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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Contemplation in the Streets: Part 2

[Continued from Part 1]

“Poverty is not a question of having or not having money. Poverty is not material. It is a beatitude. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” It is a way of being, thinking and loving. It is a gift of the Spirit. Poverty is detachment, and freedom and, above all, truth.
Go into almost any middle-class home, even a Christian one, and you will see the lack of this beatitude of poverty. The furniture, the drapes, the whole atmosphere are stereotyped, determined by fashion and luxury, not by necessity and truth.
This lack of liberty, or rather this slavery to fashion, is one of the idols which attracts a great number of Christians. How much money is sacrificed upon its altar! – without taking into account that so much good could otherwise be done with it. Being poor in spirit means, above all, being unrestrained by what is called fashion; it means freedom.
I don’t buy a blanket because it is fashion. It buy it because I need it. Without a blanket my child shivers in bed. Bread, a blanket, a table, fire, are things necessary in themselves. To use them is to carry out God’s plan. “All the rest comes from the evil one,” to paraphrase an expression of Jesus’ about truth. And this “rest” is fashion, habit, luxury, over-indulgence, greed – slavery to the world.
One seeks not what is true, but what is pleasing to others. We seem to need this mask. We seem incapable of living without it. […]
And don’t we perhaps put the poor man to shame when we pass by with our power and riches while he cannot afford to pay the rent? How can we preach the Gospel to him, while enjoying economic security when he doesn’t know whether tomorrow he will have work and bread?
But poverty as a beatitude is not only truth, freedom and justice. It is and always will be love, and its limits become infinite, as infinite as the love of God.
Poverty is love for the poor Jesus, and voluntary self-denial. […]
It is easy to speak of spiritual poverty, to fill one’s mouth with pious words, and yet not lack anything, not really feel the pinch, have a secure house, a well-stocked larder and the security of a bank account. […]
I know that what I have said about poverty is challenging, and I also know that when in the world I did not really put it into practice. It is I who have lived for years behind the mask of “pleasing others”; it is I who have spent money, and not only my own, on things which are “not real.”
And yet, in spite of this, I cannot remain silent; and to my friends I must say: beware of the temptation of riches. It is much more serious than it may appear today to well-intentioned Christians, and it sows destruction primarily because we underestimate its danger.
Riches are slow poison, which strikes almost imperceptibly, paralyzing the soul at the moment when it seems healthiest. They are thorns which grow with the grain and suffocate it right at the moment when the corn is beginning to shoot up. What a number of men and women, religious people, let themselves get caught up in their later lives by the spirit of middle-class tastes.
Now that solitude and prayer have helped me to see thing more clearly, I understand why contemplation and poverty are inseparable. It is impossible to have a deep relationship with Jesus in Bethlehem, with Jesus in exile, with Jesus the workman of Nazareth, with Jesus the apostle who has nowhere to lay his head, with the crucified Jesus, without having achieved within ourselves that detachment from things, proclaimed with such authority and lived by him.
One will not reach this high state of poverty at once. Indeed, life itself will not be long enough to achieve it fully. But we must think about it, reflect and, above all, pray.”

Carlo Carretto (1910-1988) in “Letters from the Desert”

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