Finding Joy in Our Poverty
“You tell me that you want to live the virtue of holy poverty….Ask yourself this question: have I got the same affections and the same feelings as Jesus Christ has, with regard to riches and poverty?
I told you: … you should fix your eyes particularly on this virtue in order to love it as Jesus does. Then, instead of seeing it as a cross to bear, you will see it as a sign of God’s special love for you.”
St. Josemaria Escriva
The Forge, 888
How much is holy poverty a driving force on your path to Christ? For the first disciples of Jesus, as for the Saints of every age, poverty is a privileged way of identifying oneself with the “affections” of Christ, as St Josemaria puts it. The Saints are never content with what they’ve already given, but always want to give more, as in Mother Teresa’s famous saying: “Give until it hurts and then give more.”
This is because compared to Christ’s poverty, whatever we have to offer to express our poverty will always be very small—and should seem small. Jesus Christ was the poorest Man ever to walk the earth. He was the poorest because though He was in the form of God, He emptied Himself, so as to be like us in all things but sin (cf. Phil 2:6-11; Heb 4:15). That is true poverty. But the Lord Jesus wants us to choose poverty for ourselves, so that, like the Saints, we too might find our joy in it—our joy, because in it we find our God.
Christian poverty, vowed or not, aims primarily at making us totally and completely available to God: First, on the inside, with interior freedom, then outwardly in service to others—so that we are useful to God and joyful when He uses us. That is, after all, the path that Christ took to us: becoming our servant, our healer, our Savior—available to one and to all, at all times, in all places, until the end of time. Compared to this, what is our poverty?
There is no greater sadness for those who belong to Christ than if we find ourselves using a small measure in our self-giving and claiming more for ourselves than Jesus claimed for Himself as man. Instead of asking, What more can I give? We might find ourselves saying, Haven’t I already given enough? After having been given so much, we give back so little, and may even come up with ways to protect ourselves from having to spend ourselves.
For consecrated persons like me, our life only makes sense as a special relationship to the Lord. We are God’s property. We don’t belong to ourselves anymore. If we start setting limits, then we are sabotaging our happiness. We are not finding our joy where God wants us to find it: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
The first Beatitude pronounced by our Savior is one that blesses the poor and humble. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the Lord Jesus also says that He was sent to bring glad tidings to the poor, so that the poor will be glad. To be blessed and glad in this way, in this world, is to have an uncommon joy that nothing can take away, because everything that could get in the way, has already been surrendered. It is a joy that only God can give. May we receive the Gospel call to poverty as the Lord wants us to receive it: with joy. Because God especially loves and blesses a cheerful giver.
The content is published by the St Josemaria Institute for the free use of readers and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from its author © Fr. John Henry Hanson, 2014.
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community’s seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms (Scepter Publishers 2019). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.