Living Out Gospel Poverty in an Age of Prosperity
Father Thomas Dubay Outlines Christ's Call to Frugality and Love
WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 9, 2003 (Zenit) - Christ's idea of Gospel poverty is not destitution, but a love-filled sparing and sharing lifestyle.
So says Marist Father Thomas Dubay, a retreat master and author who investigated the role of poverty in the spiritual life in his most recent book, "Happy Are You Poor" (Ignatius).
Father Dubay shared his thoughts on Gospel poverty in today's world.
Q: Since Gospel poverty is so deeply countercultural, especially in the First World, how do we open people's minds even to give it a fair hearing?
Father Dubay: There are several problems here. One is that most people do not know what Gospel poverty means. For example, it does not mean we promote destitution. On the contrary, the Lord in the radical things he says is trying to rub out destitution -- which is why we are to share with the needy.
Another problem is that we seldom hear from the pulpit anything near to a full picture of the sparing and sharing lifestyle that is so beautiful. Christic frugality is love-filled. It is not a Spartan or Buddhist ideal.
A third problem lies in free will. Unfortunately, there are people who so cling to their pleasures and luxuries that they have decided that anything that interferes with their lifestyles is going to get little to no attention.
Q: What, then, are Jesus, his apostles and the Church promoting?
Father Dubay: It took me the entire book, "Happy Are You Poor," to answer this question with some adequacy. That is why it is written. The full answer is beautiful. However, let me give one simple answer, though there are many others.
It is easy for you and me to say, "Of course I love my neighbor as myself," and then turn around and treat myself far better than I treat the family next door or the pitiful slum dwellers in Haiti or Calcutta.
Consider fiery John the Baptist preparing the way for the Lord and making plain the facts of sincere repentance: "Brood of vipers ... the ax is laid to the root of the trees ... and thrown into the fire."
Understandably, the people are shaken up and ask what they should do to show conversion. His answer is plain: "If anyone has two tunics, he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same." That is real love and sound logic, and any honest person should be able to see it. To live it requires radical conversion.
Q: How can we open people's minds to what love is all about? How do we sound the wake-up call?
Father Dubay: Feodor Dostoyevsky, perhaps the best novelist in the 19th century, wrote brilliantly about the question of God and atheism. In one spot, he put on the lips of a character the fact that if a person does not worship the real God, he will bend his knees before things created and finite. There are, he added, no atheists -- they are really idolaters.
That, of course, is true. Everyone has one or more consuming concerns. It's either the real God or money, power, pleasures, lust, pride in its various forms and so on. One or more of these latter becomes idols, as the man who rejects the only God centers his thoughts, desires, aspirations, worries and concerns on his idol. They are gods to him.
Anyone who has embraced the Trinity has little trouble understanding Gospel frugality -- the whats, whys and hows of it are explained.
Q: Pope John Paul II has warned about mistaken ideas of freedom. How is Gospel poverty related to true freedom?
Father Dubay: Freedom and love are probably the least understood of common words in our contemporary world. Most people assume with little thought that greater freedom implies fewer laws and restrictions. There is a kernel of truth in this idea, but it is a secondary and consequential kernel.
Freedom is most basically a power to do and to be. For example, you are free to play the violin or do bypass surgery only to the extent that you have the requisite knowledge and skills. The same is true of being free to teach a class in physics or philosophy or theology. If you have these basic powers and goods, then you should not be unduly restricted from exercising them.
Jesus made this point clearly when he said that if we have his Word, its truth will make us free. This is why the saints, the men and women who live his message with heroic perfection, are the most free and fulfilled people on the planet. They rejoice with the Lord always, as St. Paul in Philippians 4:4 admonishes all of us.
Q: How, then, would you relate this fundamental reality to evangelical poverty?
Father Dubay: All the benefits I discuss in my book empower a person to become a beautiful, loving, real person. What I said about idol ...
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