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Happy are you poor. Really?

Popular or not, frugality in faith brings joy. Indeed, in the words of the Lord himself, it is a blessed condition (Lk 6:20). His teaching would rank at the bottom of the opinion polls, but unmistakably it is his teaching nonetheless

“Happy are you poor.” By all standards of this world these four words are intolerably false. They seem to be an insult to the billions of human beings at this moment enduring the slow, grinding torture of empty stomachs, cold nights, crawling vermin, lingering insecurity, gnawing idleness, premature death. The cynic on hearing this beatitude will offer his sneering response: “You who say this can never have been destitute. […] You are romanticizing tragedy. This moralizing soothes your guilty conscience. Happy are the poor….Indeed!”

The cynics response appears plausible, but its first flaw should be obvious. It fails to recognize that neither you nor I originated this beatitude. […] He who spoke it did know poverty from the inside. He was born in dire circumstances, and he died with absolutely nothing. In between times he chose to have no place to lay his head. He loved the poor, and he gravitated toward them. He was one of them. He was romanticizing nothing.

The second flaw flows from a failure to make a distinction between destitution and frugality. […]Jesus did not favor or promote destitution. Rather he demanded that his disciples do all they can to rub it out by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the ill and the imprisoned. Precisely because he did require a most liberal sharing of possessions did he promote personal frugality.

Yet for all these qualification we may not dilute the Master’s beatitude. Even the destitute, if they are loving persons, are in far happier circumstances than the tightfisted rich. […] Because they have no treasure here below, they are more likely to seek the ones that are above.

Our cynic’s final mistake is superficiality. […] Because in his view pleasure equals happiness and because comfort and pleasure demand money, the poor could not be happy. They have nothing with which to buy this desired condition.

—from Happy are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Fr. Thomas DuBay, Ch. 15: Happy Are You Poor



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