Franciscan Spirit Blog

Learning to Live Simply

The first beatitude Jesus declares is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi both preached Gospel (and literal) poverty. But in this opulent century, could you do it?

If we would be willing to voluntarily become a little poorer ourselves, we could help provide basic necessities for those who truly suffer from physical hunger, lack of work, and destitute living conditions. Are we willing to do that? Can we sacrifice some of what we take for granted in our own lifestyles to improve the lifestyles of others? In a world that encourages us to take all we can for ourselves, sacrifice is often seen as a distasteful and negative word. Yet, if we want to help the poor, we must embrace some personal sacrifice.

Sadly, we may be like the rich young man in the Gospel of Matthew (19:16-26). Jesus told this man, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor.” Scripture tells us the young man “went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

We, too, have many possessions. Will we eventually walk away sad from the message Pope Francis is teaching? Will we become bored with his simplicity and stop paying attention? A key word to remember in the story of the rich young man is the word perfect. Jesus told the young man, “If you wish to be perfect. . .” None of us can be perfect. Only God is perfect. But most of us can probably do better at loving and caring for the poor.

The strongest motivation for becoming poorer can be found in Our Lord’s teaching of the eight Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:3-12). The first beatitude Jesus declares is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Pope Francis used this first beatitude as the theme for his message for World Youth Day in 2014. He stressed that there are three ways we can be poor in spirit.

  • “Let us learn to be detached from possessiveness and from the idolatry of money and lavish spending. Let us put Jesus first.
  • “We have to learn to be on the side of the poor. . . . Let us go out to meet them, look into their eyes and listen to them.
  • “We have to learn from the wisdom of the poor. . . . They show us that people’s value is not measured by their possessions or how much money they have in the bank. . . . The most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold on to.”

Regardless of our own financial situation, we all can be poor in spirit. Being poor in spirit means realizing that God owns everything. We personally own no more than the beggar on the street. No matter what financial and material riches we may have accumulated in this life, if we are poor in spirit we claim no credit for what we have acquired. We see everything as a gift from God, entrusted to us for both our benefit and the benefit of the world.

We know we are not entitled to an overabundance while others live with crippling scarcity. We hear the call to share our gifts with those who do not have what they need. We are willing to give up some luxuries so we can share more with the poor of the world. We live in solidarity with them.


5 Tips for ‘Becoming Poorer’

1. Avoid being tempted by unsolicited advertising. Throw away consumeristic catalogs and ad fliers, without even looking at them. Their sole purpose is to make us think we need things we do not.

2. Cancel subscriptions to magazines that breed envy and discontent by constantly encouraging us to update our wardrobe, remodel our house, try the latest electronics, or purchase new sports gear.

3. Delete or unsubscribe to emails that offer limited-time bargains for things we were not planning to buy.

4. When tempted to buy more, stop and think, “How blessed I am that I do not need any of this!”

5. Seek out some of the many inspiring books and articles on voluntary simplicity.


5 Tips for ‘Giving More’

1. Spending less and adopting a simpler lifestyle does not automatically translate into giving more to the poor. We need to make a committed effort to expand our giving, or we will simply end up building a bigger bank account.

2. We can calculate what percentage of total income we give away by dividing annual charitable donations by total annual income. Thus, if one makes $50,000 a year and gives away $500, divide $500 by $50,000. Only one percent of the income was given away!  When we do the math, most of us are shocked by what a small percent we give away each year.

3. Keep in mind that sacred Scripture teaches us to give away at least 10 percent. If we are not yet giving a tithe, we should begin to add increased giving into our budget.

4. Plan our giving. It is helpful to pick five to 10 organizations that truly touch our hearts. Concentrate on giving to these organizations. Learn about their work. If possible, become personally—as well as financially—active and invested in their mission. We should be as abundantly generous as possible with both our time and our treasure to the special causes that match our Christian responsibilities and passions. Organizations to consider adopting might include your parish, your diocese, an organization that feeds the poor, an organization that provides Catholic education, or an organization that cares for the sick. When we do make financial gifts, strive to have every dollar go directly to the work of the organization.

5. Try making a direct sacrifice by giving up some specific luxury and donating the cost of that luxury to a special cause. If we are not able to support our chosen organizations as much as we would like now, consider making a bequest or planned gift.  Consult with an attorney about the options of leaving either designated amounts or percentage gifts to chosen charities.

This first appeared in St. Anthony Messenger.

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