When Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) was bishop of Krakow, friends used to buy him new cassocks, which he would promptly give to poor priests in his diocese. He would continue wearing his old, worn-out cassock. In doing so, he imitated Christ, who “for your sake made Himself poor though He was rich, so that you might become rich by His poverty (2 Corinthians 8:9).” Not only those who take religious vows, but all of us are called to this evangelical (Gospel) poverty.
In the world, people avoid poverty. The Bible, however, blesses the poor and celebrates the virtues of the poor in spirit. The widow who was destitute gave generously to the temple; the rich young man “went away sad,” because he could not give up his many possessions to follow Christ.
When we have too many possessions, we easily become attached to them and place our trust in our own resources, rather than relying on God. Our many earthly concerns distract us from heavenly matters. We find it difficult to advance in holiness.
What is Gospel poverty?
In his book Happy are You Poor, Father Thomas Dubay gives an excellent apologetic for the virtue of poverty. He argues that Gospel poverty means more than simply giving of your time and talent, more than being detached from what you own, more than giving of your surplus. If I truly love my neighbor, I will be more concerned about his being fed and clothed than about my owning the latest gadget. If I do not actively aid the poor, my faith is dead (see James 2:14-17). We are commanded to lend without expecting repayment (Luke 6:34), and to share our goods until there is an approximate equality among all (Luke 3:10-11).
This is a hard lesson to accept, and an even harder one to put into practice. I first heard this teaching when I was in college, but did not accept it until several years later, when I was preparing for my profession as a secular Carmelite. I periodically need to revisit the issue, asking myself where I may have regressed and looking for new changes I can make to my lifestyle.
For some, the realization of the call to poverty means immediately giving away virtually all their possessions. For most of us, there is a gradual growth towards perfection in poverty, as with the other virtues.
An examination of conscience
Since we all have different family sizes, jobs, levels of health, and positions in society, the Church does not give us specific rules on living Gospel poverty. Following the lead of Father Dubay, I offer here some reflections as an examination of conscience:
- Do I make buying decisions based on an image I want to portray?
- Do I give at least 10 percent of my income to the Church and charitable organizations?
- When was the last time I volunteered to help those in need?
- Am I a slave to fashion or the latest product craze?
- Do I practice hospitality?
- How do I handle interruptions of my time?
- Do I waste energy?
- Is there any item it would be difficult for me to give up?
- Do I trust God with my finances?
- What do I do with serviceable items I no longer need?
- Do I consider the poor in the voting booth?
- How much do I spend on entertainment?
- Do I value silence?
- Am I content with what I have?
- Am I grateful?
I challenge you to pray over these questions and make at least one change in your life as a result. God will bless you for it. That is his promise.
Share with us: What is the biggest challenge for you in this area? How has the importance of Gospel poverty been impressed upon you?