Of two kinds of Poverty; the lack of worldly goods, and Poverty of Spirit. How Poverty of Spirit is the much more perfect kind; more painful and also more pleasing to God. Of what Poverty of Spirit consists, and how man can attain to it.
Beati pauperes spiritu, quoniam ipsorum ist regnum coelorum.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
There are two kinds of poverty; one is external, affecting the outer man, and consists of giving up all temporal things for the sake of God, and this is an Evangelical Counsel. The other kind of poverty is that of the spirit and humility of heart. This is required of all men: of each man according to his vocation; and now we will say something of both kinds.
The first kind of poverty is not binding on every man, but only on those who are called thereto by God, and to whose spirit the desire is given to imitate, in the highest degree, the outward Humanity of Christ. To do this they must forsake all things, and must give even themselves in alms; begging their bread day by day, like St Francis and all his brethren. Thus to follow after Christ outwardly is the highest grade. No man can attain to this in his own strength; for he will have to give up all temporal advantages absolutely, to deny himself outwardly all temporal goods. Nature does not willingly act thus, for it is hard; but the more difficult it is to nature, the more acceptable it is to God. It is a peculiarly holy life to those who walk therein, with pure hearts and good intentions; and by means of their good example, God often brings about the conversion of many worldly people, especially amongst the poor who are living in great sin. Therefore this poverty is greatly rewarded by God. But, if this outward poverty is to work for their real good, it must also take place inwardly. For this reason outward poverty is most useful when it becomes a help to inner poverty.
The second kind of poverty is that of the spirit, and real humility of heart. It consists of the resignation of all comforts and pleasures; and, as outward poverty requires that all temporal comfort should be forsaken, so this points to the forsaking of all inner consolation, in virtue, fervour, and all the pleasures of inward cheerfulness and joy.
Now, dear children, try to understand me aright, how ye ought to attain to this. May God grant that ye will desire this poverty, and also that which is external. He will not succeed who sets himself to acquire it without any inner inclination; or takes it on himself, because he has read of it in the Scriptures, or heard of it, or lays hold of it out of anxiety. He who is not driven thereto by divine inspiration, will stand still, and will not attain to true virtue. He thinks only of externals, of the state of willing poverty, but he does not look upon it as Christ did, and as He calls some men thereto, who fill the highest place in the Holy Church, and who, for God's sake, first became outwardly poor, that they might become inwardly poor also. Some think only of the state of outward poverty, and do not look within. They are quite content with outward poverty; for they think everything depends upon that; if at times inner fervour and a sweet foretaste are theirs, they call it contemplation, or the contemplative life. Now all this is still taking place in the lowest grade of their nature, according to the integrity and spirituality of their lowest powers; and so they do not look any further within, but they imagine there is no higher way. Thus they become only a little like unto Christ in His Humanity; but they ought to go further, and learn to be like unto Christ in spirit and in truth. As He was united in spirit with the Father, so also must they strive to be, as far as possible, in this life.
Inner poverty is a much higher state than outward poverty, because it is in the Likeness of God, while the latter only resembles His Humanity. It is also much safer. He who possesses both is the most exalted. But there are not many such men to be found; for people are much diseased by nature; and, therefore, if one or the other must be lacking, it is better to lack outward poverty, and to seek inward poverty, according to the power of each man, in whatever state he may be. A poor and humble heart is needful for all men; but every man is not bound to be outwardly poor, but only those who are called by God thereto. This inner way and poverty are hard to follow; and if a man could have as much strength as the strongest man who ever lived, he would need it all to enable him to endure to the end of his life. Is it not then quite right that such men should have outward comforts and proper attention when they are ill, especially those who have long tormented the outer man? It is, however, so difficult to carry this out, that they will not be able to succeed well by casting off all necessaries, by watchings, by hard external labour; for they are rather hindered by severe and external abstinence. When they are suffering, oppressed, in terror, or in severe pain, their hearts are so full, that they can scarcely bear all; and, if then they were to do severe outward penance, they would destroy their natural powers, and would be unable to attend to God's inner admonitations; therefore, when they are in this condition, proper attention should be allowed them, that they may get better. Be sure of this, that they will have to do penance for the comforts allowed to nature, with fear and trembling, though outwardly they may hold high positions in the world, having goods and possessions in accordance with their rank, and yet still possessing this inner poverty. The more these people have of external honour, goods and ease, in accordance with their rank, the heavier is the load they bear within; while outwardly they are obliged to do their utmost to foster this poverty of spirit. When they cannot accomplish this without natural comforts, they make use of them in fear and bitterness, as secretly as they can, so that they may offend none. Thus any one might possess a kingdom without injury to himself; or any other position, and yet be poor in spirit and miserable. Very few are ready to believe that such great benefits may thus be gained, yea, in every state of life, if man be only ready to die to his natural lusts, and to turn will all his heart to this poverty. None are too rich, or too great, or too poor, to attain to this way, to choose it and to walk therein; all who earnestly seek it can find it. Therefore, the man who is unable to accept both kinds of poverty should turn to this one, stay in his calling, and learn to be poor in spirit, that is of a humble heart.
