Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Evangelical Counsel of Poverty, for Laity

As I mentioned in my post-of-intention, I have been contemplating what living the evangelical counsels actually entails for a lay person. No, not really "for a lay person," but for me. I've been mulling over what the Lord has been teaching me about poverty, chastity, and obedience. Of course, He seems to teach me most things without my realizing what it is about until much later when I get a word to package the lesson in, and I say .... (guess what).... naru hodo!

And then I often find much later, when I am in a more practical stage of life where I am actually required to make choices and decisions based on the lessons I have been taught, that I read something I wrote, and I suddenly realize it was meant to be carried out very concretely, not just in the realm of "having wisdom." Sometimes that's a bit of a bummer... But it is then valuable to realize that pretty words have all their value in being applied.

So, yeah, that's my warm up for why I'm writing this.

Here's what the OCDS Constitutions have to say about poverty:

By the promise of poverty the Secular Carmelite expresses the desire to live in accordance with the Gospel and its values. In evangelical poverty there is a wealth of generosity, self-denial, and interior liberty and a dependence on Him who “Though rich, yet for our sake, became poor” (2 Co 8:9), and who “emptied Himself” (Ph 2:7), to be at the service of His brothers and sisters. The promise of poverty seeks an evangelical use of the goods of this world and of personal talents, as well as the exercise of personal responsibilities in society, in family, and work, confidently placing all in the hands of God. It also implies a commitment to the cause of justice so that the world itself responds to God’s plan. In combination with these, evangelical poverty recognizes personal limitations and surrenders them to God with confidence in His goodness and fidelity.
Now, here's what I have been learning.

I've always had a thin line to walk about this business of denying oneself, and of poverty of spirit. I think that is because to counter each of the evangelical counsels, the devil throws out a different pack a lies to distort God's image and make Him look hateful. By desiring us to have poverty of spirit God is not communicating You are nothing, but rather You are mine. And that is not in some violently possessive way. In being God's, we are made completely free -- not possessed by things or goods.

One of my biggest struggles has been poverty in my thinking. I can remember right where I was sitting when the Lord impressed on me that I had a big need to meditate more on Scripture. Actually, that message came through to me more than once. At first I tried just randomly reading a book of Scripture, but soon drifted away from that. Slowly I moved back towards praying the Liturgy of the Hours, which I've done in fits and starts since the day I decided to become a Catholic. I discovered that the more I did that, the more my meditation started picking up steam. Now I simply can't believe how beautiful and packed with meaning it is (because I remember how boring it felt when I first started).

But my point is there that it is very natural for me to ruminate and reason and just sit and think (sometimes quite unreasonably!). Poverty of spirit in terms of thinking, for me means allowing the Word of God to so fill my mind that when I ponder a situation or person or event, I can let Him infill my own thoughts, rather than being carried away simply by my inclinations, my reactions, my emotions, my mood, or the state of my indigestion.

And so with any good or gift that comes to me. I can receive it, not accepting lies about it or worrying or getting defensive over attacks on the said good, but I hold it in an open hand, offering it. I place it entirely in the presence/at the disposal of God. If I have it, that's good. If I don't have it, that's good too. It is my place to make anything I am or have available to God. It is God's action to create the dynamic that makes for poverty of spirit. He will wedge one into the place where one's offering turns into a sacrifice.

For me this has happened when I have been in the midst of change I completely did not understand. My own thoughts turning over events only found pain. In those moments, turning to Scripture to delve into God's thoughts, to repeat His promises, His commands, the history of how He interacted with His people -- all this sunk down into the crevasses formed by my own soul splitting open. In this way, God was able to float out more things in me that bore no resemblance to Him. It stung, like death always does. Sometimes we really do prefer the general anesthesia of our dullness to either real life or real death. But along with that sting of death, one finds oneself looking into the face of the Savior, the Redeemer, the One with all the power, the One who speaks those powerful words that seem at the time to only have terrible power. We know that He holds in His hands all that we lack. And we only feel that lack. But we know that as long as we are with Him, He has all we need. If we trust, we know that at the right time it will be ours.

That is the blessed state of poverty: feeling our lack keenly, but knowing we are with the One who holds all we need. This is the state of the anawim, or Mary who rejoices in God her Savior who has done to her great things. Poor, yet possessing everything, because He is Everything.

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