The Catechetical Review - Communicating Christ for a New Evangelization

The Spiritual Life: Poverty, Purity of Heart, & Eucharistic Living

Authored by Sr. Alicia Torres, FE in Issue #10.1 of Catechetical Review

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This article is part of a series dedicated to promoting the efforts of the National Eucharistic Revival in the United States.

“The Body of Christ.” “Amen.” Each time we participate in Mass, we have the opportunity to encounter the Lord Jesus in the most intimate way through the reception of Holy Communion. This moment is the most practical and profound way we can live Jesus’ invitation to “abide in my love” (Jn 15:10) this side of heaven. Yet, this moment of communion is not solely about a personal bond with Jesus. The relationship with him—strengthened and nourished by the Eucharist—impels us to charity for our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable.

In this article, I want to reflect with you on two of the Beatitudes, allowing the witness and words of St. Francis of Assisi to help us understand how our inner life is transformed by the reception of Holy Communion. Flowing from that transformation, as “other Christs,” we are fortified to live lives of charity in action.

Gospel Poverty: Emptiness for the Sake of Fulfillment

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). Modern culture considers poverty something to be avoided at all costs, as it is antithetical to a major goal of secular life: success. However, men and women who desire to be rooted in the Gospel are challenged to see poverty differently. “Factual poverty embraced in faith does something to a person in the deep recesses of his being. It matures him, develops him, makes him receptive to what the Lord Jesus is about . . . One who is poor in and for the Lord is concretely affected by the Gospel . . . He is on God‘s wavelength.”[1]

This ideal of Gospel poverty is vastly different from destitution. To be destitute is not a virtue but rather an affront to human dignity. Destitution should elicit a response to relieve those who are suffering. In contrast, Gospel poverty is a life patterned after the example of Jesus Christ, who “though he was rich, . . . became poor, so that by his poverty” all people may have access to eternal life (2 Cor 8:9). This poverty is marked by a sparing, sharing lifestyle that is proper to one’s state in life. Of all the literature available to explain the Catholic understanding of Gospel poverty, Fr. Thomas Dubay, in his classic Happy Are You Poor, delivers clear and challenging insights into what such poverty entails both in fact and in spirit. Humility, detachment, a sparing/sharing use of resources, and witness to the kingdom: these marks lived out in particular ways according to one’s state in life are the living signs of the poverty into which Jesus invites us.[2] Truly, Gospel poverty entails a prudent and respectful use of the goods the Lord provides, a respect for creation and the Creator.[3] This prudent use of goods frees our hearts to be ready to receive all that the Lord desires to give; a cluttered heart has no room for the things of the Lord.

A Preeminent Witness of Gospel Poverty

Among the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) who inspire us to live the Gospel, St. Francis of Assisi stands out in his witness of both living poverty and serving the poor. In an undated text known as the Admonitions, St. Francis connects poverty with Incarnational Christology as he expresses his devotion toward the Eucharist, the true source of our charity: “It is the Spirit of the Lord, therefore, that lives in Its faithful, that receives the Body and Blood of the Lord.”[4] Through these words, St. Francis offers the core of his understanding of poverty. It is only through the Spirit dwelling within the human person that the Lord Jesus can possibly enter in by way of the Eucharist. This is poverty; this is emptiness for the glory of God. Our poverty is so innate that we cannot even be in communion with the Lord without a response to his initiative, his action, his presence, his love. We are receptive, but only because he first is receptive—he accepts us. We are literally nothing without the Lord, who gives us existence and holds us in being. This is the heart of St. Francis’ poverty.

This reality of our nothingness is directly connected to St. Francis’ understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation, especially as expressed in the Christological hymn of St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians (Phil 2:6–8). “Francis came to a profound understanding of kenosis or emptying: that radical exterior poverty (complete renunciation of material security) comes from interior or spiritual poverty (attitude of the heart); that spiritual poverty is a relationship with Christ and not a negating force: a balancing process (so to speak) of emptying oneself so that the person of Christ could fully dwell within.”[5] Notice how for St. Francis, there is always a connection between poverty and the heart, which always leads to the goal of union through, with, and in Christ: espousal to the Beloved.

Purity of Heart: The Key to Metanoia

How is it that we cultivate a disposition of receptivity toward God? The Sermon on the Mount continues to give us the answer. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). What does Jesus mean by this purity of heart? It is an attitude of the heart that keeps the Lord at the center. The “pure in heart” are “those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (CCC 2518). Purity of heart is an integral preference for the mind of God, for holiness, for perfection in charity. Furthermore, purity of heart is required for the Beatific Vision.[6] Like Gospel poverty, purity of heart is not an option but a requirement for those who desire to enter into the fullness of Trinitarian Life.

I have lived the Franciscan life for over 13 years now. Each day begins with the Mass and ends in Eucharistic Adoration. In between, we encounter so many people longing for food, clothing, shelter, and love. I’ll never forget the day a few children who had participated in our summer Bible camp brought a bunch of friends over. During camp, we had prayed in our church and told them about why the tabernacle is so special. On the aforementioned day, the front lawn of the rectory was filled with children, jumping up and down to look in the window. “God lives in that gold box!!!” their leader proudly exclaimed over and over. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8).

