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Poverty in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spir­it, for theirs is the king­dom of heav­en.” (Matthew 5:3) This first beat­i­tude is the fun­da­men­tal con­di­tion for all man’s spir­i­tu­al progress and growth. Before every­thing else, if a per­son wants to live the life of God, he must be poor in spir­it.

To be poor in spir­it is to rec­og­nize clear­ly that one has noth­ing which he has not received from God, that one is noth­ing except by the grace of God. This blessed pover­ty is called “spir­i­tu­al” in Saint Matthew’s Gospel because first of all, it is an atti­tude of mind and heart, a con­vic­tion of the soul. It is the con­di­tion of man in total empti­ness and open­ness before God, pri­mar­i­ly in rela­tion to the things of the Spir­it, that is, to under­stand­ing and insight, to will and desire.

To be poor in spir­it is to be devoid of all pride and trust in the pow­er of one’s own spir­it. It is to be freed from all reliance on one’s own ideas, opin­ions and desires. It is to be lib­er­at­ed from the “vain imag­i­na­tions” of one’s own heart. (Jere­mi­ah 23:17, Romans 1:21) For as the holy Vir­gin Mary, the per­fect mod­el of pover­ty in spir­it, has sung in her mag­nif­i­cent song:

God has shown strength with His arm,

He has scat­tered the proud in the imag­i­na­tion of their hearts,

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

And has exalt­ed the hum­ble and meek,

He has filled the hun­gry with good things,

And the rich He has sent away emp­ty. (Luke 1:51–54)

Jesus Him­self was poor, not only in body but in spir­it. Not only was the Lord a poor man, with­out “place to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20) but His phys­i­cal pover­ty was the direct result of His per­fect pover­ty of spir­it.

Tru­ly, tru­ly I say to you, the Son can do noth­ing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing … I can do noth­ing on my own author­i­ty… (John 5:19,30)

If a per­son wish­es to embark on the spir­i­tu­al life, he must aban­don all things and fol­low Christ in pover­ty of spir­it To be poor in spir­it is sim­ply to be whol­ly set free from the sin­ful lusts of this world.

If any­one loves this world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world pass­es away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for­ev­er. (I John 2:15–17)

The first rev­e­la­tion of the will of God is that His crea­tures must be poor in spir­it. The vio­la­tion of this spir­i­tu­al atti­tude is the orig­i­nal sin and the source of all sor­rows.