Husband & Wife Articles


The Richness of Spiritual Poverty

Lent is more than giving up; it’s handing ourselves over

By Jason Godin

Lent affords time to consider some of the poverty and richness in our world. Greater attention paid in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament may expose how sin has caused us to fall short of our baptismal call to discipleship. The spare Lenten liturgy (no Gloria and Alleluia!) may reflect some of the sad valleys we encounter as a father or spouse. Yet the hard road of Lent we climb ends at the pinnacle of Holy Week where the cross, historically an instrument of death, transforms into the tree of life in Christ.

The Gospel of Matthew recounts another mountain. It is there, in the Sermon on the Mount, that Jesus shares the Beatitudes, a call to discipleship that begins with spiritual poverty (Matt 5:3). What might the richness of that poverty look like, or what should it start to look like, in our own station in life as husbands and wives?

The Church calls for Christians to “direct their affections rightly, lest they be hindered in their pursuit of perfect charity” by “the use of worldly things” and “an adherence to riches” that stand “contrary to the spirit of evangelical poverty” (Lumen Gentium 42, 3). The Church seeks to realize a world defined by “an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2546). In other words, as she finds the call to aid peoples in material poverty, the Church also discovers in the first Beatitude a poverty that points to our necessary dependence on God, an essential ingredient for freeing ourselves from what makes us anxious or distracts us from virtue.

For husbands and wives, such spiritual poverty can take forms that may seem routine. It may include the right words to say to our daughter when she cries over her first breakup, the healing hand that bandages our son when he bangs his knee, or perhaps just standing by our spouse in solidarity during hard times. True Christian discipleship sees all such gifts as deposits made to be withdrawn and shared constantly. Initially, it may seem like a zero-sum bargain, in which we empty ourselves and get nothing in return. But that same emptiness fills our families and the world with a glimpse of the loving face of God. When seen in this way, the material world and earthly wealth become tools to achieve a higher goal of goodness. Life turns into living without fear, with a hope that the world cannot give, and with acts of charity done in public and in private. Spiritual poverty creates a supply that intersects with demand in a new way, where gifts bestowed by God allow us to bear witness to the true riches in Christ, within a culture that is consumed by the love of money.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, indeed. They won’t just inherit the kingdom of heaven after death, as Christ promises. In the meantime, in a life defined each day by emptying oneself through the many graces given by God, they will make us all the richer by lifting both our physical condition and inner spirit closer to the heart of God.

Jason Godin lives in College Station, Texas, with his wife and their two children. He teaches United States history.