How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I’m sure we have all experienced that some people are somehow special and that when we speak with them, or work with them, or fight with them, the expression poor in spirit comes spontaneously to mind. But what does it mean to be poor in spirit?
The expression applies first and foremost to Jesus who is the archetype of the poor in spirit, and, therefore, the kingdom of heaven is his.
To reach within ourselves an awareness of our own poverty let’s do an exercise together using our imaginations.
Let each one of us go and stand before God and then hand back to him everything that does not really belong to us. In this exercise we can keep only what truly belongs to us.
We could hand back firstly our house, made of God’s wood and stone, and our furniture, and so on. Get the idea? How does it feel to you to have no house to live in? You are certainly a lot poorer, aren’t you?
And now hand back your car, your clothes, in fact, to cut a long story short, hand back everything – all your possessions. Wow! There you are! Not even a shirt on your back.
How do you feel? Poorer?
Now hand back to God your children, grandchildren, your parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, friends, and your husband or wife. They all belong to God, they are not yours. Hand them back.
So now, there you are, all alone in the world, penniless, naked.
But we haven’t finished. Now hand back to God all your achievements and good works. You might be very proud of your good works but really they were done using the body and mind and the gifts of nature God gave you, and the grace which inspired you and made it possible to do good. Hand them all back - they belong to God, they are nothing more than our duty and were done for his glory.
Now give him all that’s left that does not belong to you - that includes your mind, your soul, your body. These things are all God’s gift. And so now, in the place where before you stood there is nothing! Oops, wait a minute, that’s not true!
In the place where you stood there is a pile of something. What is it?
All your sins are there because these truly belong to you. They do belong to you and God did not help you to commit them. They came about not because you used what God gave you but because you abused what he gave you.
Can you now understand why the saints always say to God: Lord, I am nothing but sin?
Truly, we are nothing but sin.
I think now we are able to understand that a person truly poor in spirit is a person who carries within them a permanent and deep awareness of their own nothingness and who lives every moment of the day and all their relationships with others in the consciousness of this truth.
But there is something more we should realise. Jesus mentions the poor in spirit as the first of the beatitudes, not the second or third. This is because it is only the poor in spirit who can truly be all those other things he mentions.
Only the poor in spirit can be gentle, can truly mourn, can truly hunger for what is right, be merciful, and peacemakers, and so on. The poor in spirit have a first option on these virtues because they claim nothing for themselves.
Finally, and this is the best part of the story, the poor in spirit are the richest people of all because to them alone belongs all the fullness of God. All that God has he gives to the poor in spirit and this includes all that he has made.
A practical lesson from all this for our prayer? Let us, every day, make ourselves richer, by meditating more deeply on our nothingness.