Circular Letter: Advent 2017
The Poverty which Brings Us Joy!
The feast of the love of God the Father for mankind draws ever nearer and our hearts feel more and more the call to, “Gaudete”, “Rejoice in the Lord!” It is the feast of the giving love of the heavenly Father, for the greatest thing He could give, He gave to us in His Son. And that DIVINE SON, who sits eternally on the Throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit, emptied Himself of His glory and splendor and became so small, as small as one can become, “an Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). “He was rich and yet He became poor in order to enrich us through his poverty” (2 Cor 8:9). This feast of the giving love of the Father can only be answered by a giving ourselves, the giving of our hearts to the Lord. So we, too, want to make ourselves small, childlike, poor, carefree, wanting only one thing: God! possessing only one thing: God! For Christmas is the solemnity of the first of the eight Beatitudes which Our Lord preached on the mountainside: “Blessed are the poor of spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God” (Mt 5:3).
Poverty and Holy Fear: Existing for God Alone
In this Beatitude, Jesus indicates the first and most important thing for man: to make himself empty, poor, for God, so that God may become for him his One and All. “Seek first the Kingdom of God…” (Mt 6:33). “Sell all that you have, and then come…” (Lk 18: 22). But is not this radical poverty only for religious? How can I, the father of a family, the mother of small children, a businessperson living in the world with bills and cares and obligations live poverty? Living a vow of poverty, of complete renunciation of this world’s goods, is only for those who are called for the sake of a special mission in the Church. But the beatitude of poverty, poverty of spirit, lived in accordance with one’s state in life is the way to holiness and blessedness for all Christians. This poverty is not a call to misery and need, but a call to a childlike heart and the fullness of joy! Gaudete!
When Mary first received the message of the Angel Gabriel, she knew that she was not to speak of this grace to anyone, not to St. Joseph, nor even to her mother or father. People began to talk, to suspect something; still, she remained silent. She alone bore the weight of this mystery of God’s radical intervention in the history of man, seeking strength only in God through prayer.
GOD alone is the surest support. MARY has to leave everything behind; she belongs now exclusively to God and His will, which is her task. Just as powerfully as the Fear of the Lord grows in her, even so deeply grows her union with the Hidden God, Who, despite all His love, hides Himself, as it were, also from her and demands pure Fortitude from her. How hard it is not to be able to quiet, to clarify with a few words the arising whisperings, the measuring glances. The will of God demands the absolute. (Mother Gabriele, Way of the Cross, Burden of God)
Mary’s Fear of the Lord, her loving, childlike reverence for the Father, helped her to remain faithful to the silence God imposed upon her, even though under the law she might have been condemned. This Fear of the Lord is an integral part of poverty.
For poverty of spirit is based on the recognition of our condition as creatures. It rests on the acceptance that we are not our own, but that we live in dependence on a loving Creator who made us for Himself. If we have the firm belief that GOD IS, that He, who has no need of creatures, created us solely to share His love, His joy, His happiness with us, then our only response can be a loving, filial submission to all that He wills for us in a loving Fear of the Lord. This faith and loving reverence will make us humble, poor in spirit. For true faith in God is to enter into a relationship with Him, acknowledging our limits, weakness and need, and to place our trust in Him. “The poor in spirit are these that keep their eyes on God, and their hearts open to His divine workings. … They are close to God, ready to listen to His voice and to sing His praises” (John Paul II, Homily, Feb 18, 1981). “We must have the heart of little ones, of the ‘poor in spirit’ in order to recognize that we are not self-sufficient, that we are unable to build our lives on our own, but need God, that we need to encounter Him, to listen to Him, to speak to Him” (Ben XVI, Audience, Dec 7, 2011).
Poverty and the Readiness to Serve
Poverty of spirit is the “ECCE” of Mary, who from the moment of her conception never turned her face from the Lord. She is the all pure, who said “yes” to all that God was doing in her and through her. She was empty, a blank sheet, in order to receive all from God, to be filled with God. As she traveled laboriously from Nazareth to Bethlehem, heavy with Child, she did not murmur against God or those who called for this sacrifice. She fixed her eyes on the Lord, on His mysterious will.
