by Saint Alphonsus Liguori


Patience in Poverty.

In the second place, we must practice patience in the endurance of poverty. Our patience is certainly very much tried when we are in need of temporal goods. St. Augustine said: "He that has not God, has nothing; he that has God, has all." [Serm. 85. E. B.] He who possesses God, and remains united to His blessed will, finds every good. Witness St. Francis, barefooted, clad in sackcloth, and deprived of all things, yet happier than all the monarchs of the world, by simply repeating, "My God and my all." A poor man is properly he that has not what he desires; but he that desires nothing, and is contented with his poverty, is in fact very rich. Of such St. Paul says: Having nothing, yet possessing all things! [2 Cor. vi. 10.] The true lovers of God have nothing, and yet have everything; since, when temporal goods fail them, they exclaim: "My Jesus, Thou alone art sufficient for me;" and with this they rest satisfied. Not only did the Saints maintain patience in poverty, but sought to be despoiled of all, in order to live detached from all, and united with God alone. If we have not courage enough to renounce all worldly goods, at all events let us be contented with that state of life in which God has placed us; let our solicitude be not for earthly goods, but for those of Paradise, which are immeasurably greater, and last forever; and let us be fully persuaded of what St. Teresa says "The less we have here, the more we shall have there." [Found. ch. 14.]

St. Bonaventure said that temporal goods were nothing more than a sort of bird-lime to hinder the soul from flying to God. And St. John Climacus [Scala sp. gr. 17.] said, that poverty, or the contrary, is a path which leads to God free of all hindrances. Our Lord Himself said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. [Matt. v. 3.] In the other Beatitudes, the Heaven of the life to come is promised to the meek and to the clean of heart; but to the poor, Heaven (that is, heavenly joy) is promised even in this life: theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Yes, for even in the present life the poor enjoy a foretaste of Paradise. By the poor in spirit are meant those who are not merely poor in earthly goods, but who do not so much as desire them; who, having enough to clothe and feed them, live contented, according to the advice of the Apostle: But having food, and wherewith to be covered, with these we are  content. [1 Tim. vi. 8.] Oh, blessed poverty (exclaimed St. Laurence Justinian), which possesses nothing and fears nothing; she is ever joyous and ever in abundance, since she turns every inconvenience into advantage for the soul. [De Disc. mon. c. 2.] St. Bernard said: "The avaricious man hungers after earthly things as a beggar, the poor man despises them as a lord." [In Cant. s. 21.] The miser is always hungry as a beggar, because he is never satiated with the possessions he desires; the poor man, on the contrary, despises them all as a rich lord, inasmuch as he desires nothing.

One day Jesus Christ thus spoke to the Blessed Angela of Foligno: "If poverty were not of great excellence, I would not have chosen it for myself, nor have bequeathed it to my elect." And, in fact, the Saints, seeing Jesus poor, had therefore a great affection for poverty. St. Paul says, that the desire of growing rich is a snare of Satan, by which he has wrought the ruin of innumerable souls: They that will become rich, fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition. [1 Tim. vi. 9.] Unhappy beings who, for the sake of vile creatures of earth, forfeit an infinite good, which is God! St. Basil the Martyr was quite in the right, when the Emperor Licinius proposed to make him the chief among his priests, if he would renounce Jesus Christ; he was right, I say, to reply: "Tell the emperor, that were he to give me his whole kingdom, he would not give me as much as he would rob me of, by depriving me of God."
[Boll. April 26, Act. n. 11.]

Let us be content then with God, and with those things which He gives us, rejoicing in our poverty, when we stand in need of something we desire, and have it not; for herein consists our merit. "Not poverty," says St. Bernard, "but the love of poverty, is reckoned a virtue." [Epist. 100.] Many are poor, but from not loving their poverty, they merit nothing; therefore St. Bernard says, that the virtue of poverty consists not in being poor, but in the love of poverty.

This love of poverty should be especially practiced by religious who have made the vow of poverty. "Many religious," says the same St. Bernard, "wish to be poor; but on the condition of wanting for nothing." [In Adv. D. s. 4.] "Thus," says St. Francis de Sales, "they wish for the honor of poverty, but not the inconveniences of poverty." [Introd. ch. 16.] To such persons is applicable the saying of the Blessed Salomea, a nun of St. Clare: "That religious shall be a laughing-stock to Angels and to men, who pretends to be poor, and yet murmurs when she is in want of something." Good religious act differently; they love their poverty above all riches. The daughter of the Emperor Maximilian II, a discalced nun of St. Clare, called Sister Margaret of the Cross, appeared on one occasion before her brother, the Archduke Albert, in a patched-up habit, who evinced some astonishment, as if it were unbecoming her noble birth; but she made him this answer: "My brother, I am more content with this torn garment than all monarchs with their purple robes." St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi said: "O happy religious! who, detached from all by means of holy poverty, can say, The Lord is the portion of my inheritance. [Ps. xv. 5.] "My God, Thou art my portion and all my good." [Cepar. c. 22.] St. Teresa, having received a large alms from a certain merchant, sent him word that his name was written in the Book of Life, and that, in token of this he should lose all his possessions; and the merchant actually failed, and remained in poverty till death. St. Aloysius Gonzaga said that there could be no surer sign that a person is numbered among the elect, than to see him fearing God, and at the same time undergoing crosses and tribulations in this life.

The bereavement of relatives and friends by death belongs also, in some measure, to holy poverty; and in this we must especially practice patience. Some people, at the loss of a parent or friend, can find no rest; they shut themselves up to weep in their chamber, and giving free vent to their sorrow, become insupportable to all around them, by their want of patience. I would ask these persons, for whose gratification they thus lament and shed tears? For that of God? Certainly not; for God's will is, that they should be resigned to His dispensations. For that of the soul departed? By no means: if the soul be lost, she abhors both you and your tears; if she be saved, and already in Heaven, she would have you thank God on her part; if still in Purgatory, she craves the help of your prayers, and wishes you to bow with resignation to the Divine will, and to become a Saint, in order that she may one day enjoy your society in Paradise. Of what use, then, is all this weeping? On one occasion, the Venerable Father Joseph Caracciolo, the Theatine, was surrounded by his relatives, who were all bitterly lamenting the death of his brother, whereupon he said to them: " Come, come! let us keep these tears for a better purpose, to weep over the death of Jesus Christ, Who has been to us a father, a brother, and spouse, and Who died for love of us." On such occasions we must imitate Job, who, on hearing the news of the death of his sons, exclaimed, with full resignation to the Divine will, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away . . . God gave me my sons, and God hath taken them away. As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord; thirty years, had to pu-t up with much [Job, i. 21.] it hath pleased God that such things should happen, and so it pleaseth me; wherefore may He be blessed by me forever.