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Rich Woman, Poor Woman

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Last month, we talked about obedience, the sixth of the Blessed Virgin Mary's Evangelical Virtues. This month we address Mary's seventh Evangelical Virtue: poverty.

By Marc Massery

Being impoverished isn't a virtue in and of itself. But the virtue of spiritual poverty can grow from material poverty, as it did in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

What is the virtue of spiritual poverty? Saint Faustina Kowalska writes in her Diary that it's "an evangelical virtue which impels the heart to detach itself from temporal things" (93). Jesus said it this way: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:3). In other words, those who detach themselves from worldly things open themselves up to receiving heavenly things.

This explains why the spiritual virtue of poverty can grow from material poverty. When one is materially poor, one knows the meaning of detachment. Of course, one need not be impoverished to follow Christ. At the same time, some of the holiest saints took vows of poverty. After all, Jesus said, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'" (Mt 19:21).

We know that the Blessed Virgin Mary was perfect, so it makes sense that she was materially quite poor. We know this because when she gave birth to Christ "[she] laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:7). Pope St. John Paul II explained Mary's situation this way:

Mary experienced childbirth in extreme poverty. She could not give the Son of God even what mothers usually offer a newborn baby. Instead, she had to lay him in a manger, an improvised cradle, which contrasts with the dignity of the "Son of the Most High" (General Audience of Nov. 20, 1996).

God could have chosen any woman to be the Mother of Christ, including a wealthy person or even royalty. Christ the King would have deserved that kind of welcome. But instead, God chose a poor carpenter's wife from Nazareth. Why? To set an example for us — to reveal to us that God calls us to humility, not luxury.

Though generations of Jews before Mary considered material wealth a sign of God's favor, in her holiness, Mary saw things differently. She never lamented her poverty. In fact, she considered it a blessing. As she said in her Magnificat, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. ... The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty" (Lk 1:47, 53). She knew that God's favor rested upon the lowly and those in need, more so than those distracted by worldly wealth.

Yet, even those blessed with material wealth can live holy lives. After Jesus said that it would be easier for "a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God," His listeners asked Him, "Then who can be saved?" He responded, "What is impossible for human beings is possible for God" (Mt 19:24-26). In other words, God can give anyone the grace, even those who have been blessed with great wealth, to practice the virtue of spiritual poverty.

In the end, the virtue of spiritual poverty is more than being deprived of material wealth. Spiritual poverty means detaching oneself from anything that might stand in the way of making Christ our top priority. Mary exemplified this virtue better than any created person. And just to prove the importance of material detachment, she lived most of her life in poverty.

Next month, we'll reflect on the eighth of the Blessed Virgin Mary's Evangelical Virtues: patience.

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