Brothers and Sisters,
This week I would like to discuss the charism of voluntary poverty.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus tells the man who ran up to him,
“You are lacking in one thing, go and sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
In the next paragraph He drives the point home,
“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:23)
And then comes the memorable,
“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)
I was privileged to be the leader of children’s liturgy one Sunday when we read this gospel, so I got to talk with the kids about this passage. As we are often prone to do, the kids thought the “rich” that Jesus refers to, are someone else, perhaps someone who has so much money that they have never had to work, or someone with household servants, etc. I had to break the news to them that compared with the majority of the people the world, even the poorest people in the United States have it pretty good, and most of the people in the United States are rich by world standards.
I told the kids that this passage doesn’t mean that, none of us (rich people) are going to heaven, but that we need to make Jesus, and spreading his message, more important than everything else. But there is still something that lingers in my mind which says that perhaps, we really can’t make Jesus the most important thing while we are encumbered with the typical American load of stuff.
Pope Francis certainly has been emphasizing the importance for us to pay attention to the poor, to make an effort to help them, and to sacrifice some things to try to better identify with them.
This topic inspired me to pick up a book of Mother Theresa’s sayings (Mother Teresa: Her Essential Wisdom edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi) that had been lying on a pile of books in my bedroom. The first story I came across, was how she left her teaching ministry with the Loreto Sisters with 5 rupees and set off by herself for Calcutta, obediently following the Lord’s instructions though she said it was the greatest sacrifice that she had ever made. When she arrived at Calcutta, she was asked by a priest for a donation for the Catholic press. She had given 4 or the 5 rupees to the poor, and so she hesitated, but gave him her last one. That afternoon, the same priest came to see her and brought an envelope. The priest told her that a man had given him the envelope because he had heard about her projects and wanted to help her. There were 50 rupees in the envelope. She had the feeling at that moment that God had begun to bless the work and would never abandon her.
I am certainly not at that level of trust and detachment. But, despite all the objections that get raised, like “you have a family to support, you can’t just leave everything,” I could go a lot farther in simplifying my life than I have.
Mother Theresa goes on to say, “One by one, from 1949 on, my former students (from the school run by the Sisters of Loreto where she taught) began to arrive. They wanted to give everything to God, right away. With what joy they put away their colorful saris in order to put on our poor cotton one. They came because they knew it would be hard. When a young woman of high caste comes and puts herself at the service of the poor, she is the protagonist of a revolution. It is the greatest, the most difficult revolution—the revolution of love.”
The voluntary poverty charism seems to be working in the former students that she describes. The feelings are there, “with what joy they put away there colorful saris”; the fruit is there, the Missionaries of Charity has become a world-wide order; the feedback is also obvious, most people know and admire Mother Teresa and her sisters.
The most intriguing thing to me is that voluntary poverty, sets conventional American wisdom on its head. We are so convinced that happiness lies in stuff, or power, or fame when in reality those things don’t really give us lasting joy at all. Lord, free us from conventional wisdom, and help us to know the joy that comes from trusting only in you.
Peace of Jesus,