Melanie Rigney reminds us that Jesus was poor and has a heart for the poor, like our own Pope Francis. Like the first followers of Christ who listened to him teach the Beatitudes, we attempt to see Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. They are all around us in the poor, homeless, prisoners and victims of discrimination who may thank us or spit on us.
In Blessed Are You; Finding Inspiration From Our Sisters in Faith, Melanie points out that Jesus saw a bigger picture: spiritual poverty – and that includes ours. On the cross he experienced surrendering everything from his mother, career and dignity to his life
Melanie writes that we find spiritual poverty “in humbling ourselves and working and living simply; in stripping ourselves of all the titles and possessions that give us pride; in finding the faith to set aside all the fears and paranoia that give us anxiety.” Why? So we can empty ourselves of all that stands between God and us. To accept spiritual poverty is to understand that all we need is God and thus begin to see the kingdom of heaven.” Then she introduces us to four women who experienced spiritual poverty in different ways.
Chiara Badano gives us an example of courage for the time we prepare to abandon the things and the people we love to join Christ in that final earthly farewell. This beautiful 16-year-old tennis player developed bone cancer in the1980s. Her special relationship with the Lord blossomed in the Focolare Movement (founded by Chiara Lubich), which emphasized Christ forsaken on the cross. Chiara Badano spent her illness offering her suffering to the forsaken Christ by gently helping others and preparing for heaven by planning every detail of her funeral. She was beautified in 2010. Chiara on spiritual poverty: ”If you want it, Jesus, so do I.”
Maria Faustina Kowalska teaches us single-mindedness. God desires us to continue down the path he lights, whether or not others think that is where we belong.
She experienced spiritual poverty through obedience. Her parents didn’t support her desire to be a nun. When she was nineteen, while at a dance with her sister, Jesus appeared to her. He told her to join a convent 85 miles away in Warsaw. She said good-bye to her sister and left on a train without seeing her parents or knowing anyone in Warsaw. Her spiritual poverty increased as many convents rejected her, then she had to work for a year to pay for her habit. From her visions of Jesus and dialog with him came the Divine Mercy image of Jesus, chaplet and Feast of Mercy – but not without physical and emotional suffering, rejection and persecution. Her writings were banned until Pope John Paul II reversed the ban. The fruit of her spiritual poverty is seen today as more than 100 million Catholics worldwide follow the Divine Mercy devotion.
Grace in ignominy
Jeanne Jugan, known as Mary of the Cross, teaches us to have the grace not to rise to the bait when others, especially those with power over us, angle to take credit for what we’ve done.
She worked as a kitchen maid, hospital nurse, servant and spinner. In her late forties, she took in a disabled elderly woman who was destitute. By fifty she bought a building to house forty people. Thus began the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose rule called for the sisters to beg door to door to restore dignity to the lives of those they served.
After she won an humanitarian award, a priest overrode her reelection as superior and put Jeanne to begging. When the rule was approved he ordered her back to the motherhouse, stripping her of her service to the poor, which she loved. She died without members of her congregation knowing about her.
It was 23 years before she was recognized as the founder. She was canonized in 2009. In more than thirty countries on six continents her sisters continue what her heroic humility began and endures through injustice. Jeanne on spiritual poverty: “It is so good to be poor, to have nothing, to depend on God for everything.”
Patience in unfair treatment
Germaine Cousin helps us learn not to obsess about slights and injustices. A disabled child whose mother died when she was an infant, Germaine suffered under her stepmother who treated her worse than a servant. All she had was her love for God and she shared it with whomever she could.
The miraculous incident that put Germaine into her rightful place in the family came with threat of punishment. The stepmother accused Germaine of stealing bread and hiding it in her apron. Germaine opened the apron on that winter day and revealed summer flowers, radiant and beautiful. But she preferred to stay in the barn. There she was found dead at 22, leaving a vivid legacy as an example of humble acceptance and embrace of spiritual poverty.
Germaine on spiritual poverty: “Dear God, please don’t let me be too hungry or too thirsty. Help me to please my mother. And help met to please you.”
Melanie takes us deeper with reflections putting us in circumstances similar to those of the saints but relevant to our lives. She adds abundant resources for us to get to know other sisters in the faith with the gift of spiritual poverty.
Next stop on the Blog Tour: Allison Gringas on Justice at Reconciled to You
Melanie Rigney is the author of Sisterhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration, and a contributor to Living Faith, a 650,000-circulation Catholic devotional. She writes weekly for Your Daily Tripod, A Catholic blog, and has a monthly newsletter. "Sisters and Friends: Refresh Your Soul with Melanie Rigney." Melanie has spoken at the National Catholic Women's Conference, as well as several of their regional gatherings: numerous parishes, bookstores, and diocesan events; and several Theology on Tap sessions.