Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Poverty of Spirit

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3

Poverty of Spirit by Johannes Baptist Metz seemed like such a simple book the first time I read it. Perhaps I was just so overwhelmed by everything else to do with Retreat in Daily Life -- the term given to St. Ignatian' Spiritual Exercises when they are conducted over a six month period verses the usual thirty day intensive seminar format. In 2004-2005 I participated in the program offered here in Oklahoma by the Benedictine Sisters at their Red Plains Spirituality Center in Piedmont.

However, the simplicity of Poverty of Spirit is comparable to that of the initial Beatitude which it expounds, the closer you look the deeper it goes. 'To become human means to become "poor," to have nothing that one might brag about before God.' (p.10) Nothing? Nothing! NOTHING! Let that sink in. Really and truly sink in. Poverty of spirit isn't about becoming poor but accepting that we already are poor, only most of the time we just don't know it, or get it. 'We are so poor, even our poverty isn't our own.' (p.51)

Ah, but this is a review and not a homily. Still, it is hard to write about this book without going into its spiritual teachings and mystery. Poverty of Spirit can be read in one sitting; it's only fifty-two pages. And yet probably a third of my copy is highlighted because of all the quotable sayings.

Jesus's poverty of spirit begins with His acceptance of His humanity, something we are so familiar with we usually fail to grasp the immense significance of God-become-man. It continues with His life of prayer, obedience, service, ultimately culminating in His sacrifice on the Cross, called the sacrament of poverty of spirit.

Cardinal Metz shows how we human beings are innately poor and the various shapes poverty takes: commonplace; misery and need; uniqueness and superiority; provisional nature; finiteness and death. Each distinct form is dealt with as both our chalice and our curse. And yet, those of us who would lay claim to the kingdom of God/heaven, know this to be blessed.

A spiritual classic worth reading . . . many times. For me, once every Lent. I re-read this again this year, as I've done every Lent since I first did the St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises-like many of the great works, it can be read in a short span of time, but probably never mastered.

One additional note about the author, which I just learned recently in reading, The End of Time?: The Provocation of Talking about God, Cardinal Metz is a fellow Bavarian and colleague of Pope Benedict XVI.

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