I was thinking today of poverty as I was painting my house. One brush stroke after another, hours on end. I’ve been at it all week, all day. Soon I will be finished.
We tend to think of poverty as the lack of resources, especially material or financial one. To be honest, I have never seriously lacked what I have needed in these areas even though I have never been nor will I ever be “rich” in those ways. It just isn’t in the cards for me given my vocations and my value system. But I think poverty is something quite different than that for many of us.
Johannes Metz’s book, Poverty of Spirit, of which I have referenced in the past, was a real eye opener for me many years ago when Bishop Robert Brom of San Diego sent it to me. He was bishop of Duluth, Minnesota at the time. Metz speaks of the different faces of poverty, including the poverty of provisionality and the poverty of finiteness.
Provisionality and finiteness….. all things have a certain limitation or provision to which they are subjected. Even our duties and obligations, as sacred and imperative as they may be, they too expose us to the poverty within us and thus our radical dependency upon God.
Any of us who have promised to pray faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours understand this well. Every day, over and over again, we pray the psalms, read the readings, and make the petitions for ourselves and for all the Church. Every day without exception. A serious obligation; a repetitive action that will need doing again.
Provisional and finite….. exposing us to our poverty as human and our dependence on the benevolence of God. The psalms are all about this.
The painting of a house (which will need redoing in 10 years), the maintenance of a vehicle, the instruction and discipline of a student… gosh, even eating and sleeping…. all speak of the finiteness of life and how provisional much of life is. Qoheleth spoke well in Ecclesiastes when he bemoaned, “Vanities of vanities! All things are vanity!”
The difference between Qoheleth and we Christians is we have no need to moan about this for it has all been redeemed, for we know that God breaks through time and place and enters our world and takes on our poverty in all its forms, save sin. As Christians, we find joy in the provisional and the finite. St. Terese of Liseaux, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Venerable Solanus Casey, OFM all have live this poverty to the full, with joy.
It is not beyond us to do the same. For heaven’s sake, it is our calling!