Thursday 28 February 2013

Poverty and love

The rich man in the gospel of today (Lk 16:19-31) is really a decent fellow, and even pleasant and likeable. He allows or tolerates this poor dirty beggar at the gate of his beautiful house. When he is in Hell, far from ranting and raving and being jealous, he politely asks for some small token of help. He knows Lazarus by name - and how many even of us religious would know by name the beggars who often sit at our gates and come to our doorsteps. And when help is not possible, he thinks of his brothers who might be helped.

So what was wrong? Why did this rich man deserve Hell? The only reason we are given is: "remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus."

What is Jesus telling us through this parable? What is he calling his followers to? And what is he calling us religious to, with our vow of poverty?

I have no straight answer to this. All I can do at this moment is to look at Jesus himself, which is what I find helpful to do when the meaning of a gospel passage remains obscure to me. Jesus, who though he was rich, made himself poor, so that we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9) - alluded to in the Salesian Constitutions 72, "Gospel significance of our poverty." Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality to God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself..." (Phil 2:6)

I find it wonderful to turn once again to the teaching of Benedict XVI, on this day when he lays down his Petrine ministry: Benedict who has taught us to see Jesus always as a revelation of God. Jesus' poverty, Jesus' self-emptying, is not merely a moral example for us. It is revelation of what God is, who God is. God who is infinite self-emptying in the love that is Trinity. God, for whom poverty is another name for love, and love another name for poverty.

So our poverty is deeply linked to love. It is not just deprivation. It is not just asceticism. It is not just good example. It is somehow the self-emptying, the utter thoughtfulness, the self-giving that is love.

So what am I called to do today? How am I called "to put on the mind of Christ"? How am I called to be poor today? And my gaze does not remain only with giving up, with renunciation, with money and things. It extends to all the areas of my life. I am called today to give up, to renounce, not out of a prudence that is really caution, certainly not out of resentment, but out of love. It is love that calls me to this particular renunciation, it is love that is this renunciation, and nothing else.

"A poverty that is not born of love is not a poverty to be desired, nor does it make us like God." (Jose Luis Plascencia)

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