Poverty and Christianity

By special request of Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle.

One of Donna-Marie’s commenters posed this question:

Why is it many Christians praise poverty? Why is it many Christians praise poverty while not living in poverty?

This question particularly hits home with me because as a Secular Franciscan, I take as my model Saint Francis of Assisi, who identified so much with the materially poor that he had absolutely no possessions of his own.

People who are interested in becoming Secular Franciscans often worry that they will have to give up their homes or cars in order to follow a Franciscan life.

And while I much admire Franciscans like the Friars of the Renewal, who truly do not own a thing in this world (but surely are building up many treasures in Heaven), not all of us are called to that kind of life.

In Matthew 5: 3, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He does not say, “Blessed are the materially poor.” Certainly to be materially poor is a difficult life, and most people would not consider it a blessing to be challenged to live that life. But the poor in spirit are the ones who realize that it is not material possessions that matter. They are the ones who are willing to be generous with the resources with which they have been blessed–so they can bless others. They do not hoard up their treasures for their own future selfish use (like the man in today’s Gospel) but instead are ready to share their treasures.

In Luke 12:34 we read, “Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be.” I believe that one who is poor in spirit is one who knows from where these treasures have come, and looks for opportunities to use these treasures to make life better for even one other person.

In that respect, my husband is a far better Franciscan than I am. He is generous to a degree that I am not courageous enough to imitate. He has brought a homeless woman and baby into our home (when Big Brother was an infant) so that we could give this woman some formula, diapers, baby clothes, and a chance to bathe her little boy. He has bought dinners for soldiers in uniform when he sees them in restaurants. He is far more gentle and generous than I am with Adventure Boy. It seems like he is energized by these actions–I find them stressful and exhausting.

Yes, I believe that he is a wonderful example of what it is to be poor in spirit.

Words to Live By

From today’s Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer:

Never let evil talk pass your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them. Do nothing that will sadden the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed against the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, all passion and anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate, and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.

(Ephesians 4:29-32)

A Virtue for Summer

What’s the opposite of “judgmental?” I hate the word “tolerant” and all the PC-ness that it implies….

It’s summer, and we’ve been spending some time each hot afternoon at the community pool. While the Big Kids are good swimmers and are off on their own, Little Brother still needs to be watched. He can’t swim yet and won’t even put his whole head underwater, so he’s very happy to play in the water of the Baby Pool and then, after cooling off, put on his shirt and sandals and head to the playground at the back of the fenced-in kids’ area.

So I’m watching Little Brother, but I’m also seeing plenty of other people, and there’s that nonstop critic in my head that Will.Not.Shut.Up.

I’m wondering what’s up with the mother of a young toddler. Mom is wearing large silver bracelets with her swimsuit, and she’s talking on her cell phone while helping her little one in and out of the baby pool.

I’m trying to figure out why a little boy who appears to be about 4 years old has obvious highlights done to his hair. Not the “sun-kissed” highlights some kids (including mine) naturally get, and not that strange bleaching where the tips of the hair are bleached but the parts close to the head are the natural color, but actual highlights. Did this little boy ask for that?

I’m mentally ranting and raving about the fact that the lifeguards ignore all bad behavior from kids who are members of the swim team.

Yes, my afternoons at the pool are full of thoughts like these.

I do get some opportunity for good actions, such as handing my first-aid kit to a mom whose preschooler cut her toe, or commiserating with another mom whose nap-deprived toddler is bent on escaping from the baby-pool area and heading for the danger zone of the Big Pool. A couple of years ago, I was in her sandals.

The problem is, I think those good gestures are more than canceled out by the critical commentary going on in my head the whole afternoon.

I hate to swim, but I think I’m going to have to keep going to the pool until I can do so with more kind thoughts.