September 26, 2010

Blessed are the Poor of Heart

What is the poverty of heart that Jesus deemed true happiness, the blessed way to be, a beatitude?  Our tradition teaches that poverty of heart is a healthy detatchment from things that do not lead us to God.  In other words, when we do not try to satisfy ourselves with frivolous pursuits, comfort, and pleasure, the Lord is saying we are very blessed.   There is space in our hearts for Him to come whenever we renounce anything that does not give him glory.  In my last post, we mentioned how Bernard believed that the soul that realized it was not at peace with itself, that something in its life needed to change, that it needed Jesus, such a soul experienced the blessedness Christ proclaimed for the poor of heart.  It is a painful kind of blessedness: only  in the middle of facing the real suffering eating at one's soul can one find Jesus, Jesus comes in spiritual poverty.

Examples of those who have experienced this kind of blessedness include figures like St. Augustine.  In book 8 of the Confessions, we read how St. Augustine was attracted to living a life dedicated to the pursuit of the truth, which he realize was the pursuit of God himself.  His heart was drawn to this purer way of life.  Now in his thirties, he had recently given up his sex-partner, a woman who had lived with him since they were both teenagers.  Disgusted with his own selfish existence, he wanted to live for something beyond himself and his own pleasure.  At the same time, he was tempted to find another concubine, someone else he could use to satisfy his lust. He was so addicted to sexual pleasure he did not see how he himself could ever give this up.  In the face of this, God offered him chastity.  Chastity was like a beautiful woman calling to him while his lust cleaved to him and  tried to pull him back.   He describes how he wanted what God offered but was not confident that he would really be happy if he had real chastity, and if he could be happily chaste, he was not confident that the Lord would ever really give such chastity to him.  At the same time, he also knew the stories of men less educated and gifted than himself who found the strength to renounce sin and follow the Lord.  He was vexed, torn up inside, yearning for what was good and unable to let go of what was evil.  So in this poverty of heart, he called out to the Lord with tears and loud cries, and the Lord heard him, spoke to him through the Scriptures, and the light of God's confidence flooded his soul.

Poverty of spirit, painful as it is, is a great gift from God because only with this poverty can he come to fill us.