We Sisters sometimes remark, “We take a vow of poverty, but it’s lay people who live it.” My poverty is not obvious at all. I live in a well-appointed apartment with a gorgeous view of the sky and forest, plenty of delicious meals are available, any health problems are taken care of, I have more than enough clothes, and sufficient money is at my disposal to cover my needs. Granted, I can still live poorly by wearing out clothing, curbing my appetite, not wasting water or other things.
Basically, though, I am not poor, but comfortably middle class—a far cry from Jesus who didn’t even have his own home or money to pay his taxes! My situation could make me feel guilty. St. Teresa of Calcutta has a remedy for this. She posed a plan to practice poverty in psychological ways.
True humility is a form of poverty. It entails forgoing a bloated ego, heaping up attention and praise that are only “fool’s gold.” Being humble could be more difficult and more painful than sleeping on a park bench or eating food that’s been thrown away. In a homily on the Feast of All Saints, Pope Francis said, “Meekness is the attitude of those who have nothing to lose because their only wealth is God.” Here are some of the practices St. Teresa recommends along with my own comments:
• Speak as little as possible about oneself. (Ask others question about themselves and be patient in listening to their stories.)
• Avoid curiosity. (I really don’t need to know everything about everything…or everyone.)
• Do not meddle in the affairs of others. (Unless, of course, we are invited to, or can really help)
• Accept contradictions with good humor. (After all, you may be wrong.)
• Do not focus on the faults of others. (Hard to do. But it’s said that what irks us most about others is probably our own fault too.)
• Accept reproach, even if misunderstood. (Our first urge is to defend ourselves. Better to let others do it for us.)
• Yield to the will of others. (Let them choose, although you may know (or think) your idea is better.)
• Accept feeling uncared for, forgotten, despised. (In this way you can identify with Jesus.)
• Be courteous and sensitive, even if someone provokes you. (Be a lady or a gentleman.)
• Do not try to be admired and loved. (Watch that your actions are not motivated by the thought that someone will think well of you.)
• Do not stand on one’s dignity. (If you are in a high place, look up not down. Don’t impose your will on someone just because you can.)
• Yield in arguments even if one is right. (This is tough but is a way to keep friends and relatives.)
• Always choose what is most difficult. (This will make you stronger and build character.)
I would add these:
• Serve others rather than expecting to be served.
• Allow others be first and to choose the best.
All of these actions require a self-emptying and whittle away at pride. They result in a “poor” soul that will someday shine with glory in heaven. You might use this list as an examination of conscience at the end of the day.
• Which recommendation do you find hardest to carry out?