Thursday, March 04, 2010

Spiritual Poverty and Youth

As Pope Benedict notes in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, the Beatitudes are paradoxes, a transformation of worldly values, which bring hope and joy amidst affliction and hardship. The Beatitudes are words of both promise and spiritual direction, indicating the way of conversion and reform of life – teaching how to love God and one another and thereby be a light of truth to the world.

The first of the Beatitudes says -- "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"

What does this mean?

The “poor in spirit” are not those who are spiritually deficient, but are those who humbly are in need of God, who are detached from worldly things and rely on Him, unlike those who have no want or need for God. These latter people are "rich in spirit," thinking that they already have everything they need spiritually, such that they have no need for, or want of God. The "rich in spirit" think they know it all, whereas the "poor in spirit" admit to themselves that they do not know everything, and that they are in need of God very much.

This is a concept that even children should be able to grasp. Most children know other children who are pushy know-it-alls who don't think that they need to or should listen to mom and dad or to their teachers. And they know that these other arrogant kids are fools. On the other hand, those kids who admit to themselves that they are still just kids, that they don't have all the answers, and that they are very much in need of mom and dad, as well as their teachers and other grown-ups, it is they who are blessed.

They are blessed because, in their humility, they are willing and able to listen to their parents and teachers, and be taken care of by them, and prosper, which are a kind of symbolic "kingdom of heaven." Conversely, the kid who knows everything and runs away from home because he thinks he doesn't need his parents, ends up being cursed, not blessed.

What is true regarding kids and their parents on earth is true regarding kids and their Parent in heaven. If they are blessed by their admitting that they are dependent upon mom and dad, how much more will they be blessed in admitting that they are dependent upon God.

However, teaching the faith to young people can be a challenge if only because the faith is about salvation -- be saved from something bad -- and many youths often have never been in a position to know hardship, much less to think about things like death.

It is one thing to go up to an adult who has know misery and say, "I have 'good news' for you, Jesus will deliver you from your misery." It is quite another thing to try to explain that to a child or teenager who has never known want, but has been fed, clothed, sheltered, and loved their entire lives.

So, teaching the faith to them can be a challenge, including the Beatitudes. But in addition to analogizing the blessings of spiritual poverty to the blessings one has from his dependence upon his parents, we should remember that, as stated above, the Beatitudes are paradoxes, a transformation of worldly values, which bring hope and joy amidst affliction and hardship.

Perhaps some young people have personally known hardship, if they have not, then perhaps they have at least witnessed the hardship of others. For example, perhaps they are aware of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, so you can have them empathize with the victims and imagine being in their place.

Reflecting on the Beatitudes in such situations can be occasions of hope, as well as a teachable moment. The Beatitudes about being "poor in spirit," mournful, and merciful would all seem to apply here. And the lesson is this --

Do not despair in times of hardship and suffering. Rather, have hope by putting your trust in God (be poor of spirit).

When everything is gone, when your home is destroyed and you have nothing left, put your trust in God, who will never abandon you. If you do that, if you put your spiritual reliance on Him, then He will save you, He will give you an entire kingdom to replace your destroyed home. Maybe not in this life, but if you humbly recognize that you need Him above all things, and you depend upon Him spiritually, God will bring you to a place where there is no more want, no more tears.

Youth should know that, if ever they encounter hardship themselves, they have no need to worry, no need to cry, if they humbly love and trust in God. If they are poor in spirit, they kingdom of heaven is theirs.

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