A year more austere

| Liz Kelly | January 30, 2020 | 0 Comments

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A colleague of mine recently returned to the U.S. after serving along with his family as missionaries in some of the poorest parts of the world. Their commitment to give away everything they had and follow Jesus into a life of poverty and service was a sincere and moving one.

I’ll never forget a comment made by his wife while they were still living in India. “We try to give everything away and follow Christ,” she said, “but that’s really hard. I’ll never be as poor as the truly poor.” She went on to list an American passport, an education and health care among some of her possessions that would always set her apart from those she served.

Transitioning back to one of the wealthiest countries in the world, this beautiful young family has worked to maintain a spirit of poverty. Smiling, my colleague remarked, “It’s incredible how much you don’t need.”

A few months later I was boxing up old clothes to be given away, and my heart sank as the words of this faithful young couple kept ringing in my ears: amazing how much you don’t need, you’ll never be as poor as the truly poor. My husband and I live a very simple life. We have modest salaries, a tiny rented house and are generally inclined to save rather than to spend. And there’s nothing wrong with wealth, of course. Some of God’s favorites were wildly wealthy.

But while boxing up that clothing, with some items still having price tags on them, my heart felt rancid with the stupidity and waste that is self-preoccupation and the ridiculous poison that is avarice.

I decided I would commit myself to greater austerity, refraining from the purchase of any clothes for at least the next year. (If I suddenly drop 80 pounds, I may have to adjust this commitment, but that seems unlikely.)

Still, that’s the easy part. The more difficult part is taking the money I would have spent on clothing and giving it away.

My best friend from Alaska, the one who taught me to love God’s word, demonstrated this principle faithfully. We would — when occasion called for it — fast together over various petitions.

I still remember her meeting me for “lunch” on our fasting days. We would spend the time reading God’s word and praying together.

That’s the other half of any mortification: donation. We don’t just fast for fasting’s sake, but rather fill that time we might have spent eating with more prayer, nourishing ourselves with God’s word. Fasting of any variety intends to create more space for loving and serving the Lord.

And so it must be with my more austere year. I don’t just put down clothes shopping without putting something holier in its place. And I don’t get to keep the money I might have spent on clothing or the whole enterprise is for naught.

A few months into my clothes-acquiring fast, I confess I’m surprised at the relief it has brought on the one hand, and on the other, a weighty, uncomfortable and ever-present knowledge of the poor. Even as I write this, my brother is visiting a leper colony in India. The poor are always with us.

But how will I be with them?

Jesus, your word is clear and challenging: To be perfect, we must sell our possessions and give the money to the poor (Mt 19:21). Forgive me the many times I have ignored the poor. Give me better eyes to see their need and to know how to use my resources in such a way that will please your generous heart and keep me focused on the treasures of heaven.

Kelly’s column typically runs in the Commentary section of The Catholic Spirit. She is the author of seven books, including the award-winning “Jesus Approaches” (2017) and the “Your Heart, His Home Prayer Companion” (2019). Visit her website at lizk.org.

Father Michael Van Sloun’s column “Faith Fundamentals” will not appear this month. Find his Eucharist series at TheCatholicSpirit.com.

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Category: Your Heart His Home