In The Later Rule, St. Francis reflects on the condition of those whose hearts are pure: “Moreover, I admonish and exhort the brothers . . . to beware of all pride, vainglory, envy and greed, of care and solicitude for the things of this world, of detraction and murmuring . . . . (they should) desire above all else: to have the Spirit of the Lord and Its holy activity, to pray always to Him with a pure heart.”[7] Notice how St. Francis begins by listing what is antithetical to poverty and then establishes the highest goal, to have the very Spirit of the Lord and to pray, to be in relationship with God through the grace of a pure heart. This is really a call to conversion, to μετανοια (metanoia): a true change of mind and heart. As the things of the world fade away, one acquires the Spirit of the Lord and cultivates a spirit of receptivity.[8]

Restoration of the Imago Dei and Communio

Curiously enough, this reflection lends itself to the whole point of the Incarnation—the restoration of the imago Dei, which had been diminished due to sin.[9] Receptivity comes from the Latin recipero, which means to get or obtain again, to regain, to recover.[10] Purity of heart is an attitude of receptivity toward the Lord; it is the development of an encounter with Jesus, which leads to gratitude. The word “Eucharist” literally means “thanksgiving.” Receptivity is directed toward a restoration of man’s true identity, patterned after the imago Dei. The human heart must grow to make room; the heart must be emptied to be filled by the true Beloved, Jesus Christ.

The reality of Christ in the Eucharist was for St. Francis the living Incarnation that fostered his desire for espousal with the Lord. What is this sacrament of divine love if not the paradoxical intermingling of abject poverty and perfect purity of heart? St Francis can’t help but sing his praises:

O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers, look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves, that you may be exalted by Him! Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally![11]

The reality of the Eucharist is as timeless as St. Francis’s own words. Christ’s kenosis (self-emptying), meant for all people of every historical time, is all about receptivity: “look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him!”[12] Emptiness for the sake of receptivity is where the worlds of poverty and purity of heart collide. The human person is left forever changed by the profound mystery of Christ’s unfailing love.

Sacramentum Caritatas: Restoring All Things in Christ

Jesus Christ—who lay in a manger, who died on the Cross, and who is present to us in the Eucharist—is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He invites us to know him and be known by him, but the only way of truly knowing is by uniting ourselves with his sacrifice. As we gaze upon the Eucharistic Christ lifted high for all to see, he makes himself known and beckons us to enter in. “Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is Yours, for ever and ever.”[13] This is the mysterium fidei, the source and summit from which our identity flows, establishing the restoration of all things in Christ.

When I bend to that preference of Christ to be poor, to be emptied, to have a posture of receptivity, then I begin to live like Jesus. When I seek first and foremost the face of God by allowing my heart to be free of clutter, I begin to see his face in those around me. As I allow my perception of Holy Communion—indeed, the sacrament of charity—to transform me little by little, the love of Christ grows within me, and I cannot help but turn outward in loving service of those in need.

Sr. Alicia Torres, FE, is a member of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago (www.franciscansoftheeucharistofchicago.com/)  She earned a BA in theology at Loyola University Chicago, a Master of Divinity at Mundelein Seminary, and a Master of Arts in teaching from Dominican University in River Forest. Since July 2021, she’s served on the executive team of the National Eucharistic Revival and is the managing editor of Heart of the Revival” newsletter and producer of The Pulse. Information on both the revival newsletter and The Pulse may be found at www.eucharisticrevival.org.

Notes


[1] Thomas Dubay, S.M., Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 56.

[2] Ibid., 54–61, 62–72, 81–88

[3] Ibid, 102–12.

[4] Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J.A. Wayne Hellmann, O.F.M. Conv., and William J. Short, O.F.M., eds., Francis of Assisi: Early Documents: The Saint (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1999), 129.

[5] Lyn M. Scheuring, Paradox of Poverty: Francis of Assisi and John of the Cross, Studies in Franciscanism (Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press, 2001), 39.

[6] The Beatific Vision refers to that final consummation attained by the human person in eternity through union with the Trinity. There is also thought that Beatific Vision not only refers to literally seeing God but also seeing as he sees.

[7] Armstrong, Hellmann, and Short, eds., 105.

[8] Kajetan Esser, O.F.M., "The Definitive Rule of the Friars Minor: An in-depth study in light of recent research," Roundtable of Franciscan Research 34: 1-2 (Spring/Summer 1969), 58.

[9] See Gen 1–3. In the first Creation account (Gen 1), man is created in the image of God, the imago Dei; in Gen 3, sin enters into the world and man’s relationship with God is severed—the imago Dei is diminished in the human person.

[10] Charlton T. Lewis, A Latin Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 1532.

[11] Armstrong, Hellmann, and Short, eds., 118.

[12] Ibid.

[13] The Roman Missal (New Jersey: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2011), 495.

This article originally appeared on pages 9-11 of the printed edition.

Art credit: Paul Kagame, Flickr.com, Creative Commons License


This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting [email protected]

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