Friday, August 21, 2009

Confessing our own poverty...

When we are not afraid to confess our own poverty, we will be able to be with other people in theirs. The Christ who lives in our own poverty recognises the Christ who lives in other people's. Just as we are inclined to ignore our own poverty, we are inclined to ignore others'. We prefer not to see people who are destitute, we do not like to look at people who are deformed or disabled, we avoid talking about people's pains and sorrows, we stay away from brokenness, helplessness, and neediness.

By this avoidance we might lose touch with the people through whom God is manifested to us. But when we have discovered God in our own poverty, we will lose our fear of the poor and go to them to meet God...

The poor have a treasure to offer precisely because they cannot return our favours. By not paying us for what we have done for them, they call us to inner freedom, selflessness, generosity, and true care. Jesus says: "When you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; then you will be blessed, for they have no means to repay you and so you will be repaid when the upright rise again" (Luke 14:13-14).

The repayment Jesus speaks about is spiritual. It is the joy, peace, and love of God that we so much desire. This is what the poor give us, not only in the afterlife but already here and now.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I think Nouwen has put his finger on a vital truth here: the confession of our own poverty, our own weakness, opens us to the poverty and weakness of the sisters and brothers we so easily cross the road to avoid.

I keep thinking of the story of St Francis and the leper:

Although Francis still joined at times in the noisy revels of his former comrades, his changed demeanour [following his return to Assisi after his abortive attempts at a military career] plainly showed that his heart was no longer with them; a yearning for the life of the spirit had already possessed it. His companions twitted Francis on his absent-mindedness and asked if he were minded to be married. "Yes", he replied, "I am about to take a wife of surpassing fairness." She was no other than Lady Poverty whom Dante and Giotto have wedded to his name, and whom even now he had begun to love. After a short period of uncertainty he began to seek in prayer and solitude the answer to his call; he had already given up his gay attire and wasteful ways. One day, while crossing the Umbrian plain on horseback, Francis unexpectedly drew near a poor leper. The sudden appearance of this repulsive object filled him with disgust and he instinctively retreated, but presently controlling his natural aversion he dismounted, embraced the unfortunate man, and gave him all the money he had. About the same time Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome. Pained at the miserly offerings he saw at the tomb of St. Peter, he emptied his purse thereon. Then, as if to put his fastidious nature to the test, he exchanged clothes with a tattered mendicant and stood for the rest of the day fasting among the horde of beggars at the door of the basilica.

from the website of the Third Order Society of St Francis


Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

I must say, when you include your own reflections, your posts are especially encouraging and challenging. Keep it up!


Jane said...

Thanks for this - and for your visit to me blog. I'm busy for work trawling through bio-details of people - and was very struck by how much a recently deceased East german church leader insisted in all he has written since the wall came down that the church's witness and strength lay in its weakness - its poverty.

Barbara said...

Very wise words from Henri Nouwen. It seems I learn to notice and empathize with the weaknesses of others only after I experience and acknowledge a similar weakness -- beit physical or moral. Indeed, thank God for those weaknesses of ours.

The group who lived with Henri Nouwen at the l'Arche in Toronto used to come down to the Boston area seacoast at the Benedictine Abbey where I went on retreat for a vacation. I found it curious how the retreatants interacted with these often oddly behaving folk. It was not always edifying, as the nuns in my high school used to say.

lindy said...

I've missed stopping by here.
Thank you Mike. This is one of the best places on the web.