The way is arduous and long. Many carts and groups of people are underway. They often push the holy couple off the way. St. Joseph makes detours, they sleep in the open air. Mary suffers from the cold, Joseph gives her everything he can possibly do without. Expiation for all immoderation, all disorder, for all impurity has to make straight the path for the coming Redeemer, has to fill up every hole and crack and crevice. (Mother Gabriele, Burden of God)
Mary traveled in acceptance of the Cross, her heart set on preparing for this great event, the bringing of the Redeemer, without looking either to the left or to the right, in silence, loving inwardly. By her ECCE, she became the gate through which the SON could enter the world and bring the waters of grace and salvation for all! She is our model, our light and guide in the path of holy poverty of spirit.
Immediately after the Annunciation, Mary is called to help her cousin, Elizabeth, who is with child in her old age. Joseph is not allowed to accompany her; she must go with strangers.
No, Mary is not at the mercy of strangers; Angels accompany her. No glance, no touch comes near her on this journey to Elizabeth. Mary – as on a sick-call – brings the Son of God to the servant of God, to the precursor. And John, still unborn, arises and professes his “Adsum, Domine!” Mary carries the Lord; Elizabeth, the servant. However, Mary has come to serve like a handmaid. (Mother Gabriele, Burden of God)
Like Mary, the Angel, too, is a guide for us on the way of holy poverty. He “continually beholds the face of our heavenly Father” (cf. Mt 14:10) in the glory of the beatific vision; from there he reads God’s will for him to serve: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:14). Therefore, the Angel lowers himself to our depths, to place himself beside man, in order to lift man up and lead him to God. He serves in hiddenness, not looking for thanks, seeking nothing for himself but the joy of serving his Lord. He serves with love. No depth is too deep for him – even when we sin, the Angel does not abandon us, but pleads with us, warns and admonishes us. When we close ourselves to him by deadening our conscience, still he waits for us, interceding continually before the throne of the Father for us.
Sin and Selfishness
It is sin that distorts our filial relationship with the Father, and makes us turn in on ourselves in self-reliance, pride and covetousness. In self-reliance – “you will be like God” the tempter baited – we take our lives in our own hands, have our own plans, trust in our own powers. Thus, man deposes God and places himself on the throne of his heart. When we are empty of God, we seek to fill this hallow with all sorts of desires and attachments. Our thoughts and goals are ordered only to this world. This also affects our relationship with our fellow man. Our neighbor becomes no longer our brother, but our rival for the goods and ambitions of this life. We lose that childlike simplicity, the carefree joy in God and in our neighbor. Mary and Joseph also encountered this sin when they arrived in Bethlehem.
The doors are locked. Here dwells avarice, there dwells envy, everywhere dwells selfishness. A woman about to give birth is regarded as unclean by the Jews. The place and the inhabitants would have to undergo purification. This is too much trouble; no one is up to this. They tell it straight to Mary’s face; is she perhaps a foreigner that she does not know this? Why didn’t she make any provisions? They tell her it would be best to go outside the walls of the city and not bother anyone. The house of David no longer enjoys any esteem these days. Gold and positions of honor rate high. Thus Joseph and Mary go away. (Mother Gabriele, Burden of God)
And so the holiest couple must find a poor stable to give birth to the King of kings.
As we draw nearer to this great mystery of the poor and simple Child in the manger at Bethlehem, we want to grow also in the interior dispositions of Jesus and Mary, of Joseph and the holy Angels. What great material poverty lies in the humble stable, yet precisely here there reigns peace, silence and joy. The heart of the Mother says ‘yes’ to the cold, to being rejected at the inn, to the humiliation of giving birth like an outcast. She sees beyond the comforts and even the demands of nature, she looks only to the will of the Father, to the guidance of the Angel. She is the pure and simple reflection of the simple essence of God. She is ready to renounce, to sacrifice, and herein she finds peace and rest in God. She wants to be only where God wants her to be, to do what He wills, to suffer what He allows her to suffer. In silence, she bears all, accepts all, gives all – out of love. And in this way, she is filled with ALL, God alone – what joy!
