Happy Are You Poor – Fr. Thomas Dubay

Goal of the book, Happy Are You Poor – to separate the wheat from the chaff on what is true Gospel poverty.

 

The following 5 points are what I learnt:

 

1. We are all confused about true Gospel poverty and how it applies in our lives. 

1. Is the poverty the same as destitution? When Jesus requires that his disciples give up everything they possess (Lk 14:33), is he demanding that we embrace the dire despair of those who experience aching stomachs, ragged clothing, shanty dwellings, proneness to illness, and premature death?

2. Or is the Gospel ideal merely a spirit of poverty, an inner detachment, a readiness to be separated from material things when love of neighbor or circumstances of life require it?

3. May poverty be translated simply by the word moderation? Living on a similar level as our neighbors?

4. Or does the evangelical ideal have little or nothing to do with material things? Is it rather personal relationships, an availability of one’s time, person, talents?

5. Is economy identical with evangelical poverty? Is one being poor when he watches assiduously for sales, when he buys inferior goods that will wear out soon even if in the long run he may pay more for them and their early replacements?

6. Or is the Lord’s message simply sharing your goods with your neighbor? After all, do we not read that they who can but do not share material goods with needy brothers and sisters have a dead faith (Jas 2: 14-17)?

7. If most of the NT sayings about frugality are directed to all persons, how do husbands and wives possibly live this radicality and yet provide for themselves and their children?

8. Can we rightly give up the splendors of creation? Who are we to be skimpy when he is bountiful? What can be so dangerous about wealth?

 

 

2. We tend to seek what we do not need.

Until we are converted by the Gospel, and completely converted, we tend in dozens of ways to seek what we do not need. Pursuing a superfluity is pursuing a dead end. We humans by the original fall are wounded in many ways, and one of them is that we constantly transform means into ends. We do not use food and drink as means to get us to our final goal. We make them into little gods as though we were nothing but combinations of taste buds and stomachs. We want clothing not simply to keep warm and to preserve modesty but to show off a beauty that we may not have. We desire travel and television not simply as aids to our genuine destiny. We transform them into the destiny itself, as though we were made for nothing but new sights and new excitements.

Here is why so many people differ on what is necessary and what is superfluous, what is luxury and what is not. We differ in our life goals. If I have chosen pleasure and prestige as my overriding goals in life, I am going to differ immensely from you, who are profoundly convinced that immersion in God is your top priority. Saints were and are of one mind as to what is superfluous because they were and are of one mind about goals.

We cannot serve God and mammon. We choose one or the other; we cannot have both. Strange it is that when people experience emptiness in prayer, they assume the main problem must be that they have not yet found the right book or the right technique. Scripture says nothing about method at prayer, but it does say a great deal about true poverty. The main problem in developing a deep prayer life is by far the failure to live radicality of the Gospel, hour by hour and day by day.

 

 

3. Gospel poverty is necessary to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. 

Since factual poverty is a negation in itself – a not having of certain material goods, poverty is not sought for its own sake (since there is no value in that) but for what it makes possible and much easier to attain: a radical readiness, a sensitivity to what Jesus is about, a sharing with the needy, an apostolic credibility, a pilgrim witness in a world of dwindling resources. Being innerly uncluttered, we are ready for divine invasion.

Poverty of spirit is not enough. Availability to others is not enough. A respectful use of creation is not enough. All these are good, of course. They are also convenient and easy prey to rationalization. The Gospel demands factual sharing and not mere words. We are not only to give of our superfluities to the needy of our world, we are to give even from our need.

Talk is cheap; lived example is not. Factual poverty is one of the few things in human life that demonstrate as rapidly one’s way of life what he is and what he really stands for. If our actions contradict our words, it’s the former they believe. There is more influence with less affluence.

If I cling to things, he lets me have my things. If I am empty of things, he fills me with himself.

When every comfort is ours, are we real missionaries?

It may well be also that God calls some to a radicality in their surrender of created things that goes far beyond that which he calls others. There is no doubt that he calls everyone to all of what we describe as level one and to some of what is included in level two. A few are called to level three.

