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Blessed are the poor in spirit: A self-introspection

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By Dr. Fr. Jerom Paul, Catholic Online
10/6/2014 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (

Every man is passionately fond of riches and craves for gathering more and more even at the risk of his very life. The modern man seeks his happiness in the material possessions and achievements. A superfluous and luxurious world is no more a dream. It is a reality, unfortunately, with a sad face of poverty and misfortunes. Even amidst this abject poverty and unhappiness, one could easily hear the words of Jesus vehemently proclaimed to the crowd, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:3).

Jesus never calls actual material poverty a blessing.

Jesus never calls actual material poverty a blessing.


By Dr. Fr. Jerom Paul, Catholic Online
Catholic Online (
10/6/2014 (4 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Sacrifice, poverty, Saint Thomas, Saint Therese

GORAKHPUR, INDIA (Catholic Online) - What did Jesus mean by these words "poor in spirit"? What kind of poverty did he have in mind? Were these words addressed to the materially poor? Are they words of consolation for the materially poor, as we usually think that they are unhappy people? No absolute ruling is possible on this. Because, the audience of Jesus comprised of every type of persons- rich and poor, young and old, sick and healthy, educated and illiterate, happy and unhappy. He did not speak to any particular group of people. He meant everyone. So the meaning of these words does not encircle the materially poor alone.

How could we comprehend the poverty of spirit as stipulated in the beatitude? Interestingly, the Greek word pto-chos used for poor in the beatitude refers to a destitute who lives on begging in absolute and abject poverty. The Hebrew equivalent for the poor is ani and ebio - n, which would describes a poor man who is humble, helpless and having no worldly power or influence to protect him. Being poor, God alone is his hope and he completely relies on God for his daily living. Could this mean that to be a true Christian or a follower of Jesus one needs to dispossess himself and become a destitute for the sake of the Kingdom of God?

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It is true that the earthly life offers everyone an irresistible temptation to work hard and amass wealth as much as one could acquire. It breaks open an opportunity to gather together all sorts of things for the present and future, both useful and useless and thus making a home more or less like a store house. The greed for wealth and craze for power make a person blind to the needs of the neighbor and pull him within with a label "selfish". Eventually wealth replaces God and grabs the prime place in his life. How sad it would be! There comes a day when one reconciles with the sad fact that all his possessions and savings on earth are of no value before God and what is counted is only the life he has spent for others. It is the sacrifice that one makes for the other is valued. The late realization of a person that he is nothing in himself is the one side of the poor in spirit and the other side is the awareness that his possessions and positions cannot get him heaven offered by Jesus. It is a new way - a way of detachment from the world and attachment to God.

In the world in which we live, we give lot of importance to the external and temporal assets of a person. Certainly they satisfy the appetites of the body. Modern man becomes enthralled by the material possessions and positions which satisfy his enormous desires. He wants to be free to choose between the various kinds of happiness which the world offers him. When we spend enormous amount of money, time and energy in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, conveniently we forget the fact that we are made up of a body and soul. Many do not give any attention to the soul at all. The soul does not find repose until it peacefully rests in God as it has been created for God alone. When the soul, made for God, is left unattended, the man created in the image and likeness of God loses his grandeur. Could we not call it a spiritual poverty -- a poverty of the soul?

Those who attribute the poor in spirit in terms of spiritual poverty will certainly find meaning in complete dependence on God. It is a total surrender like a little child in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven (Mt.18:1-5). When a person depends on God just like a child depends on his parents, a new relationship emanates here; a father-child relationship. Here God is the Father and the follower is the Child of God. Father is well aware of the needs of the child who is totally depending on him for everything and the child has no worry about anything as he knows that he is safe and secure in the hands of the Father. It finds peaceful rest on the lap of the Father. St. Therese of the Child Jesus shows us -- this way please.

Poor in spirit is nothing but an attitude of a defenseless and weak person that he cannot save himself however rich he might be or surrounded by the power of the world unless the Lord intervenes in his life. Any worldly achievement or unbeatable success to one's credit cannot spare him from the reality of suffering and death in the world. It is at this point that a person realizes his weakness and calls upon
 God for help. In the biblical sense, I would say, this awareness is the true meaning of the poverty of Spirit - I need God's Help. Or it is the cry of a soul- God, help me!

A spiritual approach to this beatitude opens up yet another dimension that the attitude of a person towards the material possessions is more important than the material possession itself. They would say that Jesus was indifferent to material possessions and welcomed everyone to his company, rich or poor, irrespective of their economic stability and financial background. It is true that Jesus never encouraged pursuit of wealth and in this sense, obviously, it is the attitude that matters.

However, poverty of spirit never deprives anyone either of his basic needs of food, clothing and shelter or of other needs of a person for a happy earthly life. Jesus never calls actual material poverty a blessing. He is neither against having the required wealth for a normal and happy life nor does he condemn anyone for earning the livelihood for a normal living. When life becomes superfluous and luxurious and things are hoarded up in excess than required for a normal life, it becomes offensive and abominable to God.

One of the dimensions of the poor in spirit, as expounded by the Saints, means asceticism. It is a willful self-denial -- denial of the material world, denial of oneself, denial of all the earthly possessions and positions. Those who share this dimension of the poor in spirit find joy in having nothing for themselves. Like Francis of Assisi, some of the saints and venerable persons of the Church did renounce what they possessed and gave away the little what they had to those in need. It is because wealth tends to preoccupy a person to safeguard the riches and blindfolds his eyes making him insensitive to the needs of the neighbor. So they accepted material poverty voluntarily. It was great indeed!

In our times, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta presents us an exemplary portrait of voluntary poverty. However, she is not known for her poverty, but for the good works she has done for the poor. She became renowned for her care of the poor, destitute, orphans, widows, sick and the dying.

On the contrary, the history of the Church also expounds of a good number of saints who lived in plenitude, in palatial buildings, vested in purple and who also feasted with good and rich food. St. Thomas More is a good example of it.

The rich young man who came to Jesus revolted when Jesus asked him to sell out everything that he had and follow him if he wished to inherit eternal life. He could not abide by the condition attached to it i.e., to detach himself from the material world to be a citizen of heaven. Hence he returned sorrowfully, because he found it impossible to become poor in spirit (Mt.19: 16-30).

One may differ in his approach regarding the external expressions of poverty. Undoubtedly, it varies from person to person. But for a true follower of Jesus, he should accept his nothingness and surrender himself fully to the Will of God in a state of destitution. In this sense, poverty of spirit is nothing but seeking the Will of God in everything becoming a destitute in the spiritual realm- a beggar before God. Blessed is he who sells everything that he has and buys the most precious and worth possessing treasure which is God himself and the grace which flows from Jesus on the cross.


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