“BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT …….” A faith sharing reflection on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. on the theme of the International Day for Families 2011 May 15, “Confronting family poverty and social exclusion.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…….” These words struck a chord with the parish Bible sharing team that had been developing small reflection sheets for use by the various groups as well as families at home.
“The beatitudes are a good source for reflection. Everyone knows them.” Agnes said.
“Yes but what do they mean to us, in our different groups and different types of life situations?” Tony added. As Justice and Peace rep he was more into poverty issues than most.
“Surely it is about spiritual poverty too, not just material poverty?” The religious education coordinator added.
“Does Jesus really want us to be poor or is it all back-to-front? Are we saying poverty is good?”
Fr Ray gathered their thoughts together. “Mother Teresa spent her life working for the poorest of the poor, but she also spoke of the poverty in relationships, the lack of love in homes and society. Those are certainly not good, nor are hungry people. Our parish is very mixed with some pretty wealthy people but mostly middle-class working people, though some have lost their jobs. There are poor, even poor migrant people, and on the fringe there is the informal settlement. I don’t see many people from there coming to church, but they might feel too embarrassed. Let us use this reflection to try to bring everyone in touch with one another or at least with their own views on poverty. Hearing from others might help them grow in greater understanding of the Beatitudes as the teaching of Jesus about the Spirit of the Kingdom.”
The team set out to prepare a simple set of questions for reflection, sharing and discussion, with a reminder too that after reflecting sharing requires openness in speaking and acceptance of people’s thoughts and feelings without comment. Discussion can be more robust.
Groups started working. The Justice and Peace team had done their own reflection on poverty, using Catholic Social Teaching, and stressing the Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” They could see that people understood but somehow they found that it did not seem to touch people’s hearts. Were they, the not so poor, feeling too challenged and the poor resentful towards others? The Family team was sensitive to this aspect.
A simple format was developed that would ask people to look into their own lives. A passage from the bible and prayer would bring God into the picture too.
1. What do you have to be thankful for? What brings you joy in your family? In other areas of your life?
2. How do you experience any lacks in your life? What makes you distant from God? Ask for forgiveness and healing as appropriate.
3. Think about the graces you may need for the way forward and ask God to grant you these.
In families and groups people reflected and shared their own stories.
James shared how grateful he felt towards his mother. As a sickly child, often out of school, he had few friends and felt emotionally poor. But she had always been there encouraging him. That had made him choose a career where he could help others.
One grandmother shared how thankful she was for the memories of their early years on their farm when all the family would really be together. They were forced to sell and she still found that difficult.”I feel poorer in many ways now,” she said.
Thabo too shared memories of farm life. As poor farm workers this was a very different version, but still one where their extended family had been around and children had enjoyed their carefree days.
Stephen also spoke of emotional as well as material poverty which resulted from losing his job. His gratitude was for the way his wife had stood by him even though she had the better job and how together they worked out that he could care for the children.
Martha, a refugee from the time of the genocide in Rwanda, spoke of her own experience and also referred to the lives of other refugee people. Losing husbands, wives, children and older family members, losing one’s house and possessions, possibly being raped or abused are enormously traumatic. She concluded, “I did not lose hope and although we were materially destitute I am grateful that there were people of faith along the way who supported me. My children are now doing well, and I love my little granddaughter, even though she is half South African,” she added with a smile, “and I pray all the time for peace in the world.”
Many thoughts went through all their minds as they listened to one another. Material success of one member of an extended family is a challenge. Do we share enough even within the family? Do we share material goods as well as time, talents and real concern for one another?
As the sharing went around there was sadness, disappointment and frustration at the lacks they experienced but gratitude too for what they did have. Materially there was unemployment and some complained of poor service delivery that contributes to keeping people in poverty. Many families lack cohesion and unity and poor discipline does result in poorer relationships. HIV/AIDS had led to illness, financial insecurity and death for some. A child grant is no way out of poverty for teenagers, nor is abortion. They agreed that education, not just for good jobs, but for good relationships is an absolute must.
In spite of deep concern about the level of poverty there was also an amazing degree of acceptance, of faith, hope and trust in God’s providence. “Is this what being spiritually poor is really all about?” the group leader asked. “When all is said and done, for me the key is love. Just think how the love in a family makes people really sacrifice for one another. What mothers, and fathers too, and grandparents as well, do for their kids is wonderful. What siblings do for one another is sometimes amazing, but at other times so sad. I do believe that love is home-grown. If I was really able to love and care for others as I love and care for my own family I would be one of those who Jesus says is happy or blessed. Come to think of it I would love Jesus, and love as Jesus loves. That is what he asks of us. If we could all just develop that attitude could we not beat world poverty? Could we not make the kingdom of heaven come a little closer here on earth?”
That was the message on Sunday that Fr Ray too gave the whole congregation. He said, “During this particular time we are considering the topic “FAMILIES AND LIFE.” “FAMILIES CONFRONTING POVERTY” is a topic for our reflection on the UN International Day for Families 2011. We, in our families, do confront poverty in different ways and should do so even more, but we also rely on outside resources which is good and necessary.
The words of Jesus, “blessed are the poor in spirit” are a challenge. Is Jesus saying poverty is good? Then why are we fighting it all the time? Is there a conflict between the idea of confronting poverty and being poor in spirit? Is it not a question of balance? Is the happiness of the spiritually poor not in having the attitude of acceptance and gratitude for what we do have, rather than constantly spending much of our time and energy wanting more?
And yet, most beautifully, I believe the fact that God has built into us this great ability to love and care for one another as families and so value life, underlies all this and can make us confront poverty as well as work for that balance in our own homes. Will that love and our love for God and our neighbour be the energy that can drive the struggle against the abject poverty in the world? This should not be the condition of so many other families in our world. Please God, love will be that driving force, and then the kingdom of heaven will truly be yours.”
Use this story as a basis and spend some time to reflect and answer the questions in the story for yourself.
Read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 and in Luke 6:20-26 together. Principles of Catholic Social Teaching include the “preferential option for the poor” and working towards “the common good.’
Share in families or small groups on your responses to the questions, to the Scripture passages and your own views about poverty.
Discuss the issue of poverty more deeply. Finally consider possible action that could be taken and end with some moments of prayer focusing on all aspects of poverty in families and society as a whole.
Toni Rowland, MARFAM