The poor are people who have nothing. They are like Steve Martin in The Jerk, only without the ash tray, or the paddle game, or the chair, etc., etc. The poor have nothing. But that doesn’t automatically make them blessed. After all, some of them might go day after day despising their poverty, filled up with bitterness. They could hate God for it, and if they died that day they might march sullenly right down to hell. Poverty itself is not good, or a cause for happiness.
The poor in spirit might technically own some things, but they know it isn’t really theirs. They know that it all comes from God. In other words, they are people who know they have nothing and who choose to trust in their heavenly Father.
A rich guy can be poor in spirit—St. Thomas More had a big household, the chancellorship, loads of British currency, even a pet monkey. But he was poor in spirit; he knew at all times that they were gifts given him from God. He always knew he was just renting, with no real ownership rights. He was at all times ready to give any or all of them up, as directed by the Holy Spirit. Eventually, Thomas was asked to give them all up, and so he did.
St. Francis of Assisi was a rich guy, too. He had it all,and, unlike Thomas, there was no earthly pressure to give it up. But he did…he dropped everything, literally, right in the middle of a legal proceeding with Mr. Bernardone watching and everything. But Francis could not have made that break with traditional society if he was not already poor—in spirit.
“It is the Spirit that gives life,” said Jesus, “The flesh is of no avail.” If “flesh” equals “material goods of any kind,” then I can easily see why I could pile on all the flesh I like and never be “blessed.” But by the same token, I can take away all the flesh I like, too, and if I’m not poor in spirit it won’t do me any good.
The whole thing turns on being humble—consciously knowing that everything we have comes from God, including mere existence. When things get taken away (as they must), like the waves running from the shore, I have to love God just as much as when the waves were up to my waist and I was happily splashing in the water. If God makes the waves of material goods flow away, he’s still God. He’s still Dad. When I have lots of things—plenty of food for the kids, a full tank of gas in the van, a bottle of wine waiting on the counter—I know that He’s a good Dad. When the things become rare…what? Did God turn evil? Nope. I love him. I love his will, because it’s always good, and it’s always moving me towards Him.
That, at least, is what I keep telling myself. It took me nearly 42 years to get to this point so, based on that rate, and factoring in a general decline in mental acuity and physical health, I calculate that I will be The Official Next St. Francis by 2074, barring some unforeseen capitulation to the Devil involving real estate in New Zealand and an offshore bank account.