At Holy Mass today we exclaimed in the responsorial Psalm: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Psalm 34:7). Two questions come to mind.
First question: what counts as poor? There are two types of poverty: material poverty and being poor in spirit. The Old and New Testaments are replete with examples showing that those who possess less, or enjoy fewer, of this world’s goods are, for that reason alone, particularly close to God. The Mosaic Law states, “You shall not oppress the poor or vulnerable. God will hear their cry” (cf. Exodus 22:20-26). The Prophet Isaiah calls God a “refuge for the poor and needy in their distress” (Isaiah 25:4). Our Lord himself identifies with poor and even says we will be judged on the mercy we show them (cf. Matthew 25:31-40). Similar to the materially poor are the poor in spirit, called blessed by Our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3). Saint Augustine describes the poor in spirit as those who are “lowly,” “fearing God” and “not having a puffed up spirit.” Likewise, Saint John Chrysostom describes the poor in spirit as those “who fear and tremble at God’s commandments” and are not puffed up by pride.
Second question: if I’m not materially poor, how can I become poor in spirit? In a word, by becoming holy and renouncing your will for God’s will. We need to look at ourselves not as masters of our own destiny, but as children of God. We need to conquer the stains of pride in our hearts which say “I am better than her” or “at least I am not as bad him.” Like Our Lord and Our Lady we need to be content being quiet and unseen. Think: the Holy Family spend years hidden from the sight of the world making their living in Nazareth. This should teach us humility because it means that we can be sanctified and live out God’s will for us where we are now. During this season of Advent it is especially fitting and necessary that we show mercy to the materially poor by giving alms.
By becoming poor in spirit we will accompany the tax collectors and prostitutes who heeded the preaching of Saint John the Baptist and entered the Kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 21:31-32).
Come, Lord Jesus!