Holy Detachment and Childlike Trust: Supernatural Wisdom
And this is the first step to poverty of spirit: detachment. Detachment from the things of this world, from excessive ambition, lavish spending, all the “extras” we might want, even all our worries and cares. “How can you receive God in your whole being if you have already filled it with desires and attachments and cares? You must surrender all and consider it nothing if you want to possess and see God. Above all, we must surrender ourselves” (Mother Gabriele, Readings). This surrender of self is a letting go of our own “iron” will, our own plans and ambitions, even of our own opinion for the sake of others, for the sake of peace. We think we have to fight for our rights, for our opinion, but God wants only our surrender. He wants us to lay our worries in His hands, to trust Him with our lives, our children, our needs and concerns, even our little joys and comforts. He wants us to be free from anxiety, to let Him take care of us. Can a Father forget His child? When we let go and trust God, we will find that we are very near to Jesus, that He is dwelling in our hearts and filling us with His fullness. And thus we will be filled with gratitude and love!
In this detachment, we will find a freedom from self and all the drives of nature. Of course, we will still feel the conflict and tensions within ourselves (we are flesh and blood, battling with the effects of original sin, not angels!), but in prayer and by the grace of God we can learn to renounce ourselves. We will become generous, ready to give. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen was a very wealthy man from his radio and television appearances. Yet he was not attached to his wealth as can be seen by his generosity. He gave $10 million to the missions from his own earnings, and it was said whenever he was approached by a beggar on the street, he would open his wallet and freely empty all its contents, even if it were a $100 bill. This poverty of spirit was reflected in his ever childlike joyfulness and humor, and in his loving compassion for others, especially for the poor. He was a man who lived his love for Jesus in all simplicity and charity towards his neighbor. In a very hidden, humble, simple way, he reached great union with God and is on the road to Beatification.
Detachment from self and possessions, however, is not easy unless we find our anchor in something greater. The human heart has a natural yearning for ever more, but the more it immerses itself in the things of this world, the more it realizes, it is still not enough! As St. Augustine writes, “My heart is restless, O Lord, until it rests in Thee!” The heart of man can find satisfaction only in God: SOLI DEO! If we seek to fill it with other things, they serve only to keep us from finding God within. Therefore, we want to empty ourselves, to return to the one thing necessary!
Looking to Jesus, we will learn to free ourselves from so many cares that bind us to the earth! Even outside of our time for prayer, if we turn to God and entrust ourselves to Him – to Jesus, to our Blessed Mother – many times throughout the day, in every trial, in every quiet moment, here we will find rest in Him; here we will find peace of heart, tranquility and eternal wisdom. This wisdom stands above the things of this world, all its pettiness and narrowness, all jealousy and ambition, all desire to possess. This wisdom seeks only God and His will. Moreover, when we gain this wisdom, it will flow over to others, consoling, counseling, lifting them up, showing the way to God, in all simplicity, silently and unassumingly showing the way by our example. Even if we struggle with trials and the Cross, this detachment found in prayer will allow us to carry on with peace and tranquility of heart, knowing that God cares for us. As Pope Benedict XVI writes, “Prayer opens us to receiving the gift of God, His wisdom, which is Jesus Himself, in order to do the Father’s will in our lives and thus to find rest in the hardships of our journey” (Audience, December 7, 2011).
