Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Poor in the Spirit

Talking about holiness, when I read the Gospel last night, I was struck by the first verse of this Gospel: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). This verse is really powerful, I think that’s the reason why this verse is put in the beginning of the beatitudes by Matthew.

Poor in the spirit. This is the key of holiness. Often people think that holiness is a matter of being morally good. That’s why if we see people with a very calm appearance, we call them holy. If you are wearing the Carmelite habit, while the other brothers don’t, they will call you: “Hmmmm, soooo holy!” If you see people praying rosary, walking around the corridor, you say that man is so holy. Is that holiness? It COULD be, but it not always is.

Unfortunately, in the stories of the saints, I hardly read the struggle that they did in gaining the holiness, I mean their struggle with their sinful selves. It's almost always depicted that the saints win over sins or live a sinless life without any problem. It looks more like a fairy tale and it's not down to earth. For children it could be good, but for the ones who are serious in their spiritual life, it does not give any complete picture of what a holiness is.

We tend to see the artificial holiness, but we don’t see deeper. Jesus sees deeper, He sees holiness in the sinners' life. It is a shock for us. How can be a sinner is a holy person at once? That’s why Jesus told a story about the Pharisees and the tax collector that came to pray in the synagogue. The Pharisee sits in the front row and than God for he does not steal, commit adultery, or be criminal, but rather he fasts, does many holy things. But the tax collector’s prayer is simple and humble: “Lord, I’m a sinner, have mercy on me.” And Jesus prefers the tax collector’s prayer than the Pharisee’s. That is the prayer of the holy man.

Holy man is the man of the poor spirit. Holy man is a man who knows deeply that he is a sinner. Holy man is a man who knows that he is weak, unable to do holy things, then he is aware that the only thing that he can do is just surrender to God’s grace and let God do whatever He wants to do. St. Paul is really aware of it, that is why he said that he’s just a fragile pottery carrying the most valuable treasure and said: “I live, but no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” He is really aware that everything great that he did was not his work, but the work of Christ. St. Therese shared this kind of holiness in her sick bed when she said: “Oh! How happy I am to see myself imperfect and to be in need of God’s mercy so much even at the moment of my death.” How deep and how humble she was. And how holy she was!