Monday, December 19, 2016

The Gift of Seeing Our Poverty

A reflection by Mother Cecilia as we prepare for the Nativity of Our Lord

During this time of preparation for the birth of Our Lord, He has given me the gift of seeing my poverty a little more clearly. I am not talking about poverty in terms of a lack of physical things that I have, but in terms of my utter inability to do anything on my own without God. I’m weak, I’m limited and I’m frequently making mistakes and sinning.

When things are going well, I feel like I’m in control and I think that I can do anything! It’s when I’m struggling and suffering that I see my poverty. God allows this struggle and suffering for many reasons, one of which is that it helps me to see my poverty. When this happens, I often wonder, “Why do I have to see this poverty?” It really hurts! Sometimes I remember the words of one of my favorite saints, who said, “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and the greatest of these is to have shown me my littleness, my incapability of any good" (St. Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul).  Wow! I usually don’t think of this revelation as a gift, let alone as the greatest gift!

I’m beginning to learn that the knowledge of my poverty is a gift. I’d like to share some of the reasons why. First of all, it’s always better to know the truth. “The truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). And the truth is not only that I’m poor; it is also the truth that God is rich—rich in power, mercy and love. Seeing my poverty gives me the opportunity to more clearly see God’s greatness.

Secondly, as I learn the truth, I see that it is God who does all things in me, and I learn that He does them so much better than I could ever imagine. St. Paul tells us that the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Therefore we can say with St. Paul, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

Thirdly, the knowledge of my poverty shows me that God loves me for who I am, not for any sort of perfect actions I can do for Him. It’s actually my poverty that attracts God to me! The poverty of mankind drew Him to become man and to pour His divinity into our humanity! I am like the poor and messy cave in which Jesus was born. He could have arranged to be born in a cleaner, neater place, but He didn’t. He could wait until I seemingly have “everything under control” to do His work, but He tends to do His most powerful work in me when I am the weakest.

Finally, a great gift of seeing my poverty is so that I can surrender to God and give Him permission to work in me and be with me. When I think that I can do everything, I forget to do it with Him. I forget that He wants to be with me!

As we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, we notice the poor and messy cave because of the One who was born in it. We rejoice that Jesus chose to enter into this poverty. But the point of the feast is not to remain gazing at the cave and the manger alone, but to gaze upon God who has become man. We can see His face and live (Ex 33:20)! I often get stuck focusing my eyes on the poor “manger” of my heart and forget to keep my eyes on Jesus. I get discouraged by all of my weaknesses and forget about Him there in the midst of them.

When I am discouraged, I am a poor and messy closed space, but when I trust in God, I am a poor and messy open one. I need to accept my weakness and allow it to be the place where God can enter in and work in His power. When we open to the birth of Divine Life in us, we can rejoice with Mary, the Mother of God, in the words of her Magnificat: “He has looked with favor upon the lowliness of His servant, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and Holy is His name!”

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