“[Jesus] condemns the opinion of those who say that [happiness] consists in the abundance of exterior things: hence, he says, blessed are the poor, as though to say, the wealthy are not happy.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Ch. 5, L. 2 #405
What does it mean to be poor? This is a somewhat loaded question that can generate a great deal of discussion. But it is a good question. Perhaps our mind goes directly toward the absence of money, excessive debt, or homelessness. For others who have money and wealth, perhaps we are speaking more about loneliness, isolation, or honor.
Typically in our own thoughts we examine this question in an objective lens. We do not examine how we see ourselves as poor, but rather whether we actually are. The thrust of this particular beatitude has to do with a convergence of our self-understanding of poverty and the objective type of poverty we are speaking about. A poverty of spirit is a holy thing, because it is about both an objective and subjective reality. We are blessed not so much because we lack God, but ultimately that we realize we lack God. This is a type of poverty that illustrates wisdom, whereby we have come to comprehend our need for God over and above what earthly goods we possess or do not possess.
Our identity can be wrapped up like the rich man who is nameless except for that obsession of his defining him. Such a rich man could not see himself as lacking anything – he was so puffed up in what he possessed that he was unaware of the deeper sighs within his own soul that longed for union with God. The poor man who was free from the possible temptations and weight of riches was hungering for something more than money. He was hungering for the bread of life.
In the end, the point is, all of us are spiritually poor. We need to however feel this in our bones. We need to be in a place where, before God we are begging for Him and Him alone. This isn’t a type of begging that takes place timidly, but rather arises in us due to our confidence in His goodness, generosity, and love.
When is the last time that you prayed from every bone in your body? When there was a spirit of desperation, longing, and a cry that raised your body and soul up to God? This is spiritual poverty on display. It is not the pretense of being dramatic, but our subjective awareness becoming deeply attune to our longing for heaven, our longing for consummate unity with the Lord.
No soul in this life is at perfect rest; to consider one’s self to be perfectly at rest in this life is to remain unaware, and not poor in spirit. Let us therefore instill within ourselves an identity like Lazarus, as little beggars before a generous God. We are a child tugging on the fringe of Christ’s garment begging Him for a deeper relationship.
…blessed are the poor, i.e., the humble, who reckon themselves to be poor; for they are the truly humble who reckon themselves poor,
not only in external things, but even in interior things; I am a beggar and poor (Ps 40:17); on the other hand: ‘I am rich, and made wealthy and have need of nothing: and know not, that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked’(Rev 3:17).
St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Ch. 5. L. 2 #415