Poverty helps piety
by Fr. Roy Cimagala

The story of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16,19-31) reminds us of a basic truth of our faith. Poverty helps while wealth tends to harm our relationship with God as well as with others. Poverty is a good path to heaven. We need to live poverty for us to effectively be with God and with others, and to be assured of heaven.

Christ reiterated this truth when he said: “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 24,40) Here he clearly tells us that he identifies himself with the “least of these brothers and sisters.”

As for the rich, he told us in no uncertain terms how difficult it is for them to enter heaven. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt 19,24) Wealth usually would make us indifferent to the needs of others.

With those indications said, we should now see what would comprise the poverty and the richness that are being referred to. We cannot deny that poverty and richness can have different meanings according to our human standards, and can even conflict to what Christ meant.

It’s important that we know there is good and bad poverty. At the moment, it seems people know more about the bad one, the one that demeans us as persons. There’s hunger, ignorance, inhuman conditions that rightly need to be fought if not eliminated.

But while that concern is just perfectly fine, we should not forget that it’s even more important to know and live the good type, because it is truly necessary for us. We should do everything to live this good type of poverty, even if we may happen to be well endowed materially and financially.

Our problem is that we seem to be exclusively concerned about bad and inhuman poverty and we appear completely clueless about the good one. We have to exert deliberate effort to correct this anomaly.

The good poverty can be gleaned from one of the beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5,3) I’m sure many of us are familiar with these divine message, but I wonder whether we take it seriously, aware of its practical implications and really eager to attain the goal it is inviting us to reach.

This good poverty is meant for all of us, and not just for some who happen to be more religiously inclined. This is one of the first battle grounds we need to win to have a proper understanding and attitude toward this virtue.

Good, Christian poverty is actually a happy poverty. While it involves some self-denial and sacrifice, it on the whole and from beginning to end is a very positive element in our life. With it we free our soul, the very seat of our identity and the linking point between God and us, from any obstacle that would impede our relation with God and with others. With our wounded human condition, we tend to have material and temporal concerns dominate our soul, desensitizing it from its true source and end.

That's why Christian poverty is not so much about poverty in material terms as in poverty of spirit. It does not keep a negative attitude toward material things, but rather considers them always in relation to our duty towards God and others.

And so Christian poverty can be and, in fact, should be lived even in the midst of material prosperity. It is not averse to earthly wealth as long as this wealth is taken as means in our total self-giving to God and to others.

Thus one should not be afraid to be a millionaire or a billionaire as long as he is detached from earthly things and his is heart to totally given to God and oth ers. Christian poverty is compatible with good taste, good grooming and certain level of human comfort.

It is also open to any situation. As St. Paul said: “I know both how to be brought low, and I know how to abound; both to be full, and to be hungry; both to abound and to suffer need.” (Phil 4,12)

This is, of course, easier said than done, and so Christian poverty demands of us constant struggle. We need to continually examine our conscience, rectify our intentions, increasingly get involved in the lives of others, always promoting religion and social justice.

This is the only way this Christian poverty can be lived regardless of the situation.

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