Johannes Baptist Metz on poverty of spirit

‘In poverty of spirit we learn to accept ourselves as beings who do not belong to ourselves. It is not a virtue that one “acquires”; as such, it could easily turn into a personal possession that would challenge our authentic poverty. We truly “possess” this radical poverty only when we forget ourselves and look the other way. As Jesus put it: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the reign of God” (Lk. 9:62). To look back for reassurance is to try to acquire possession and full control over this virtue, which amounts to losing it.

Poverty can never be isolated from the roots of existence and laid hold of. It is thoroughgoing interiority. It is the concentrated commitment of all our capabilities and powers. It cannot be viewed abstractly; it must involve total personal dedication. Like truth, it must be lived (cf. 1 Jn. 1:16) from the depth of our heart, where our existence is unified and were our act of self-acceptance is unified and harmonized with our conscious presence to Being.

The fulfilled ones are the ones who dare to forget themselves and offer up their heart. “The one who loves his or her life loses it, and the one who hates his or her life in this world will keep it for eternal life (Jn. 12:25). To be able to surrender oneself and become “poor” is, in biblical theology, to be with God, to find one’s hidden nature in God; in short, it is “heaven”.

To stick to oneself and to serve one’s own interests is to be damned; it is “hell.” Here we discover, only too late, that the tabernacle of self is empty and barren. For we can only find ourselves and truly love ourselves through the poverty of an immolated heart’.

– Johannes Baptist Metz, Poverty of Spirit (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1998), 31–2.

One comment

  1. i’ve always thought that such virtues are a horrible and disfigured caricature when driven by a need to impress or in some other manufactured. the true secret of such deepening virtue is a prayerfully broken Christocentric life that can’t help but overflow into every other aspect of our lives…if there is any aspect that is other to that relationship.


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