The best way to train ourselves in this, is to call upon God for help, beseeching Him to preserve us from sin, and to grant us endurance in suffering; for poverty of spirit consists of inward suffering, oppression and misery. It may not be driven out by any pleasure. Man must exercise himself in all virtues, in as much as it lies in his power; and, if he is not pleased, but more suffering comes from other people, and he is chastised by God, and afflicted in his body, while all men, both clergy and laity, disconcert, scorn and despise him; while in all this, he suffers and does not give way, but waits till God sends him relief; see, this is being poor in spirit. Now mark, how much harder it is to choose this inner poverty than lack of goods. It is truly much more pleasing to God and much nobler. Those who preach and teach this inner poverty, are doing God much more service than those who teach external poverty only. This life is far more like unto God than the other; and many hundred times more labour is required in it. It would also be better to induce a hundred men to follow after poverty of spirit, than one to endure outward poverty. It does not need much proof to show that this is a far higher life than the first; for it is so much harder to choose it. That men are more easily moved by outward poverty arises from the fact that they believe more readily what they see, than what they hear of, and have not tried. God wills that some men should choose external poverty, because the life is well-pleasing to Him, and that they may have much fruit amongst the common people, who cannot understand poverty of spirit, because they are so full of care, and who regard outward poverty as the most excellent state. It teaches and moves them to turn from their own most sinful life and to repent.
Those who love external poverty, and exercise themselves therein, are sometimes richly endowed by God with spiritual riches within. No suffering vexes them outwardly, because they are so joyful in spirit. Some think it almost an impossibility, when they hear that they ought to turn from these delights. They consider that external poverty is of small account; they think more of inner poverty, because they really love themselves too well, and act thus that they may be able to follow the dictates of nature, while they think or imagine that they wish to serve God in pure joyfulness. This is verily and indeed true of those who, not having been compelled and urged from within, flee from outward poverty; thus they are constantly deceived and become very dangerous people. But those who have tasted it, and who strive to live in pain and who go straight on in their course, in true resignation, will find it much more painful than the other course could ever have been; and, had they the strength of ten men, they would find it useful. It is necessary that they should eat and drink well, so that they may not suffer from headache; for our nature is not so strong and powerful as it used to be; and they cannot follow, both in the outer and inner way, without especial grace from God. But let him who is admonished by God to take the first way, walk in it with the help of God; and then, doubtless, help will be given him for the other, so that he can turn to it with all his might, and thus follow on in both. But if he cannot follow on in both, let him keep to the second for the present, and let him destroy and kill his sins only, and not his nature. He, who is not called to the first, should turn and pray for the second, that he may fear God in his own state of life; for with God there is no respect of persons, but He loves and is well-pleased with all who fear Him and are pious.
Now, may the merciful God help us to serve Him in such a righteous life, forsaking our sins and all the lusts of the flesh, and the sweetness of spirituality, that we may attain to true poverty of spirit. All sorts and conditions of men are called hereto. First and foremost the clergy, and especially the priests, as is shown by the life of John the Baptist, who led a hard and strict life, and deprived himself outwardly of all that he could possibly give up. He also possessed true poverty of spirit, that is deep and true humility, despising the body, and holding himself of no repute in comparison with the Lord Jesus; for he said: "The latchet of Whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose." He also said: "I ought to be baptized by Thee, and comest Thou to me?" Thus it was quite evident that he was despised and rejected of men; for Christ tells us that, because he ate and drank so little, some of them said: "He hath a devil." And at last it came to pass, that for the truth's sake he was beheaded in the dungeon, and thus murdered secretly, just as though he did not belong to God; for he had no visible spiritual consolations, but he suffered death patiently. This is also shown in the life of the holy Pope Gregory, who has less comfort in the inner and outer man from all his riches and honour, than a hermit has in his cell. This is also proved to all women and laymen by the example of our Blessed Lady, who had no temporal consolations. And Christ is our Example above all, for He was outwardly poor, and still poorer in spirit; and, from the Manger to the Cross, He never experienced any comfort. Thus all His disciples and Saints have followed after Him, each one in his hard and suffering life, according to his power, and as God has decreed. God grant that we also may attain to this, and may come to a perfect life. Amen.