Now what is the truth of my real poverty? That I’m a creature. That’s the first truth to which I have to be open. And that is the one truth that is very difficult in our age to be open to because the natural propensity of our modern age is to say “I’m God.” Look at me, I’m going to the moon. I adore myself in all the shining machines. I am God. God is dead. I am God.” So the real poverty which to me is scriptural is that the first recognition is that I’m a creature. Now a creature means dependent, poor, certainly not God. And that, I think, is the great conflict in modern man.
I might be wrong, but I think we all desire this. Control of all around us. And we do not wish to be dependent on God. Those of us who are still Christian often just render lip service to Him.
When you go into the houses of men, you hear all the time, “I,” “I,” “I.” “I think,” “I will,” “I think we should do this,” “I think we should do that,” “I think we should do this,” “We think we should do this.” And nobody stops for a moment and says “Let’s pray to find out what God’s will is.”
Now what does that exactly mean? I could have a million and be poor because I’m wide open to the pain of the woman in India and wide open to the pain of everybody. I’m not insulated. I do not allow anything to stand between me and the world. I am utterly unafraid to be ridiculous, and I am totally unafraid to be a failure. Because I’m delighted to be ridiculous and a failure. There is no end to this inner poverty that God asks of you, because, once you get into that inner poverty, God help you. Where does it end? It will be 39 years this year since I’m in the Apostolate, and I still see God asking for more and more of this poverty.
The poverty of the will, the poverty of me, the very essence of me. Something that’s at the very belly button of me that doesn’t want to give up. It has nothing to do with money, with anything like that.
Catherine Doherty, Unpublished Talk, May 15, 1969
Reflection – I’m spending these days on the blog sharing some of the vintage Catherine Doherty material I gave to the seminarians in New York on their retreat last week.
She is speaking here at a spiritual depth that is hard to fathom for us simple folk. On the one level, it is quite simple – to have no recourse but to God, to have no desire but to seek and do God’s will, to be single minded and single hearted about that.
But the fact is, God’s will is for us to be living at this level of utter surrender, utter openness to the world, to the pain of our brothers and sisters, to the loss of everything (success, reputation), to live a life entirely uninsulated and unprotected from the ravages of the world.
So our efforts which might seem very simple and not terribly exciting to stop and say ‘what does God want?’ actually plunge us into a level of spiritual life that is, factually daunting for us. This is probably why very few people actually live this way in a sustained fashion. And why it’s hard to read someone like Catherine, who does not present these matters in any way that is comfortable or easy. She serves it up pretty plain and simple.
It is in this context that we can understand what she means when she says that ‘physical poverty is kindergarten stuff’. Indeed, faced with the absolute demands of love and the total loss of control and anything else that might make us feel secure in life, it is relatively easy to simply go about wearing rags and eating boiled potatoes. Physical austerity is not that difficult to get used to, and it can become just one more way of exerting control over one’s life, one more layer of self-protection that wards off the real demands of love: ‘look at how poor I am!’
But the real thing has nothing to do with money or clothes or potatoes, as Catherine says. It has to do with God and love and identification with humanity, with generosity and willingness to do anything He asks of us - down to the very belly button of my soul.
But, in the meantime, we are just little people trying to get through the day and its demands. But we can start by simply asking today that God’s will, not ours, be done, that God’s ways, not ours, be the ways we walk, and that we have the grace to love and serve as we can today. It may not be quite the heights and depths of love and surrender Catherine writes about, but it’s a start.