Pope Francis, in his Lenten Message, urges us to take on evangelical poverty. He quotes St. Paul (2 Cor 8:9) that Jesus took on poverty so that we might become rich. In this way, we can or have been set free from enslavement to sin, not by way of Christ’s riches, but by His poverty. He likens Jesus’ wealth to a child who feels loved and who loves his parents. A child, who lives this way, is truly wealthy. Just so, Jesus, knowing that He is loved by His Father and that He also loves His Father, lives in the trust and security of a wealth beyond all telling.
God’s wealth passes not through our wealth, but through our personal and communal poverty only if it is enlivened by the Holy Spirit. This kind of poverty is evangelical. It seems that this evangelical poverty is the solution to three kinds of destitution: material, moral and spiritual. Material destitution is what we generally call poverty. Poverty violates human dignity. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take a priority over the fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing. Lots of money is spent on lavish vacations, but why not a pilgrimage instead?
Moral destitution is slavery to vice and sin. So many of our young people have lost meaning in their lives by plunging into alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography. To many times they lose hope and commit suicide. This lifestyle invariably is linked to spiritual destitution because they turn away from God and reject His Love. (“If you love Me, keep My commandments.”)
The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of His message of mercy and hope. As difficult as it is to break from enslavement to sin, it can be done only through penance. Nothing is impossible for God if we sincerely use His Sacraments. It is our choice to end spiritual poverty. This Lent let us ask ourselves what we can give up, or perhaps do differently, in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.
In today’s reading from Genesis, God calls those who make an act of faith to obedience – even if it seems unreasonable. In reality, nothing that God asks us to do is unreasonable. Abraham is a case at point. According to Jewish tradition, little Abram was the son of an idol maker. His father gave him the job of feeding the idols. Being a smart kid, he thought it was a dumb thing to do because the little statues never ate what he brought so he smashed them. This did not go over well with the king, who probably was using them as a way of shaking down his people for cash by keeping them superstitious. So the king sentenced little Abram to death. Tradition has it that Abram was rescued by Archangel Gabriel. The family, however, had to move 600 miles from Ur, Iraq, to Haran, Syria, to keep him safe.
Abram became an accomplished inventor and astronomer. But most importantly, he is the first to worship the one true God and to promote monotheism. When Abram reaches 75, he is childless and living out his old age with friends. God then calls him to do the impossible. God promises him that he will be the father of a great nation. How can that be if he is childless at age 75? God tells him that all nations will find a blessing in him – even the Moslems. Abram is renamed by God to Abraham.
This denotes importance as a new person – something like Simon being called Peter or Saul being called Paul. This new name means the “Father of many nations.” God tells him to cut off most of his family ties and to move a great distance, in spite of his age, to a foreign land. God will even tell him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, whom he conceives at age 99.
Abraham’s obedience and faith in God have become a model for all ages. There is a Jewish expression, “May you be blessed as Abraham.” This is the highest sentiment a Jew can give to another. At the birth of John the Baptist, Zachariah says “This is the oath He promised to Abraham to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life.” Mary at the visitation to Elizabeth says, “For He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.” Elizabeth tells Mary, “Blessed is she who believed.” Mary, like Abraham, both obeyed God as an act of faith and experienced the impossible because God said it would be so. When we receive Holy Communion, we say, “Amen.” This means, I believe that I am receiving the Body of Christ, not really because I believe, but rather simply because God said it is so. In our spiritual destitution we can never be sure of what we believe, but at least we know, maybe not in our hearts, that God is always Truth.