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Sacred Heart of Jesus, Your kingdom come.
Living 'Gospel Poverty'
by Catherine Doherty
"How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!"
– Pope Francis, Press Conference, March 16, 2013
"If you want a rich Church, then it has no life."
– Pope Francis, Homily at Mass, 11 June 2013
We are being led by the Holy Spirit to examine our souls in regard to showing the face of poverty to the world – we who are followers of the Divine Pauper who had nowhere to lay his head. We are followers of Christ, the Carpenter who was poor, but not destitute—however, he died naked on a cross, for love of us.
The poverty of the Gospel burns like a fire in my soul. It seems to me that evangelical poverty is often discussed on a superficial level. As Christians, we haven't dug deep enough into what poverty is all about. The Gospel requires sacrifice and renunciation. Living in a simple way might seem idiocy, but it will conquer. The essential principle is to be found in detachment in regard to all possessions. The strange thing is that when you think you are totally detached, you discover an abyss of attachments! How easily we are fooled. We will never know what Gospel poverty really is until we stop being avaricious, gluttonous, and preoccupied with ourselves.
The Gospel says that if someone asks you for your cloak, give him your tunic, too (Luke 6:29). It is I who must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick. We are filled with guilt because the very means of communication we have invented are opening our eyes to the tragic mess that we have made of the world. We cannot sleep as peacefully as we did before, because the poverty of our brethren is brought into our living room on a screen, vividly and realistically. The inhuman life of many people today is a degrading sight; their condition defies description. Yet even the most degraded person is still a child of God and has his Spirit.
Gospel poverty is a way of life, our Christian calling. It is the fruit of the love of God, and is the key to humility, which is truth. And since truth is God, poverty is a shortcut to God. We need to acknowledge our own intense personal poverty and realize that all we are, all we have, is from God. Once you accept your own poverty before God you will become humble. You will walk in and with God. The acceptance of this truth will make you free, free to love and to serve, even in tragic circumstances. It will also make you free to love and serve God more passionately and constantly.
Gospel poverty moves into a totality of surrender of oneself, for no amount of giving pennies or dollars or millions of same can take the place of that inner, deep, complete surrender. It is essential that our lives be a continual inner stripping of self. We may be called to let ourselves be stripped by others. This involves relinquishing our own wills and doing that of another. In this way, we can identify with the poor of the world and with Christ who was stripped for our sake. This will lead to our resurrection in him.
I think much of Christ's hidden life before he began his public life. There is hidden deeply within it a pattern for our lives. One aspect especially holds my attention: his identification with the poor. Within that word "identification", I sense a whole way of life. One thing I know: Christ did not "help" the poor by what today we might call 'works of charity'. He helped by being poor. He did not take upon himself holy poverty: he waspoor, without 'taking it on'.
In our world, which worships wealth, power, comfort, how is the Church going to teach the luminous Gospel of Christ—which is filled with detachment, with poverty of spirit, as well as factual poverty? The only way she can do it is to become visibly poor herself, in all men and women—be they popes, cardinals, bishops, priests or lay people. Then and only then will she be able to bring the glad news of the Gospel to the world, when she clothes her life in the Glad News that she preaches.
Adpated from the writings of Catherine Doherty.
Catherine Doherty (1896-1985), born in Russia, was foundress of Madonna House and a prolific writer and teacher. Her passionate zeal impelled her to pass on her faith in God, and she is now being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.