Our Real Poverty-Not Knowing What We Lack

businessman on an armchair lost in the sea

 Real poverty-not knowing what we lack
Real poverty-not knowing what we lack

Real Poverty-Not knowing what we lack.

We hear the phrase a lot: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” And most of us are more or less aware that St. Mark qualifies St. Luke’s with two words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Until hearing this morning’s EWTN daily mass and homily by Fr. Mark Mary, I’d not given any thought to the qualifier, “poor in spirit.” When hearing that beatitude, my mind almost automatically interpreted the words of Christ to mean material poverty: the poor have far more chance of making heaven than do we who have received such abundance.

The Gospel passage for that day (July 8, 2020) was:


Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
The names of the Twelve Apostles are these:
first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew,
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;
Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot
who betrayed Jesus.
Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

Fr. Mark’s homily was packed full of neat nuggets like, “the kingdom of heaven is mentioned thirty-eight times in St. Mark’s gospel.” And Jesus’ many metaphors describing the “hiddenness and mystery of the kingdom- a precious pearl, mustard seed, the need to be child-like in faith.” Also”Not unlike boot camp for soldiers, the twelve had received authority and required training, discipline in wielding this power over unclean spirits and illness”.

But it was the homilist’s allusions to poverty as a universal that I keep pondering now several days after I listened to the sermon: even those of us with material wealth have poverties.

We all have poverties…

Things we lack, a scarcity that steals our joy, keeps us anxious, insecure and full of fear. Maybe it’s the absence of a certain job or degree or that we are unable to control our addiction to food, sex, drugs, alcohol or any of the myriad of ways for twenty-first century humans to distract ourselves from finding meaning in our lives. Maybe it’s this microscopic virus that suffuses our world with panic.

Our culture of information and disinformation exhorts-shouts out new fears and a dizzying array of “facts” about the latest threat to our existence in a continuous cycle of need to know. And produces a never ending procession of strangers presented for our admiration due to an enhanced activism and violence. Carefully orchestrated to keep our minds in turmoil.

Our real poverty is our helplessness, our powerlessness over any of these things or people. Our real poverty is not knowing what we lack.

In 1978 Vaclav Havel wrote a lengthy essay called the Power of the Powerless. Intended as reflection and explanation of the “post-totalitarian” Russian dictatorship of his beloved nation Czechoslovakia, his words are chillingly descriptive of a world-wide
post totalitarian ideology which suffuses this year of 2020:

Here, by the way, is one of the most important differences between the posttotalitarian system and classical dictatorships, in which this line of conflict can still be drawn according to social class. In the posttotalitarian system, this line runs de facto through each person, for everyone in his own way is both a victim and a supporter of the system. What we understand by the system is not, therefore, a social order imposed by one group upon another, but rather something which permeates the entire society and is a factor in shaping it, something which may seem impossible to grasp or define (for it is in the nature of a mere principle), but which is expressed by the entire society as an important feature of its life. The fact that human beings have created, and daily create, this self-directed system through which they divest themselves of their innermost identity is not therefore the result of some incomprehensible misunderstanding of history,. nor is it history somehow gone off its rails. Neither is it the product of some diabolical higher will which has decided, for reasons unknown, to torment a portion of humanity in this way. It can happen and did happen only because there is obviously in modern humanity a certain tendency toward the creation, or at least the toleration, of such a system. There is obviously something in human beings which responds to this system, something they reflect and accommodate, something within them which paralyzes every effort of their better selves to revolt. Human beings are compelled to live within a lie, but they can be compelled to do so only because they are in fact capable of living in this way. Therefore not only does the system alienate humanity, but at the same time alienated humanity supports this system as its own involuntary masterplan, as a degenerate image of its own degeneration, as a record of peoples own failure as individuals.

Power of the Powerless
What can we do? Amidst such evil?

Alone?

Nothing.

With Him who became like us in every way but sin?

Everything. More than we could ever have dreamed possible. I lived much of my life far away from God and his Law. Therefore it was with more than a little trepidation that I took on a task that felt impossible: a book about the early life of St. Paul. Looking back, I feel only gratitude for that year of struggle in creating, My Name is Saul for this man Saul is a man for our times:

More than once, I suggested he rest from the ordeal of
revisiting these terrible memories … that surely he exaggerated
his feelings and actions in the telling. I begged him to consider
shortening or even deleting the stoning of Abighail and her
daughter. “What purpose does their story serve?” I asked. “How
would knowing about your murderous past help any of us? The
events you speak of took place more than three decades ago—
years before most of your followers—including me—were born.”
“NO, Aurelius!” he insisted. “Write this precisely as I
say it! All must know who I was, what I did, what I was capable
of. Only then can they understand the immensity of the gift we
receive! Only then will they comprehend that the words you
write tonight—and all of the thousands of words I have written
over the last decades—are not mine. How could they be? How
could such a contemptible man write of such truth, wisdom,
beauty, mercy, forgiveness?”
Only that once did this saint raise his voice to me. During
the endless weeks when I’d treated him so ill, he’d been nothing but pacific, meek, and kind. His ire was aroused only when I
attempted to mitigate his self-condemnation.

My Name is Saul
Our Real Poverty-Not knowing what we lack

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