FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
Humility is the virtue of the first beatitude (cf. Mt 5:3). St. Leo the Great writes: “The Lord did not say, “Blessed the poor… By saying blessed the poor in spirit he wishes to help us understand that the Kingdom of God will be of those who have merited more by the humility of their souls than by lack of goods.” Blessed are the poor in spirit, or “How blessed are those who know their need of God.”
Spiritual poverty and povertyin spirit signify substantially the same thing, that is, affective poverty: having a pure heart, the heart of a trusting, gentle, humble child before God. Spiritual poverty is a condition of discipleship for all Christians. Poverty in spirit entails detachment that enables us to be totally attached to God through Jesus in the Spirit. Detachment requires two things: first, living soberly, with a simple lifestyle; second, sharing something of what we have with those who do not have. Spiritual poverty means leaving everything for Christ. St. Teresa of Kolkata writes: “It cannot be nor should there be wasting, squandering things when there are human beings who long even for the kind sound of a human voice.”
Poverty in spirit means spiritual childhood, that is, to be childlike, like children: “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:4). The poet sings: “Vuélveme a la edad bendita / en que vivir es soñar” – “Return me to the blessed age / where to live is to dream.” The saints are dreamers. Those who truly believe in hope are dreamers – tomorrow, in our future, God will perform the miracle of our lives!
Jesus Christ, our savior and our brother, introduces to us his Father, who is also our Father. God is our Father: “Call no one your father on earth, since you have only one Father, who is in heaven” (Mt 23:9); “Go to my brethren and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17). “In the Old Testament, God is called Father 11 times, while in the New, 261 times;of these, 167 by his Son” (José María Cabodevilla, The Prodigal Son).
An outstanding example of spiritual childhood is St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who writes in her Story of the Soul: “God is tenderer than a mother.” Strictly speaking, God is neither father nor mother; neither masculine nor feminine: “He is beyond our language; God is always ‘the Other,’ who is beyond our shortsightedness” (S. Fuster).
How wonderful: “Certainly, it would be the same to call him Mother than Father, to say that God is Father or to say that God is Mother.” “May He bless us; may She enlighten us. May He help us, may She be with us.” He is “the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.” Is He not also the God of Sarah, of Rebecca and of Rachel?” “May He give us understanding! May She give us memory” (José María Cabodevilla).
We are children of God the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit. “If you do not become like children…” The two key words of our life are filiation and fraternity.
After hearing the missionary speak about God as Father, the American Indian Chief said to him:
“You said that God is your Father, did you not?”
“You said that God is also my Father, did you not?”
“Then, you and I are brothers.”
And the Indian and the missionary embraced each other” (from W. Barclay).
If we wish to progress by the path of spiritual childhood,two vices to avoid and conquer are infantilism, or childishness, and self-sufficiency. We have to pass, according to Cabodevilla, from the first childhood to a mature age, and from this to a second childhood. What is then the real meaning of childhood? Above all, childhood means impotence, fragility and vulnerability that imply the need to be close to the strong one, to our omnipotent and merciful Father. Spiritual childhood inclines us to believe that God is in charge. To be a child of God implies to make God manifest in our lives by fraternal love (cf. 1 Jn 3:10).
Just before dying, St. Therese explained the meaning of spiritual childhood in a rich summary: “It means to recognize our own nothingness, to expect everything from God like a child expects everything from his father. To be small means not to attribute to oneself the virtues that one practices – as if one were capable of anything – but to recognize that God puts this treasure in the hands of the small child.” It involves also, according to Therese, “To lend small services without counting them.” She speaks of the daily martyrdom of “the little pins.”
The Kingdom of God belongs to children, to those who are like children: humble, obedient, trustful. Trustful: respectful of authority; confidence in others; having a “short memory” (W. Barclay). The child lives the moment to the full. Likewise, we focus on the present, on the now, on this moment – just like a child. Indeed, our “life is a series of moments either lived or lost” (Buddhist saying).
Spiritual childhood impels us to live the present with full intensity! “Spiritual childhood is to live with full intensity the present – like the child – who is happy because his entire spirit is consecrated to what is actual” (J. M. Cabodevilla, La impaciencia de Job). As we have heard often, “yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, and today is the present – a gift of God.”
Jesus speaks to us: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 18:3). What does this mean? A theologian answers thus: This means that “we will not know God as Father and we will not be happy” (O. González de Cardedal, Root of Hope).