Man’s Aversion to Poverty
Throughout history, there have been many explanations of the existence of poverty. Poverty is sometimes seen as the just wrath of God for a particular people’s sinfulness. Some see the poor as parasites seeking a free ride on the productive class. Some see poverty as a failing of human society to provide the means and opportunities for the poor.
Regardless of the reason poverty exists, modern man has a great aversion to poverty. Governments focus on economic growth and social safety nets, seeking to win the “war on poverty”. Vast taxes are collected and redistributed and charitable organizations plead for money to give to the poor. Many people battle against poverty by feeding the poor, going on mission trips or volunteering in homeless shelters. There is a hope that somehow poverty can somehow be eradicated like a disease, reduced or at least conveniently kept out of plain sight to reduce the guilt of the prosperous.
Instead of poverty, the modern culture embraces a wholesale pursuit of over-the-top material prosperity. In the secular society, lives are mortgaged to the hilt in order to consume like the prosperous, to support an unsupportable level of consumption. Every appetite is catered to in “supersize” fashion, be it the amount of food consumed, the size and finish of homes lived in, the cars driven, the entertainment and thrills pursued, the alcohol and drugs consumed or the pornography viewed. In some religious movements, a “prosperity gospel” is excitedly preached, a false belief that God’s whole point of creating humans is so they can be materially prosperous; the idea of “abundance” is twisted into irrational materialism.
Clearly, the modern world has an insatiable ambition for prosperity and an fearful aversion to poverty.
Jesus Christ’s Gospel of Poverty
In stark contrast, Jesus Christ, in the Incarnation, fully embraces poverty.
Rather then coming in material riches worthy of God, Jesus wholly embraces poverty. Stooping from the unimaginable infinity of His Divinity, God takes on the limiting poverty of humanity in the Incarnation. Jesus stoops to the lowest entry point of humanity, bypassing earthly riches and power, coming as a helpless child born to a young woman and an earthly father who is a “backwoods” carpenter. Jesus, the God of the Universe, allows Himself to be further bound in swaddling clothing, helpless and poor. His early life is spent on the run as a refugee in Egypt.
When He launches His public ministry, Jesus lives a life that embraces poverty. After His baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness, living as a starving person might, without food for forty days. He lives the life of a poor itinerate preacher, walking on foot for thousands of miles and often sleeping outdoors. He lives with the poor, heals the poorest of the poor, the blind, the lame, the lepers and the possessed. He lives like the homeless, saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8:20). Jesus tells the rich young man to give away all his possessions and to follow Him (Luke 18:22). He applauds the destitute widow who, even in her poverty, gives a penny to the Jewish treasury (Mark 12:42-44). Prior to Holy week, Jesus spends time in Bethany (from the Aramaic, meaning “The House of Poverty”). Jesus dies like a common criminal, stripped bare, beaten and hung on the Cross and watches the soldiers gamble for His robe, His one material possession (John 19:23-24).
There can be no denying that Jesus Christ embraces poverty and that “poverty” is one of the core messages in the Gospel; Jesus preaches a Gospel of Poverty. Jesus comes to “preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). “Jesus shares the life of the poor, from the cradle to the cross, He experiences hunger, thirst and privation” (CCC 544).
Jesus Christ, in His Divine Genius, identifies and becomes the very embodiment of His Gospel message through His embrace of poverty.
What Jesus Teaches – The Point of His Poverty
How do we reconcile the great abundance of life that Jesus promises with His purposeful embrace of poverty?
The definition of poverty – Poverty comes from the Latin, pauper “poor,” perhaps a compound of paucus “little” and parare “to get”. In the Beatitudes, the word “poor” comes from the Aramaic word ányâ (or Hebrew ani) meaning, “bent down, afflicted, miserable”. Those in poverty get little, are bent down, afflicted and miserable.
Mankind must realize its complete dependence on God – The first words of Jesus’ first sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) are:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). In this phrase, Jesus articulates both man’s helpless state and the foundational motivation that man must seek salvation. We are all paupers, “bent over”, “getting little” and “afflicted” in a life that is only material, for we all suffer pain, illness and eventually death. When we acknowledge “the spirit”, that we are more then material, we must also acknowledge that we are trivial paupers compared to our awesome God. Jesus teaches that those who accept that God exists and that all humans have a radical dependence on God, are the “poor in spirit”. In this realization of spiritual poverty, man opens himself up to the Salvation of Christ in the promise of heaven. “The kingdom belongs to the poor and lowly, which means those who have accepted it with their humble hearts” (CCC 544).
