POVERTY THAT DOESN’T HURT
St. Francis of Assisi
There exists the virtue of poverty, a chosen poverty and there exists a poverty which is enforced misery. The former humanizes and makes one free; the enforced misery dehumanizes, at times brutalizes and even leads to delinquency; economic misery is easily associated with cultural and moral misery.
The beatitude of poverty occupies first place both in Lk 6:20ff and Mt 5:3ff. But it does not have the same meaning or the same formulation in both evangelists. In Luke, probably closer to the thinking of Jesus, the poor are declared blessed because they will cease to be so thanks to the prompt intervention by God in their favour, given to understand that this situation is not desired by God. In this line, Archbishop Claret, on seeing the misery in which many priests lived in Cuba intervened with the Queen and the Government that they assign them a decent salary ‘for the clergy to work as they should and as is demanded of them, it is necessary that they do not have to beg or claim sustenance by less decorous means’ (EC I, p.517); he was hurt by the fact that ‘at times the poor priest saw the need to go to the hut of the negro to be invited to eat his yams and plantains so as to not perish in misery’. (EC I,p.608)
In Matthew 5: 3 the expression ‘poor in spirit’ does not describe a sociological situation but rather a voluntary detachment, an option that can be adopted by someone who is very rich in spirit. St. Paul spoke of his indifference in times of plenty or hunger, indifference due to ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me’ (Phil 4:13). Claret will make a similar confession: You are very sufficient for me’ (Aut. 445). Those who have this special treasure are able to define themselves like St. Paul and his collaborators: they live ‘having nothing, but possessing everything.’