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Wait, Aren't We Supposed to Be Rich in Spirit?

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The following is the first of an eight-part Advent series on the Beatitudes, which are found in the opening section of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. The Church considers the Beatitudes the very heart of Jesus' preaching.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:3).

If you read the first Beatitude and find yourself confused, don't blame yourself. After all, aren't we supposed to be rich in spirit? Yes, indeed.

Consider this first of the Beatitudes a rags-to-riches story.

First of all, the term "poor in spirit" is meant to convey a state of mind that informs a disposition of the heart. In other words, unlike material poverty — often the result of a multiplied set of factors — spiritual poverty comes by choice. The spiritually poor are those who have consciously freed themselves from the trappings of pride. They know — either through experience or eyewitness — that to define oneself by material possessions renders us empty suits and empty souls. They know we cannot do it alone. They know we are nothing without God.

It's interesting that in the Diary of St. Faustina, the word "poor" is used almost habitually, mostly in its adjectival form. Saint Faustina writes of her "poor soul," of "poor sinners," her "poor Sister," her "poor heart," of "poor humans," even of "poor earth."
 Why poor? Because she urgently sought to stress how poverty is the condition of humanity when separated from God, and that when we finally dispose ourselves to His will, God makes our cause His own.

She knew that in our poverty, we have the opportunity to make a pivot from ruin to redemption.

With Advent upon us, this rags-to-riches story has been casted. It stars the Blessed Virgin Mary, with a strong supporting role played by St. Joseph.

We all hold dear that indelible image of Mary and Joseph, so poor they are forced to take shelter in a stable in preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. We know Mary had nothing but cheap swaddling clothes to keep Jesus warm, and she and Joseph fashioned a crib from a feeding trough. But let's not sentimentalize this high-desert saga. This is a story as raw as they come.

Mary and Joseph were in that cold, uncomfortable stable as a result of Mary's choice to be poor in spirit. When she said at the Annunciation, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to Your word" (Lk 2:38), she offered herself as an instrument of God, unanchored to the possessions and obsessions of the material world. She said yes, despite the implications for her future — her life's plans would be suddenly and radically redirected. Yes, despite the danger to her — a Jewish woman pregnant out of wedlock could be stoned to death. Yes, despite the awesome responsibility. In that stable, a lowly servant, humble before the Lord, became the Mother of God, the Savior of the world.

We should all strive to be like our poor Blessed Mother.

And remember, it wasn't kings and generals who first came to the stable to visit the Christ Child. Instead, the visitors were shepherds, foreshadowing how Jesus would later single out the lowly and humble — the poor in spirit — as recipients of God's favors and blessings.

Let's vow to meet Jesus this Christmas as the shepherds did, presenting ourselves before Him, the One who summons us all. We know full well how this story will end. Jesus instructs St. Faustina, "Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace" (Diary, 1074). Jesus — who blesses the poor in spirit with the riches of salvation — won't leave us out in the cold.

The Beatitudes:
• Part One: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
• Part Two: "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."
• Part Three: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land."
• Part Four: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied."
• Part Five: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."
• Part Six: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God."
• Part Seven: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
• Part Eight: "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

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Agnes - Dec 2, 2014

Thank you for this article. I have struggled with this beautitude trying to understand what it means. Each time I read someones explanation I think I understand it but then doubt creeps in and I am lost again about it. This makes it clearer to me and saying The Blessed Virgin Mary was poor in spirit leaves an impression I hope I will remember.

Elisabeth - Dec 2, 2014

I too am glad you are giving this wonderful reflection on the Beautitudes. I continually struggle with their meaning for me in my life. Your explanation of "poor in spirit" helps my understanding.

Carole Lazarini - Dec 2, 2014

I want to snuggle close to his merciful heart and be filled with peace...how beautiful is this

Mary D - Dec 2, 2014

Thank you for having this series - love it! Can't wait for the next one...!

Karen - Dec 16, 2014

Thank you for focusing on these wonderful quotes. Too often they are only touched upon without reflection, leaving me to wonder what they mean. I will be following your entries with anticipation. Bless you.

Karen - Dec 16, 2014

Thank you for focusing on these wonderful quotes. Too often they are only touched upon without reflection, leaving me to wonder what they mean. I will be following your entries with anticipation. Bless you.

Nancy - Dec 16, 2014

I have always wondered about poor in spirit as well. I guess Im almost there. I have NO attachment to material possessions, I never really have. Someone could take all my possessions & I wouldn't care. I crave peace, hope, & love more than anything. The last year & a half has been a living nightmare, & I have become very humbled.

Elena - Dec 16, 2014

thank you this so befitting for advent.