Monday, February 15, 2010

Value of Poverty #3 and 4

This brings me to the last post on the more theological or general parts of the book. I'm quite relieved! Certainly I'm no expert on that part of it, either by being a theologian or a saint.

By the way, 3 more bags of stuff for the thrift store (videos, toys and clothes) and another bag of trash -- bringing us to 42 bags total! So I guess we've met the goal. There are also about 16 boxes of books destined to leave the house -- my husband got rid of a bunch and I found a bunch more than what I discarded about a year ago. Those will leave more slowly as we find "homes" for them. I like to sell books that have resale value (if I can't find a good home for them for gratis, since not many people in our area are interested in our literary treasures) because it gives a higher chance for them to find a home where they can be used rather than ending up in a landfill. Books deserve that kind of care whenever they can get them, and Father Dubay acknowledges that possession of books means something different than possession of, well, whatever isn't as cool as books. But I think we still have too many -- it makes for confusion rather than love.

The scale is 2 boxes = 1 bag. So I'm counting those as shadows of 50. That is, when they actually leave the house I'll be up to 50. Soon I'll make another pass through the house where I hope to cut a little closer into things that aren't just deadweight but that might actually hurt a bit. Surprisingly, all these 50 bags are more a relief than anything else to get rid of but I'm sure I'll eventually hit the Wall.

I'm doing the 3rd and 4th values together because at first they sounded identical to me and even though now I can see the distinction they still seem quite closely related.

They are:

Value #3: Apostolic Credibility
Value #4: Pilgrim Witness

But first, to review. Poverty itself doesn't have a value. It may have a sort of paradoxical value in that people who lack earthly goods are said by God to receive these things, whereas those who have too many good things and don't use them well are held responsible and will have them taken away.

But Father Dubay is talking less about those who have less, those who are already very poor, and more about those who have surplus -- that is, those that could give some or many things up without cutting into their necessities. He is talking about why one would want to or should give up some of the excess one has (and even, sometimes, some things we actually need, if we see someone more needy than we are).

So, for these people:

#1 Voluntary poverty lets us become more empty so that we can be filled with better things.
#2 Voluntary poverty lets us live sparingly so that we can share with others who are more needy than we are.

And now,

#3 Voluntary poverty gives us a kind of integrity -- unity between what we truly are inside, what we profess, and how we live. This way of life speaks more loudly than words.

#4 Voluntary poverty is a witness, a testimony -- to the fact that we consider ourselves wayfarers or pilgrims. ... people on a journey.

As far as apostolic credibility goes -- Jesus told the apostles to take only what they needed, when they went to go and tell everyone the good news. I think one reason for this was that when we have a lot of "stuff" around us we lose our "other" -oriented focus. We miss signals. We try to let our "things" speak for us rather than just ourselves. People pick up on that, even if it isn't obvious, and it works against simplicity and transparency. These things are extremely important if we want to be like Jesus. Needless to add, an ostentatious display of poverty wars against simplicity and Jesus talks about that too, in the Ash Wednesday readings -- he calls those people "hypocrites". We want the poverty to give us freedom, not lock us in chains of pride and self-righteousness. Father Dubay says that what we are, the integrity of our life with our words, is evident to people by its presence or lack. No one likes a hypocrite -- neither the kind that preaches poverty while living richly, OR the kind that makes a big display of poverty as if he was better than everybody else, because that is not making the message beautiful and appealing, either.

As far as the pilgrim witness -- Augustine says (chapter 4, On Christian Doctrine):

Suppose, then, we were wanderers in a strange country, and could not live happily away from our fatherland, and that we felt wretched in our wandering, and wishing to put an end to our misery, determined to return home. We find, however, that we must make use of some mode of conveyance, either by land or water, in order to reach that fatherland where our enjoyment is to commence. But the beauty of the country through which we pass, and the very pleasure of the motion, charm our hearts, and turning these things which we ought to use into objects of enjoyment, we become unwilling to hasten the end of our journey; and becoming engrossed in a factitious delight, our thoughts are diverted from that home whose delights would make us truly happy. Such is a picture of our condition in this life of mortality. We have wandered far from God; and if we wish to return to our Father's home, this world must be used, not enjoyed, that so the invisible things of God may be clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,--that is, that by means of what is material and temporary we may lay hold upon that which is spiritual and eternal.
If we "see", no matter how dimly, that our destination is beyond this world, we won't let ourselves settle in too thoroughly, and we won't be too preoccupied with making ourselves secure and comfortable here. Jesus calls that "storing up treasures on earth." Of course, we won't ignore the misery of others either, because unalleviated misery is hard for all but the truly heroic to bear, especially if it is contrasted with the surplus of those who say they care.

Or this is what I understand the message to be. Remember my disclaimer about my lameness! Certainly I do not consider myself a credible apostle or pilgrim witness. Much construction underway here! But I think Father Dubay is right that these are things every professed Christian should be dwelling on quite seriously. In some ways it's a relief to think about it. It gives some clarity. So though I've found this tough going, I think it's helped and for that reason has been worth it. So the next posts will bring us onto Father Dubay's more practical applications of this message.


  1. So much good stuff here.

    I keep trying to craft a response, but I'm hungry and it just isn't working. :)

    I tend to get caught up in where to properly draw the line, since I do have a family to care for. I pare down my own clothes, but is it wrong that they have a nice selection in their closet? And books all over the shelves, and toys? And a house that is more than a hut?

    I also wonder about the society we live in - I could give all my family's stuff away and live in a hut, and social services would come and take my family away! Even if I did much less than that, if I am forcing my children into "voluntary" poverty, is anyone in this commercialised USA going to want to follow me and see Christ in it?

    I'll be interested in your thoughts on Fr. Dubay's "practical" side - I'm all about practical! :)

  2. I have the same questions, Amy! I am a total beginner. I have rarely thought about all these things.... just assuming that since we were on the poorer side and don't have a whole lot of expensive frivolities, that we were "covered". Learning along the way...


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!