Idolizing wealth draws mankind away from God – Over and over, Jesus makes it clear that the idolization and pursuit of wealth leads to death. He teaches that, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). Christ teaches that we must “practice the virtue of temperance, so as to moderate attachment to the world’s goods” (CCC 2407). He tells us, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24).
Jesus’ poverty inspires us to love the poor – In His complete embrace of poverty, Jesus Christ becomes poverty. “Jesus was born in a humble stable, into a poor family. Humble shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. In this poverty, heaven’s glory was made manifest” (CCC 525). He identifies with the poor, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (Matt 25:45). “The Lord asks us to love as He does…and [to love] the poor as Christ Himself” (CCC 1825). We are to serve “the poor and suffering, in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder” (CCC 786). Jesus teaches that all people, even the poorest of the poor, are worthy of respect and are worthy of love. If we are to love and follow Jesus Christ, we must love the poverty of Jesus Christ and we must love those whom Jesus Christ loved: the poor.
Jesus’ example of poverty prepares us to be disciples – In life, there is hardship and in being disciples we must be prepared for pain. Jesus teaches, “by His poverty He calls us to accept freely the privation and persecutions that may come our way” (CCC 520). “All Christ’s faithful are to live with the ‘spirit of evangelical poverty’” (CCC 2546). As the Body of the Christ, each of us in the Church are “urged on by the Spirit of Christ [and] must walk the road Christ himself walked, a way of poverty and obedience” (CCC852).
The words and acts of Jesus compel us to serve the poor – Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:32-46) that man’s ultimate fate is decided by how they respond to His call to serve the poor. “Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guest, for the sick and the poor.” (CCC 2405). “God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them.” (CCC 2443). But we must also seek to serve the poor, by meeting their spiritual starvation: “When the poor have the good news preached to them it is a sign of Christ’s presence.” (CCC 2443).
In poverty, all men are dependent on the Eucharist – The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith (CCC 1324). At the core of Jesus’ genius of the Eucharist is the truth that all men are beggars, paupers, starving before God. In the Prodigal Son, the Prodigal, starving after wasting his inheritance and becoming a pauper competing with swine for food, returns to his father and a feast of the fatted calf (Luke 15:11-32). “The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To Receive in Truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren.” (CCC 1397). All men are starving, hungry because of the emptiness of life without God. All men are spiritually in poverty, spiritually starving. All men need a Savior, all men need to be fed with bread from heaven. In the miracles of feeding the masses and in the establishing of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Jesus drives home the point that all men are ultimately dependent on the Bread of Life for their salvation from spiritual desolation.
The term, “heresy”, comes from Latin and Greek words, meaning, “school of thought” and “to seize, choice”. The Church teaches that “heresy” refers to teachings that are in obstinate denial of the Truth of Jesus Christ as taught by the Catholic Church (CCC 2089). The first heretic, Satan, taught Adam the “Original Heresy” which promised that Man could be “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5).
Today, the world has a contagion of false teachings and teachers, supporting heresies of the past (e.g. the child sacrifice of abortion, the perversion of homosexual behavior, false idols, New Age Gnosticism, false Christianities, secularism, etc.). Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), is at the center of these false “schools of thought” that encourage the “choice” to revolt against the Truth of Jesus Christ.
The Church, still guided by Jesus Christ the Divine Rabbi, is in a time of renewal and return to the true teachings of Jesus Christ as evidenced the call to learn of Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time), the publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the call for the New Evangelization. (more…)
Men seek heroes
God has created men by nature and vocation with a natural desire for Himself (CCC 44) and men can only find happiness in God (CCC 27). But men become lost as they seek God due to ignorance and sin (CCC 397). Realizing real dangers in the world and the God-implanted understanding of the need for salvation, men aspire to heroic deeds and seek courageous heroes to protect and lead them through the challenges of life. The desire and need for true heroes is perennial in the hearts of men across time and cultures.