Poverty and Service
Another way to grow in poverty of spirit is to be sensitive to the needs of those around us, to concern ourselves with the poor and the needy. In a word, like the Angel we want to offer our service out of love for God. Is there a parish ministry I might get involved in, a soup kitchen or mission trip or praying for the unborn before an abortion mill? Do I have small children at home and no time? How about taking the whole family (and inviting some friends!) to visit a nursing home over the Christmas holidays? O how the elderly love children and youth! What joy we can give, and how much more joy we will receive! At the same time we will be giving our children a wonderful lesson for life: active charity. Poverty of spirit is sensitive to the needs of those around us. Learning to help everywhere we see a need with all simplicity and readiness, we will follow the example of the Angel in his “Guardian Angel service”.
There is still another way of service in which all can lend a hand, an urgent need to which Our Lady called us at Fatima: prayer and penance, sacrifice and expiation. The world has lost its sight of God and delves ever more deeply into darkness and selfishness, division and decay; even in the Church we see signs of spiritual confusion and disunion. The evil one is everywhere active. Here intercessory prayer, the Rosary and sacrifice bear great fruits. It is not the great ones of the world who turn the course of history, but the little ones, the hidden ones, the anawim “God’s poor”, who fight with the weapons of humility, poverty and great trust in God. In his commentary on Psalm 149, Pope St. John Paul the Great writes, “the ‘poor’ are lined up on the side of God to fight against evil. By themselves they do not have sufficient strength or the arms or the necessary strategies to oppose the onslaught of evil. Yet the Psalmist does not admit hesitation: ‘The Lord loves His people, He adorns the lowly (anawim) with victory’ (v. 4). What St Paul says to the Corinthians completes the picture: ‘God chose what is lowly and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are’ (1 Cor 1:28)” (Audience, May 23, 2001). Like St. Michael, the more we empty ourselves and live for God alone, the more efficacious our prayer and sacrifices will become. God Himself will be our strength of victory in the trials and battles of this life.
Looking continually to God, we will grow wide-hearted in our intercessory mediation, not extending it merely to the needs of those whom we love. We will intercede for the world, for the Church, for priests in crisis. All the while, we may never consider ourselves better than others. We are sinners helping sinners, one supporting and helping the other to rise, so that together we may conquer the enemy and together we may return home to God. Our Mother Gabriele writes, “God has not set you above your neighbor, so that like the Pharisees you pass judgment on him. He has set you under your neighbor, if you want to achieve holy poverty, so that you may carry and bear him with love and help him along the way of love. Love alone leads to the Heart of GOD!” (Way of the Cross, Poverty).
The One Thing Necessary: Love
Poverty of spirit is a reflection of the simple essence of God. Through poverty, we will become clear, simple, single-minded, seeking only the one essential thing, love. Jesus summed up all the law and the prophets in two simple statements, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mt 22:37-29). If we are truly poor in spirit, this will be our great goal in life and all else will become unessential. Jesus lived this poverty from the manger to His death on the Cross in utter abandonment, deprived of all human and divine consolation, out of love. “Holy poverty wants nothing but HIM alone; and for this you must declare yourself. You must forgive the way HE does; you must intercede the way HE does, you must thirst the way HE does” (Mother Gabriele, Way of the Cross of Poverty). How poor Jesus has made Himself for our sake, out of love for the Father, in order to redeem us! We too want to become poor for His sake out of love, in order to free for Him the hearts of men for God.
As we kneel before the manger this Christmas and ponder the poverty of Mary and Joseph, and the love of the Divine Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, we will learn to evaluate all things from this new perspective. Instead of: “I want this”, we will ask, “What do YOU will, O Lord?” Instead of: “I should like to have that”, we will ask, “What would YOU have of me, O Lord?” Instead of wishing for something, our Angel will teach us the joy of renunciation. Instead of desiring possessions, the Angel will teach us to sacrifice out of love. Thus, on the Holy Night we will stand in the ranks of the poor shepherds, holding a little lamb in our hands and trembling with cold and joy, for soon we will be allowed to kneel before the LORD of the Universe, surrounded by the glory of the Angels, and be filled with the joy and love of Mary and Joseph: a CHILD is born for us!
Sr. Maria Basilea
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