Sinners Anonymous: 12 Steps to Holiness

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:3)

Step 6: Poverty and Detachment

Have you ever run into a sister “nun”, and found yourself complementing her beautiful earrings, nice bracelet, and pearly necklace? How about her gorgeous “outfit” and classy purse? If this seems absurd to you, congratulations! you have just passed Poverty 101.

Women who have responded to the call of consecration also responded to the challenge of three evangelical counsels; Poverty Chastity, and Obedience. Note carefully the usage of the word “Counsels” and not the word “precepts”. They have freely chosen to go beyond the call of duty for love of their Spouse, their Bridegroom; they are in love! Of course it makes sense that they would rid themselves of all earthly and material distractions for the gratifying possession of immaterial Joy. They seek to detach in order to attach. A unity and bond is sought between the bridegroom and his bride and this unity bears the fruit of love; a love that can then be given to others. This is why when we encounter a sister we do not bother to seek material beauty, their eschatological witness impels us to desire something more, something greater. We seek the fruits of a loving relationship with Jesus Christ!

This should be an empowering example for the rest of us because we too are called to live a life of detachment and poverty if we seek to “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). As we can imagine, the way in which we manifest these virtues will look different from that of consecrated life. But their example should be considered and valued because our call to spiritual poverty is one in the same; it is the embodiment that differs. St. Alphonsus provides a two fold understanding of spiritual poverty: The first is, “detachment of the heart from earthly possessions”; second, “detachment from everything earthy, no matter what it may be.” (Alphonsus, 73). We either love God or we love creatures but our heart is not big enough to equally love both.

Now, what does this look like?- Well, we first take out everything we own and possess (yes, everything!) and we invite friends and family over for a ceremonial flaunt. We rid ourselves of it all, without excluding a single thing, and endure the burden of living without it. That is what I call success!! would St. Teresa of Avila agree with this method? . . .  Well, she seems to have a different opinion “They who appear to be externally  poor without being so in spirit deceive both the world and themselves.”

Here is a more genuine guide on how to live poor in spirit. St. Alphonsus further shares: “The truly virtuous poor desire nothing but God, and for that very reason they are immensely rich.” (Alphonsus, 74) God is aware of our NEED for material goods, He does not despise those who help themselves with what they need. There is a deeper meaning of detachment here and it lies within the heart. For example, if we come to suffer a temporal or financial loss that seems almost devastating we could respond in two ways. Resentment for the undeserved injustice and a hardened heart. Or we could consider the virtue at hand: Poverty whose expression is most commonly seen as detachment. Will we praise God or will we curse God? Will we say “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away” like Job. (Job 1:21) ? Or will we say, the Lord gave and the Lord dares to take it away?

God does not in any way desire or will that we experience sorrows and loss but we must realize that He allows them including sin to afford us the grace of practicing true detachment and spiritual poverty. Will we draw toward Him or away from Him? When we die and our soul soars, will it soar downward toward its material riches or upward toward its eternal treasure? When handling possessions therefore we must use them so as to fulfill their purpose not ours; God will take care of our fulfillment if we allow him.

Jesus has already set an example for us while on earth and “frequent meditation on the poverty of Jesus Christ and the esteem he had for this holy virtue” will strengthen our resolve. (Alphonsus, 78). Poverty therefore is simply a bridge of virtuous detachment that leads to a life of loving praise.

If we are honored: Praise God! If we are despised: Praise God! If we are prosperous: Praise God! If we are destitute: Praise God! This is attainment of virtue! To be pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God requires a pure heart and a humble spirit. A holy indifference to the ambitions of this world. A desirous striving against inordinate attachments. “Both nature and religion impose upon us the obligation of loving our parents, relatives and benefactors. But this love becomes inordinate and bad when it leads us to offend God, and impedes our progress in a virtuous life.” (St. Alphonsus, 82) This applies to all of our earthly loves.

Let us resign to God’s Will in all things and carefully discern if the things that seem “good” and useful in our lives are aiding or hindering our relationship with him. HOLY INDIFFERENCE; this is our discerning tool and detachment is its virtue.

Finally, we end with one reminder when seeking a life of perfection, from the Word of God: “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself!” (Matt 16:24).

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