VATICAN CITY – On Sunday Pope Francis said being poor in spirit doesn’t necessarily mean giving things up, but instead is rooted in humility and openness to others – an attitude capable of overcoming polemics and division, and leading to greater fraternity.
“The poor in spirit is the Christian who doesn’t rely on oneself, on material riches, who doesn’t insist on their own opinions, but listens with respect and willingly defers to others’ decisions,” the Pope said Jan. 29.
“If in our community there were more (people who are) poor in spirit, there would be less divisions, conflicts and polemics!” he said, adding that like charity, humility is “an essential virtue for living in Christian communities.”
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address, which this week was attended by roughly 25,000 people, according to the Vatican police. Among attendees were 3,000 youth from Catholic Action in Rome, who participated as part of their annual “Caravan of Peace” event.
They were invited to join Francis at his window in the Vatican’s apostolic palace, where they read aloud a message for peace, specifically geared toward youth.
In his speech before leading pilgrims in the prayer, the Pope pointed to the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, which recounts the Beatitudes.
The speech, which begins “Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ is the ‘magna carta’ of the New Testament,” Francis said, explaining that while Jesus illustrates God’s closeness to the poor and oppressed through the Beatitudes, he does it by following a specific path.
Jesus, he noted, begins by using the word “blessed,” in this case meaning “happiness,” before outlining the conditions needed to obtain it and finally making a promise.
The reason for the Beatitudes, he said, “is not in the conditions requested” such as being poor in spirit, afflicted, hungry for justice or persecuted, but rather is “the promise that follows, to welcome with faith as a gift from God.”
By starting his speech listing conditions of disadvantage, Jesus leads his audience toward openness to God and to the possibility of entering “a new world,” he said, explaining that the process isn’t “an automated mechanism, but a lifestyle of following the Lord.”
For the Lord, the reality of the downtrodden is seen “in a new perspective and expressed according to the conversion that is made,” the Pope said, adding that “one is not blessed if they aren’t converted.”
Turning specifically to the Beatitude of “blessed are the poor in spirit,” Pope Francis said the person who truly lives this is a person “that has assumed the feelings and attitudes of the poor ones (and) who in their condition don’t rebel, but know how to be humble, docile, available to God’s grace.”
He pointed to the “blessedness,” or happiness, of those who are poor in spirit, saying this has a double meaning, and refers to both material goods and to God.
When it comes to material goods, the Pope said this “poverty in spirit” is known as sobriety, which doesn’t necessarily mean “renouncing” one’s goods, but rather being capable of “tasting the essential, of sharing, capable of renewing each day the wonder for the goodness of things.”
Francis warned against the “haze of ravenous consumption,” which he said manifests itself in an attitude of “the more I have, the more I want: this is ravenous consumption. And this kills the spirit.”
“The men or women who do this…are not happy and won’t achieve happiness,” he said, noting that when it comes to God, this happiness is shown in “praise and the recognition that the world is a blessing and that its origin is the creative love of the Father.”
“But it’s also openness to him, docility to his lordship,” he said, explaining that in this sense, it is the poor who keep the goal of obtaining the Kingdom of God alive through a fraternal attitude within their communities “that favors sharing to possession.”
“Always have the heart and hands open, not closed,” he said, adding that when the heart is closed, “it’s a narrow heart: it doesn’t even know how to love. When the heart is open, it goes forward on the path of love.”
After leading pilgrims in praying the Angelus, Pope Francis gave a special greeting to the youth present from Catholic Action and assured of his closeness to all those suffering due to recent earthquakes in Italy.
He also noted that the day marked the World Day of Leprosy, saying “it’s important to fight against this disease, but also against the discriminations that it generates.”
“I encourage the many who are committed in relief and the social reintegration of people affected by leprosy, for whom we assure our prayer.”