In the Litany to St. Joseph we pray, “Lover of Poverty, pray for us.”
Grace advances this entry. It is inspired by St. Teresa of Calcutta.
On June 2, 1989 Mother Teresa was interviewed by William F. Buckley, Jr. on his program Firing Line. They were engaged in a discussion about poverty. He was deftly trying to help guide the questions to help his audience better understand the issue of poverty the Sisters encounter and how those of us who don’t encounter that poverty in a daily basis can bee more aware of it. He pivoted into a question where he asks her, “When Jesus said the poor we will always have with us, was He making an economic point or a spiritual point or both?”
Buckley was referencing an event in the Gospel according to St. Mark near the Passover and the Passion of Our Lord. Jesus was at table in the house of Simon when a woman came with a jar of “perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard.” She broke the jar and poured the oil on Jesus’ head. There were some there who were upset and abhorred at the apparent waste exclaiming, “It could have been sold from more than three hundred days’ wages and the money given to the poor.” Jesus, as always, responds in truth, “The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me” (St. Mark, 14:3-9).
“When Jesus said the poor we will always have with us, was he making an economic point or a spiritual point or both?” Mother Teresa’s response was thought provoking and spiritually probing.
“Both…but spiritual poverty is the more difficult part…material poverty you can remove the difficulty…a poor woman is hungry I can give her food and I take the hunger away…but the lonely one is something difficult to make up for. The love they are hungry for…it is important to pray and love and share in the joy of loving with the suffering and to remove it…bring the love of Christ in their lives….
Spiritual poverty is when we do not have Jesus. We have abandoned him to the whims of the material world. Or the hardship and difficulty we face in life have caused us to abandon all hope of God’s Divine Providence. We can be lulled into a lukewarm spirituality in which a cool indifference towards secular norms that betray His teachings renders our spiritual armor worn and rusted. Somehow the narrative has built up that by acquiring and accumulating possessions and ideologies will make us whole. In reality it only makes us poorer. This spiritual poverty creates loneliness that will never be filled by what the secular world gives us.
Mother Teresa’s response to that loneliness is the key…to pray, to love, to share in the joy of loving. The joy of loving! In contemplating her words my mind returned to St Joseph and this phrase in the litany, “St. Joseph, lover of poverty, pray for us.” We witness through his example that St. Joseph abandoned everything to “pray, to love and to share in the joy of loving with the suffering to remove it.” I imagine that given the very mobile lifestyle the Holy Family had in the very early years of Jesus’ birth made it impossible for them to have many if any material possessions — traveling to Bethlehem for the Birth, traveling to Egypt to escape King Herod, traveling back to Nazareth to finally settle down. Their suffering and their trials are very evident. We can discern through the virtues ascribed to St. Joseph that he was a quiet man whose attention was on his family, on doing his job well, and on his faith life. It was not tuned to acquiring, competing, or abiding by social norms and trends. Quite the contrary.
I encourage you, my dear reader, to contemplate the fact that St. Joseph lived his daily life in the presence of Jesus and even had the honor of raising Him. His poverty was enriched by spiritual consolation and nourishment of being with the real presence of Christ. I would submit to you that it is a call to do the same. To dwell with Christ in prayer. A call to spend time with Jesus in Adoration at the local parish. It is a call to know Christ through reading scripture, spending at least 15 minutes of our day with Him. It is a call back to church, to receive the Eucharist and allow Christ to dwell within us. Finally, it is volunteering our time to “share in the joy of loving with the suffering” at a soup kitchen or by helping a neighbor that is in need.
It is in this way we can eliminate any spiritual poverty we may be experiencing. It is also a way in which we can fulfill our Gospel duty to help appease the material poverty that surrounds us while at the same time keeping Christ with us. Let us turn to Joseph for our inspiration and pray, especially during this month of March, that he may show us how to be in Christ’s presence, to devote our lives to Him, and how to share in the joy of loving.