Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Love Conquers All

Jen has a thoughtful post that asks whether it's a problem that Christians in America aren't renowned for their austerity. Here's an expansion of the comment I posted there.

In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict, in examining the Beatitudes, meditates on the verse "Blessed are the poor". That's from Luke; Matthew's account says "Blessed are the poor in spirit". Benedict reflects on the tradition of poverty in the scriptures:
The poverty of which this tradition speaks is never a purely material phenomenon. Purely material poverty does not bring salvation, though of course those who are disadvantaged in this world may count on God's goodness in a particular way. But the heart of those who have nothing can be hardened, poisoned, evil -- interiorly full of greed for material things, forgetful of God, covetous of external possessions.

On the other hand, the poverty spoken of here is not a purely spiritual attitude either. Admittedly, not everyone is called to the radicalism with which so many true Christians -- from Anthony, father of monasticism, to Francis of Assisi, down to the exemplary poor of our era -- have lived and continue to live their poverty as a model for us. But, in order to be the community of Jesus' poor, the Church has constant need of the great ascetics. She needs the communities that follow them, living out poverty and simplicity so as to display to us the truth of the Beatitudes. She needs them to wake everyone up to the fact that possession is all about service, to contrast the culture of affluence with the culture of inner freedom, and thereby to create the conditions for social justice as well.
Benedict emphasizes the humility of the "poor ones of God":
These are people who do not flaunt their achievements before God. They do not stride into God's presence as if they were partners able to engage with him on an equal footing; they do not lay claim to a reward for what they have done. These are people who know that their poverty also has an interior dimension; they are lovers who simply want to let God bestow his gifts upon them and thereby to live in inner harmony with God's nature and word.
Being "poor in spirit" transcends the material to be a spiritual asceticism -- which does often find its expression in a material simplicity. Still, the hallmark of Christianity is not poverty or asceticism or austerity. At the Last Supper, after dismissing Judas (the disciple who rebuked the penitent woman for wasting perfume on Jesus instead of selling it and giving the money to the poor), Jesus gives a poignant last charge: "My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, 'Where I go you cannot come,' so now I say it to you. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn. 13:33-35).

Note the construction: "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Love is the prerequisite: all Christian life stems from that love.

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