Level 1 – correct motivation, working for one’s living, sharing to equality, avoidance of superfluities, contentment with simplicity, avoidance of vanity.

Level 2 – giving up necessities for others, begging for the poor & serving them, poverty just short of destitution.

Level 3 – completely different level. St. Catherine of Siena as an example. Fasted all of lent from food and slept under 1 hour a night.

“My mind is so full of joy and happiness that I am amazed my soul stays in my body.” – St. Catherine of Siena

It must be noticed that the values of the kingdom are just about 180 degrees removed from the values of the world. Factual frugality makes one experientially aware (not simply an abstract theory) that we have here no lasting city. At his last breath the multimillionaire is just as penniless as the dying beggar in a Calcutta street. But few of us are willing to face this plain fact. We prefer illusion because the center of our gravity is not God.

 

 4. The worldling’s pursuit is a dead end.

They who abound in material goods are stimulated for short periods of time, but the stimulation soon leads to satiety, boredom, consequent emptiness, and sometimes disgust. These experiences entail no sense of overall well-being. One can feel miserable in the midst of plenty. There is often the accompanying fear that one’s property will be harmed, stolen, or lost on the stock market. Because this person places his security on earth, his spirit is always in prison. It may be a splendid prison, but it never permits him to soar to the glories for which the human heart has been made. He knows next to nothing about joy. In fact, he thinks pleasure is joy, and no one can convince him otherwise. He does not understand that wealth holds him captive. Only a regenerating word can liberate him. If he would make the Lord’s word his own, he would have the truth, and the truth would set him free (Jn 8:31-32).

To the worldling the idea of finding joy in frugality is absurd, for to him joy is nothing more nor less than sense pleasures. He knows nothing deeper, nothing more lofty. And sense pleasures can be unceasingly multiplied only with money, abundant money, the more the better. But deep down, though he kicks the heels of his spirit in a refusal to face it, the worldling does know that sense pleasures bring happiness to no one. He knows that something is radically missing in his own life.

The worldling will not face his colossal inner blah. He multiplies experiences in an unending and desperate attempt to numb his spirit. It hurts so much not to have attained the very reason for his existence, an immersion in God, that he uses things as narcotics. The worldling pursues prestige or comfort or wealth or sexual encounters not because they basically satisfy him (if they did, once would be enough) but because they dull his inner aching. Always and eventually he is faced with his personal failure. But the sight of it is so revolting and painful, he dives once again into the aspirin sea of frantic pursuits.

 

 

5. Saints are the answer.

The saints are actually the best examples we have of biblical exegesis. The saints do not contradict one another in their living of evangelical values. The saints, who all lived in very different external circumstances, were able to live the same doctrine.

The saints know better. Having tasted the best, they know how to assess the least. Having drunk at the Fountain, they spend little time with the trickles. They know both from the word of the Lord and from their own experiences of it that indeed the poor are happy. Saint Paul can speak of super-abounding in joy in all his sacrifices and tribulations.

This is why the worldling’s testimony is of so little value. No one has a right to contest Augustine’s account of the relative merits of human delights unless he has himself experienced all that the saint experienced. In other words, only the mystic may discuss the matter intelligently. Any other is like the man born blind who denies there is any such thing as prisms or rainbows.

We are concerned with the authentic Gospel and with those who live it best. The saints exemplify a widely diverse approach to material goods, but this in no way implies contradictory understandings of Jesus’ life and proclamation, but it does imply complementary emphases and practices.

Words are cheap, and many of us abound in them. Saints are quite the opposite: they say little, do much. Without actions our faith is dead.

We need pilgrim witnesses. We need joyous, loving men and women to show in their lives that one can live a sparing-sharing lifestyle and still be happy and fulfilled. We need to induce conversion into the masses first by example, then by word – really, by both simultaneously.

Happy are the poor because they suffer no thing impediments to what they most deeply crave. They are free to rejoice in the Lord always.

 

 

Comments

  1. Monica Conlin says:

    Thanks Richard I look forward to reading the book 🙂 And walking on a different path as I pray it takes me. xo

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