What does it mean to be 'poor in spirit'?

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Q. One of the beatitudes in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Does that mean those simple-minded people who don't ask any questions? (Lake Monticello, Va.)

A. I like it when people ask me about the beatitudes because I don't think we focus enough on them. They are central to the lives of those who would try to follow Jesus.

If you were to ask Christians to name the Ten Commandments, most of us could list them; but if you asked those same Christians to list the Eight Beatitudes, we might not do as well. And yet the beatitudes are really the "Christian commandments."

Most of the Ten Commandments given to Moses directed people what not to do --- a sort of "least common denominator"; but the beatitudes tell us instead, in a positive way, what we should be spending our time doing -- acting as peacemakers, showing mercy, hungering for justice, etc.

But to answer your question: No, to be poor in spirit does not mean to be simple-minded and unquestioning. It means not being attached to a lavish lifestyle and material wealth as the goal of human existence; but even more, it signifies an attitude -- a conscious awareness of our need for God. We didn't create ourselves, nor do we sustain ourselves in being. God does that.

Once, some years ago, someone asked Billy Graham, with regard to this particular beatitude, "Shouldn't we strive to be rich in spirit, not poor?" And Graham suggested substituting in the text the word "humble" in place of "poor." We must not be self-satisfied or proud of heart, he said, but instead recognize our own dependency, our weaknesses and our need for God's continual forgiveness. 

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018