for the whole weight of our souls, and are surprised when we are sad.
Isn’t that the difficulty of poverty of spirit: to refuse to seek consolation in anything less than Christ?
It is as though we must take our things and thoughts, our friends and our words, as a child might take the stars: lovely, unpossessable, His. If we are not at last to come to hate them for how they have failed us, we must rejoice in them with open hearts and open hands. We must love them, not for our life in them–but for their life in Him.
It is as though we really must give up all the world in order to receive it again: to see it as it is, and how it shows forth His praise. And how He comes to us in it.
Perhaps poverty of spirit is to look on the world–as a sacrament.
How remarkable, that it was St. Francis who praised the most. That it was after he received the Stigmata, after the mystery of the agony of God had entered into his flesh–at the very moment when he must have known more deeply than any since Our Lord, how light is all this mortal world in comparison with the weight of the glory of God–that he gave the greatest thanks for the simplest of this creation. Light, water, wind, fire. The sacraments of His presence. And the man who found his hands nailed to the hands of Christ, found them free to rejoice in all they had renounced. Surely if anyone has possessed the world, if anyone has ever had all the creatures and the moon and the stars dancing at his disposal–it was the poorest of the saints, the Poverello.
St. Francis, pray for us.