Monday, December 10, 2012

Spiritual Poverty

This morning I came across a very interesting thought from Thomas Merton:

The life of Christ in the soul of the priest depends in large measure on the priest's attitude toward the "needy and the poor"- the materially poor, if he deals with them, or at heart, the spiritually underprivileged in the community where all are supposed to be materially poor together. ~December 12, 1952 (Journals, vol. 3, p. 7)

In my own ministry context I deal a lot with those that are materially poor, and most if the time it's fairly easy to have compassion and see how we're doing God's work by helping to meet their needs and hopefully empower them to come to a more stable place in their own lives.

I say "most of the time" because my compassion reserves are sometimes low on days when we get more requests for help than we have the resources to provide, or when I encounter people who are dishonest.

What I have a harder time with is seeing how we do the work of God amongst those who are "spiritually underprivileged", but aren't materially needy. I grew up in a very affluent community where people are actually cursed by their abundance. It's very easy to get angry at people's sense of entitlement and their materialistic outlook on life, especially at this time of year. My knee-jerk reaction is usually to think "yeah, you're the goat that's going to get the raw end of the deal one day".

But if Father Thomas is correct, and I believe he is, then the life of Christ is much more real inside of me if I am able to see those attitudes and behaviors as a sign of spiritual poverty. Even tougher than that is confronting my own spiritual poverty- I still live in Brentwood, after all, and even if I may not act on it as much as some of my neighbors, I covet things just as much as they do.

The challenge for me as a pastor, and for any Christian living in a consumer society, is to move past righteous indignation and speak loving truth to the spiritual poverty around us and in ourselves.