Last week we began taking a look at the Beatitudes and how they serve as a roadmap for finding happiness in this life and in the next. It’s now time to turn to each of the individual Beatitudes in order to consider how we are called to live our lives in such a radical way. The first Beatitude is:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
Upon reading this passage, it becomes readily apparent that God is asking us to live counter to our Fallen nature. Immediately we are startled by such a call. It is foreign to the human condition to desire poverty of any kind. There are many forms of poverty and none of them are particularly attractive. The first type of poverty that comes to mind is material poverty.
In the West, we tend to romanticize poverty or discuss it in strictly political terms. This allows distance between us and those people who live in bone-crushing, abject poverty. It is something we do not experience on a daily basis. It is hard to find children living in trash heaps in the United States or Western Europe. Unlike St. Teresa of Calcutta, most of us have not seen people dying on the sidewalks from disease and hunger. There is material poverty within our nations, but it is something largely considered to be an urban problem, and we may largely ignore it in our own backyards.
Material poverty is not strictly a poverty of things. The person who struggles to make a just wage in order to provide food, shelter, water, and basic necessities for their family is tormented by the psychological, emotion, spiritual, and physical demands of poverty. They are not free. Instead, they spend their lives doing grueling work in order to provide a meager meal—or no meal– for their children. This is the reason poverty is spoken of frequently in Scripture and in Catholic Social Teaching. It is not just a privation of goods, it is a privation of true freedom to live as a person made imago Dei. Poverty is a form of slavery, and yet, wealth can also be a cruel taskmaster.
Wealth comes with its own poverty, when the individual uses their wealth to worship themselves rather than to be a good steward of their gifts. The body may be provided for among the wealthy, but often the soul is in great peril or dead because of the idolatry of money. The wealthy suffer from other forms of poverty. These may be emotional, spiritual, or intellectual. Many of the wealthy are lonely because true friendships are difficult to form since their money lends them to use by others.