From an early age, boys naturally seek heroes. They look up to their fathers, older boys and other men as role models and as defenders/protectors. Boys are intrigued by the heroic deeds of fictional characters (e.g. Superheroes in movies, TV and books, videogame heroes, sports heroes, etc.). Boys admire and seek those with heroic virtues.
When grown, men continue to seek heroes. Some continue on with the fictional heroes of youth, trading comic books for the action/superheroes and celebrities in the media. Most men also look up to heroes in real life. Many follow and celebrate sports teams and athletes. Others admire and follow politicians, social activists or business leaders. Still others look up to and follow real life heroes in the military (e.g. medal of honor winners), religion (e.g. saints) and people who perform extraordinary deeds in the face of tough challenges (e.g. 911 responders, those who battle life-challenging illnesses, etc.). All men, in some way, desire to be heroes and to associate themselves with heroic leaders.
Men fall for false heroes
Many men are confused about the definition and true nature of heroism. Heroism is confused with celebrity. Heroism is confused with self-serving athleticism, political opportunists, charlatans who deceive, “anti-heroes” or outright scoundrels. The meaning of the word “hero” has been dumbed down to the point of being almost meaningless. Doing an Internet search for websites, news articles or images provides ample evidence of the misuse of the word “hero”. Heroism is associated with movie stardom, video games (e.g. Guitar Hero), relatively routine athletic accomplishments and even a sandwich. Sadly, many of the real life men who masquerade as heroes, fail, and fail spectacularly.
The Definition of “Hero”
The word “hero” comes from the Latin, hero, meaning, “defender, protector” and “to save, deliver, preserve, protect.” Closely related is the word, “Savior” which comes from the Latin, salvatorem, meaning “one who delivers or rescues from peril” or “heals.” Modern definitions of the word “hero” provide other characteristics of a hero. A hero: faces danger or adversity with courage; sacrifices self for the greater good of humanity; displays moral excellence”; “ is placed high above his fellows.”
Jesus – The True Hero
Jesus is infinitely higher above all other heroes – He is the Son of God; there can be no hero that compares. Heroes come and go, but only Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. No hero, except Jesus, was anticipated for thousands of years before His birth and remains a hero two millennia after His death (and Resurrection).
He physically protects people on earth – He saves the Disciples who are in fear of drowning (Luke 8:22-25). He stands up to the bloodthirsty mob that is going to stone the adulterous woman (John 7:53-8:11). He protects the disciples from the violent legion when He is taken in the Garden (John 18:8). He is the ultimate protector.
Jesus is the perfect demonstration of virtue – He demonstrates prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude and charity with perfection that no man has met, or can ever, match.
He heals people from sickness, madness and death – Jesus healed the multitudes of every illness and raises them from the dead.
He stands for Truth against falsehood – Repeatedly, He confronts the Pharisees and the Sadducees and corrects their falsehoods, despite their collusion to kill Him. He refuses to yield to Pilate, even as Pilate threatens Him with death. Jesus is Truth itself (John 14:6).
Jesus defeats man’s greatest foe, Satan – There is no greater enemy of man than Satan. Jesus defeats Satan (1 John 3:8) when tempted in the Wilderness (Matt 4:10), by casting out demons (Matt 8:28-34), and by using the Satan-inspired evil of Judas (Luke 22:3) for the Glory of the Cross and Resurrection (CCC 2853 ). He defeats Satan on his home turf (Hell) when Jesus descends to offer His “redemptive works to all men of all times and all places…” (CCC 634). Only Jesus delivers us from evil.
He defeats man’s greatest scourge, Sin – He saves people from sin (CCC 2854). For example, He tells the sinful woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”(Luke 7:50).
He sacrifices Himself for others – Jesus makes an infinite sacrifice, for His life is of infinite value and he gives it for the sins of all mankind. He chooses a horrible death freely (John 10:18), saying, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).
He offers salvation for all mankind – His Name means “God saves” (CCC 430) and it is only the name of Jesus that can actually save (Acts 4:12). “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption comes to us above all through the blood of His cross…” (CCC 517). “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). “For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
He is recognized as a Savior during His life on earth – The Samaritans profess, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42).