We are able to live a 'poverty of Spirit' because Jesus became poor for our sake and transformed our poverty into our greatest strength.
KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - "Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor" (2 Cor. 8:9). What does this mean? The theologian Johannes Metz provides an answer to this question in an excellent little book called Poverty of Spirit. This book is unique because it emphasizes the humanity of the Incarnation. As a result, Poverty of Spirit helps us discover the truth about our own humanity.
Metz begins by describing human existence. He explains that life is filled with pain, suffering, injustice, and death; and it is natural for us to feel repulsed by this reality. We want to escape from it and rise above it. Yet, despite all the joy and success we may experience in this life, we remain trapped between desire and inevitability. Due to this paradox, we begin to realize that we are not complete--that our humanity is not a given, but a potential.
Jesus showed us how to realize our potential and become fully human. He made our humanity His own. Through the Incarnation, Jesus freely exchanged all the rights He enjoyed in His Godhead for the very things we find repulsive. He suffered our humiliation and helplessness in the face of absolute evil, and it utterly crushed Him. During His passion, everything belonging to His humanity was taken from Him (cf. Metz, 13). Although Jesus could have easily stopped it, He did not stop it. Instead, by accepting our humanity and embracing it to the end, He used His passion to profess the abject poverty of the human spirit before the all-powerful, transcendent Creator.
Jesus' passion is the key that unlocks the door to the truth about our humanity. The passion shows us that we must do the very thing that we do not want to do. We must accept the spiritual poverty of our own humanity, and profess it as Jesus did. This does not mean that we must suffer and die as Jesus did. It means that we must learn to accept ourselves as beings who do not belong to ourselves (cf. Metz, 31), that we must allow our egotism (the root of sin and rejection of God) to be crushed, so we can move beyond ourselves and into the mystery of God. It is only in this mystery that we discover the truth about our humanity and reach our full potential.
Finally, Metz points out that this truth is not an abstract idea or belief; it is a reality that must be lived. We are able to live this reality because Jesus became poor for our sake and transformed our poverty into our greatest strength. We actually live it in the concrete details of daily life in relationship with the one true God through the sacraments, prayer, and love of neighbor.
Admittedly, Poverty of Spirit does not make the best bedtime story for little children, but it does make excellent adult reading during the Christmas season for at least two reasons. First, it can help us pray the third mystery of the Joyful Mysteries, which is the birth of Jesus, with greater understanding because poverty of spirit is the fruit of this mystery. Secondly, it reminds us that the greatest gift we could receive this Christmas is a God who loved us so much that He embraced our spiritual poverty and used it for our salvation.
Source: Metz, Johannes, Poverty of Spirit, Paulist Press, 1998
Michael Terheyden is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. He is greatly blessed to share his Catholic faith with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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