Friday, November 22, 2013

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

The beatitude "Blessed are the poor in Spirit," St. Augustine takes to refer to those who realize the depths of their sin and their inability to fix it.  He writes, "the poor in Spirit are rightly understood here as meaning the humble and God-fearing...  Nor ought blessedness to begin at any other point whatever if indeed it is to attain unto the highest wisdom; but fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; for on the other hand also, pride is entitled the beginning of all sin."  The humble realize that God alone is Holy and stand in awe and reverential fear of their divine King.  They realize that they are nothing and that the world is nothing in comparison to the God who is everything.

It is the gift of fear that inspires the true fruit of poverty of Spirit.  It clears out any desire to sin in our lives.  It breaks any and all dealings with the devil.  This requires a power greater than our own: the Spirit of Love.  Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are given a divine instinct to live at a divine mean of virtue.  What would be foolishness in the eyes of the world becomes infused with the power of God and thus fruitful.  The gift of fear often inspires us to live the evangelical counsel of poverty by causing us to despise the goods of this world (even lawful ones!) and to prefer the goodness of God.

Until we value the love of God above all else, we will always remain a tepid soul, always in danger of Hell and never enjoying the life of the kingdom which is available to us even now.  Fear of the Lord and poverty of Spirit sets us free to love with restraint.  Fear of the Lord liberates us from our stupid-selfish desires and orientates us to the Other who fulfills all our desires.  One cleaves to Him and sells everything else.  How could it be any other way?  When we possess God, we possess everything we could ever desire.  All things are good only in as much as they resemble God in whom there is not even the shadow of undesirable being.  He is pure loveliness and beauty.  No one could see Him face to face and not cling to Him with their whole undivided will.  When, therefore, we exalt the things of this world above God (pleasure, money, power, or honor), we lie about the goodness of God.  It is a statement that He is not fully satisfactory.

Do you not believe that God is pure loveliness and beauty?  Then look to the life of Jesus from whose heart blood and water poured for the salvation of the world, whose love snapped the chains of death, and whose life radiates in the heart of every saint who confesses Him as Lord, sitting at the right hand of the Father.  Jesus is the refulgence of the Father's glory.

Growth in the Spiritual life begins with fear of the King.  St. Thomas Aquinas writes, "Since beatitude is an act of perfect virtue, all the beatitudes belong to the perfection of the Spiritual life.  And this perfection seems to require that whoever would strive to obtain a perfect share of spiritual goods, needs to begin by despising earthly goods, wherefore fear holds the first place among the gifts."  If we cling to the world, we won't cling to God, the sight of whom is our Heavenly inheritance.  Like so many chains, our distort desires attach us to the world.  These chains crank our head down so that our vision is only of this fallen world.  Blessed be God who cuts these chains by the sword of the Spirit!  Once liberated, we can turn our heads to see the kingdom of God.

Therefore, its not without reason that St. Thomas treats his discussion about the gift of fear and poverty of Spirit in his treatise on Hope.  The theological virtue of Hope does not seek salvation in this world or from this world.  It seeks it in the Father who has promised in His Son salvation if only we put our trust in Him and remain in Him.  When we approach God devoid of any worldly goods, in poverty of Spirit, our Hope can only be in the Lord.

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