Monday, August 11, 2014

The treasure that is found in poverty

The Beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount give different people different things.  To those who are in fact weeping, hungry and impoverished, it gives lots of hope.  Yet, to those who use logical thinking to analyse and clarify using the mind only, it gives mainly headaches.  Perhaps that is the real beauty of Jesus’ teachings – we know that many of them are heart teachings that require of us much more of an expansion of the heart than the workings of the mind alone.  Take the strange yet challenging teaching that ‘blessed are the poor’ which is found in a more succinct way in Luke’s Gospel than in Matthew, where there seems to be a tapering of intensity when he adds “in spirit”.  Whether we are physically poor, or come to God with a poverty of spirit, there is undoubtedly an extolling of poverty, which makes many of us uncomfortable.  I believe that Pope Francis’ desire for a ‘poor church’ does stem from an undiluted and clear understanding of the preference for poverty over riches, no matter how one chooses to define ‘riches’. 

Each year on August 10, the world celebrates the feast day of St Laurence the Martyr, one of the seven deacons of Rome who were in charge of the poor and needy in the city.  He served under Pope St. Sixtus who was killed for his faith in the early part of the second century.  The prefect of Rome at that time was a covetous pagan who demanded that the Church hand over their riches to him.  When St Laurence heard of his demand, he gathered the poor and the sick people whom the Church had been helping and supporting all along.  When confronted by the Prefect of Rome to fulfill his demands, St Laurence is said to have gestured to his poor and sick entourage declaring, “here – these are the riches treasures of the Church”.  Needless to say, this infuriated the Prefect and he ordered the execution of St Laurence by having him barbequed alive over a burning pit of coals. 

What this grisly story imparts is also a very real teaching of Jesus, of the Church and of what we know to be true despite what our constantly reasoning mind tells us.  There is something in poverty that teaches us and forms us from within, which riches and accumulation and being surrounded by great comforts simply cannot and will not.  Poverty, like experiencing major failures in life, seems to be able to open what I would call our ‘heart space’ where we truly begin to have our heartbeats beating in tandem with the heart of God, but only if we allow it to form us. 

I am thankful for a Church that is prophetic enough to put in her yearly liturgical calendar this feast of St Lawrence.  It serves many positive purposes as well as, valuable teaching to our generation, which seems to only see purpose and value in the healthy, fit, able-bodied and strong.  That the sick and the poor are seen in a totally different spectrum of values gives those of us who do not fall into that category much hope that God and his Church does not discard the marginalised, but instead, holds them in high regard – high enough to be called ‘treasures’.

Perhaps that could be the problem and the answer as well.  We have thus a need to constantly re-evaluate how we define what are real treasures in our lives, and separate them from the trinkets that dazzle and bewilder us.  Working with the poor and making them a regular feature in our ministerial outreach helps us to look anew at the ways we assess our values.  As in the parable that Jesus told, we have to be like the man who finds a treasure hidden in the field.  We will be fooling ourselves if we say that we have already found it and stop searching.  The Kingdom of God does not allow us to say with any finality that we have ‘found’ it because it is akin to saying that we have God figured out.  The wonder of this treasure is that it allows for a constant finding, because like God, his Kingdom is a constantly unfolding, wonderful mystery.


  1. i used to think what 'sour grape' "Blessed are the poor". And then i tripped and slide down the poverty rope and then i found myself in the embrace of Father God and then i understood what Jesus meant "Blessed are the poor." Thank You, Father Son + Holy Spirit and Mother Mary too :)


  2. Hi, Fr Luke, hope you're getting better and becoming fit to begin preaching, at least selectively at Mass. Your blog reflections of this and previous week makes us realize the decision to love often boils down to choosing to be poor (humble and vulnerable), and we need courage and faith to go along with that. Ignatius & Florence

  3. I always wonder what does this mean when Jesus said : "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." Luke 6 : 20. Went for countless of Mass and still did not understand even though the "poor" priests tried very hard to explain.
    Father Luke added the words poor in spirit and I finally woke up from my "sleep" and understood deep in my heart.

    Challenging with financially, physically, emotionally and even having medical condition suffering : Are we still able to share God's love with others? Worst still, when evil words are spoken against us : Are we putting our trust in God and not Retaliate

    When I was working in the charity organisation, my job was to raise funds for the needy. I was so happy being schedule to post to that prestige organisation to ask for donation from the private bankers. To my disappointment, our team manage to get a 10% of the private bankers to donate monthly $3 for the needy. Ironically, I thought the cleaners were not well paid and unable to contribute the $3 per month, 100% of the cleaners signed up. What touch my heart, was an old woman with full of winkles on her face and dryness of her hand handled me the form and said that what God bless her and she also wanted to bless others.

    Now, I know what Jesus means.

  4. Dearest Fr Luke,

    Whenever I used to think of poverty, my mind imagined that of starving children, sick people and great suffering and I feel pity…, now I realise how superficial these feelings are. Those who are in poverty are not poor, they are richly blessed.

    I have had the most wonderful experience of living with the marginalised children in Thailand for a short span of 3 weeks two years ago with the Good Shepherd Sisters. I went with a mind-set of “penance” only to discover how truly joy-filled those 3 weeks were… even though I fell sick due to my poor immunity but I was at peace and filled with awe, because it was also there I felt so close to God among the “poor”.

    Many miracles happened, as He saved our lives on the roads (scaring the daylights out of me…) to show me that I could trust Him. As only when I am not in control, God will be. And only when in lack of material goods, that I discover the simple pleasures of life that truly brings laughter to our souls.

    So, truly, when St Laurence says that the poor are the treasures of the church, truly they are, as they are the ones close to God, the obedient ones who surrender and the generous ones who shares, knowing nothing belongs to them.

    Quoting from one of my favourite politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, her insightful comment from her recent visit to Singapore – “For her, Singapore’s material success was not enough. For her country, she wants “something more”.

    Lastly, remembering the words from a homilist who once said – The poor and the rich need each other. The poor need the rich to live on earth; the rich need the poor to reach heaven. ;)

    Thank You Fr. Luke.
    Praying for you, as always.

  5. Reading this short story in a meditation journal just now, reminded me of what you said in your post above:

    A university professor came to a Zen master to find out something about Zen. The Zen master offered him some tea. He poured the tea into his cup and kept pouring even when the cup overflowed.
    When he saw what was happening, the professor remarked,” the cup is flowing over. You cannot pour anymore into it.”
    “You are right; and you are just like this cup. You are full to overflowing with your own insights and speculations. How can I tell you anything about Zen before you empty your cup?”

    As we journey through life, sometimes we reach a point where we think we have got it all figured out.......we know all the answers, all the engrained responses to navigate our way through life. We are confident (overly so) of our ability to ‘climb every mountain and hill, we are self-sufficient, we are too full of ourselves - there is no room for God or for His graces to work.

    Unless we empty our cup full of ‘self’ and become spiritually impoverished, God cannot make in-roads into our lives. We may never get to taste the fullness of life – love, joy and peace here in this life - and eternity in heaven that He has promised us, for we have not become aware of our need for Him!

    God bless you, Fr