The Perks of Poverty
by Rev. Matthew H. Paul Zuberbueler
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will life forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
As we look forward to the visit of Pope Francis to the United States, parishioners are frequently asking how they can see him or if there are tickets available. One altar boy asked if the Holy Father might be visiting our parish. While I have no access to tickets, a worthwhile suggestion might be to tell those who seek to see Pope Francis is that they should become poor. It is fascinating and edifying to see Pope Francis’ love for and attention to the poor. He seeks them out. They draw him.
The people listening to Jesus’ Eucharistic teaching in this Sunday’s Gospel murmur when He tells them that He has come down from heaven, that He is the bread of life. Their questions show that they don’t think it is proper or possible that what is from heaven also can be from their town, from among them, from poor parents, from their own lowly state (or lower). We know, however, that when God became man in the Incarnation, He associated Himself precisely with our lowliness. What could be more humble than for God to become one of us? Obviously, to choose the approachable and able-to-be-constantly-ignored lowliness of remaining really present in the Blessed Sacrament is more humble still.
If we desire to grow in our love for Jesus we will try to learn His ways. Notice how He draws for us an essential link between poverty and the wealth of His love. Join together these two sentences He spoke and try to pray about them: “The poor you have always with you.” (Jn 12:8) and “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20). Add to the prayer mix: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Mt 25:40). By prayer and reflection we can begin to see what Jesus has done and what He does now. We can learn so much when we ask the questions we have and when we actually let God answer: “Is it really worth it to spend time praying in church?” “How could God actually be in that host, in that monstrance, in that tabernacle?” “How can I do anything to help the poor?” Another key question that maybe we don’t think to ask is: “Am I poor?” When we find and accept our own poverty we will begin to see how God comes to us.
A very helpful passage from a very insightful and challenging book: “If we find ourselves in a malaise with God we do well to seek the company of a tabernacle. Those who know God more deeply come to know a recurring attraction for him in the Eucharist. They come to know as well their own poverty while praying before the Eucharist. His disguised appearance in the sacrament lifts the cover of poverty from their own soul. In the presence of His poverty, their own poverty no longer intimidates. They sense intuitively that it draws and even seduces His love.” In another place the same author says: “It should be no surprise that those who love prayer before the Eucharist are often drawn to the poor. Time spent with poor people is sometimes the door, as well, to being drawn to quiet time praying with the Eucharist. The concealment of God provokes the soul in both these mysteries.” (Contemplative Provocations, by Father Donald Haggerty, Ignatius Press, 2013).
It seems that Pope Francis is on to something. Is it just me or does Pope Francis mention the poor every time he speaks? Is it just me or is the way Pope Francis provokes responses and questions from anyone who hears him akin to the way Jesus taught? I admit that if the Pope’s motorcade were to make its way to this parish in September I would be nervous — honored but nervous. There are many poor people here … so maybe it could happen. Meanwhile, I’m thinking that a good alternative would be for you and me to acknowledge the poverty we all share and rejoice that Jesus, as found in the Gospels (and the sacraments), will meet us on the way when we discover that, in our need, the Father draws us.
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