First published July 26th, 2007.
TWO words: voluntary dispossession. Two words which continue to grow in my heart like the corn in the fields.
This may be a very difficult writing for many to read. For in the western civilization, few realize how far we have fallen from the true spirit of the Gospel, the spirit of true followers of Christ. Paul VI tells us what that is:
This century thirsts for authenticity… The world expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, obedience, humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. —POPE PAUL VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, 22, 76
'Simplicity of life… detachment and self-sacrifice.' You could summarize these living qualities as a "spirit of poverty."
Christians are called to become living wells from which the world can drink of the life of Jesus Christ. But when we fill the well with all kinds of material attachments and surround ourselves with excessive comfort and luxury, it clouds our witness. We may speak of and even follow Christ's commandments, attracting souls to the edge of our hearts. But when they peer into our lives and see the algae of greed, self-indulgence, and materialism floating in our hearts and growing upon its walls, then they are unable to "taste and see the goodness of the Lord."
Oh, my friends! I write to you with a great big finger pointing at myself! How poorly I have responded to Christ's condition for being His follower:
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matt 16:24)
…all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life… (I Jn 2:26)
When we hear these words, our response is one of sadness. We immediately begin to think of those earthly treasures we value so highly or desire, or those vices and habits we so readily guard. We begin to argue, like the rich man who approached Jesus, that we are good Christians:
All these [commandments] I have observed from my youth. (Luke 18:21)
But Jesus responds,
One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. (v. 22-23)
Jesus then astonishes us by saying that for such a man to enter the Kingdom of God will be very, very difficult.
Zacchaeus was also rich. But when he decided to give his goods to the poor and to those whom he defrauded, Jesus said,
Today salvation has come to this house. (Luke 19:9)
One man lived the commandments, but loved his riches. The other broke the commandments, but renounced his wealth. Salvation came to the one who smashed the idols within his heart, and then began to live the commandments as well, in spirit and in truth.
But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation… remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here [in Heaven], and you are in anguish. (Luke 6:24; 16:25)
No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt 6:24)
If Christ is our Head, should not the Body follow suit? Should the Head be crowned in poverty, while the Body is adorned in riches? Yet, this call to a renewed spirit of poverty should not make us sad, but cause us to search the meaning of the words:
Blessed are you poor. (Luke 6:20)
The Gospel of Matthew says,
Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matt 5:23)
If we listen to the context of Christ's words in the rest of Scripture, it is clear the Gospel writers are not presenting us two options, but two views of the same Mountain of Blessedness. That is, a lifestyle of simplicity and detachment lends to a spirit of poverty, and a spirit of poverty should manifest in a lifestyle of simplicity. While not absolute, it is very difficult to enter the Kingdom, Jesus warns, for those who are rich.
Jesus is demanding because He wishes our happiness. —JOHN PAUL II
SIMPLICITY, NOT DESTITUTION
Yes, I believe the Spirit of Jesus is calling us to voluntarily give up the pursuit of things which, although in and of themselves are neither good nor bad, lead our hearts and affections away from the Kingdom. This does not mean that we are necessarily called to sell everything and live in a hut (unless Christ gives you a specific calling to real poverty, such as He gave to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta). But I do believe the Lord is asking us to sort through our things, to sell or give away that which we don't need, and cease the pursuit of those things which steal our heart from Him and cause us to lose our heavenly focus.
To live a life of simplicity does not mean living in filth or untidiness. "Grace builds on nature," and therefore our surroundings should be well-ordered and maintained without an excessive desire for perfection or for "the best."
I wish to repeat again the words which continue to resonate in my heart, "Come out of Babylon!" For Babylon, the illusory world of the flesh, is going to collapse. Its walls will fall on the rich, that is, those hearts where the very walls of Babylon have been erected. But those who have voluntarily dispossessed themselves of the seductions of this world, the collapse of western civilization will not be a major shift, at least of the heart.
Most importantly, the noise of the world will not be competing with the voice of Jesus. For God is speaking to and directing his people… but it is in whispers …the "still small voice", the gentle promptings of the Holy Spirit. Only the attentive will hear now. And we can only be attentive if we are not distracted, or rather, do not allow ourselves to be distracted.
In his riches, man lacks wisdom: he is like the beasts that are destroyed. (Psalm 49:20)