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Free yourself from your posessions
Poor me? yes, if you want to be ‘blest.’

This article is not about self-pity, although that would not be a bad topic for spiritual fitness. It is about being poor. Sometimes a person’s state of poverty can lead them to start feeling sorry for themselves, but I have seen poor people who spiritually were filled with the riches of God. I remember a little homeless woman named Mary that I used to visit in Washington, D.C. She would sit every day near the shopping center with all her stuff close by. She had a small Styrofoam cup out for those who wanted to help her. We would bring her sandwiches. Mary had a beautiful smile and would not say a whole lot, but would look you right in the eyes when you were speaking. One day a group of us who were studying for the priesthood gave her a sandwich and sat down to talk with her. Before we could leave, she took out of her little cup the only dollar bill that was in there and gave it to us. We protested, but she insisted. A big smile came on her face as we took it. Mary was showing us all about poverty and the joy of giving.
    Being poor is essential for good spiritual fitness. Jesus said, “Blest are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3) So, when we are poor we will be truly rich! We will have nothing less than heaven!  

Who is considered rich and who is poor?
    A rich man ran up to Jesus and said, “‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life? ... I have observed (the Commandments) from my youth.’ Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven: then, come follow me.’ At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’” (Luke 18:18-24)
    When we hear this teaching, I think many of us can identify with the rich man. After all, in spite of the soft economy and economic troubles some have, most of us are very well off compared with the majority of the world. Most people do not live in material poverty. So, our reaction can be like the disciples who were totally astonished. They asked, “Who can be saved?” They asked a very important question. They heard Jesus right. Jesus was revealing to them that material wealth can be an OBSTACLE to their salvation. We have to be poor in spirit.

What does poor ‘in spirit’ mean?
    To be poor in spirit means to be free to give away even the good things that we think we need and to recognize our utter dependence on God for all things. To be poor in spirit means to be wealthy in terms of the things of God and poor in terms of the material things of this world. We become good stewards! We realize that everything we have is from God and we have an opportunity to give back to God what God has given to us. This is fundamental to being poor in spirit. People who are poor in spirit do not rely on this world’s material goods for their security or happiness, but on God. They do not seek out material stuff for pleasure. They seek out God! They have become like Jesus. Jesus was poor. Jesus trusted in His Father’s providence each day and was thankful for what He had. When the large, hungry crowd only had five loaves and two fish, Jesus took them and lifted His eyes to heaven and thanked His Father for them! He did not grumble or complain “poor me, this is all we have!” Jesus was truly grateful. The communal experience of poverty, not even having enough to eat, became an experience of the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven. With spiritual poverty comes the blessings of heaven.

How to become poor ın spirit
    If you struggle with your material wealth, your creature comforts, praise God! It is a good spiritual sign. Our spiritual fitness focus this month is to be poor in spirit. How do we do it?    

Pray and reflect on poverty and your own material wealth. Ask God to help you be an empty bowl. Read Psalm 49 and the Gospel of Matthew Chapters 5-7. I recently moved a number of times within the same year. I never realized I had accumulated so many things over the years, but I had. I realized how rich I was! I began to try to give away what I had. It is a continual effort. We do not give away just the stuff that is more or less junk.  We throw that away. There would be very little spiritual value in that other than gaining some sense of peace that the clutter is finally gone. We give away the things that are valuable. Give away the things you are attached to. And that leads to number two ...

Give away your wealth and follow Jesus. Give to the poor. Give to your church. Give to a charitable organization. Go out and find someone poor in your community, and find out how you can help them. Some are called to radical poverty and charity like St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Order, or Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. All of us are called by Jesus to take care of the poor. Our poverty in spirit is visibly measured by how generous we are with what God has blessed us with. We remember the poor widow who gave just a small coin in the collection. Jesus said she gave more than all the others because she gave from her want while they gave from their surplus wealth. Many times Jesus said that to those who were given more – more would be required of them. That definitely includes material wealth!   

Be with the poor, and learn more about poverty. We have so much to learn from the poor. Some people, like Mary my homeless friend, are so poor that each day they must beg and pray to God for food, clothes, or medical care. Many people – mostly children – still starve to death in our world. It is not because the world does not have enough resources to provide for them, but because there is an unequal distribution of resources. Human greed acts like a dam that stops the flow of goods and resources to those who need it.  
    If we do these exercises well, Jesus assures us that while we may be poorer materially, we will have treasure in heaven!

by Fr. Bill Ashbaugh

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