For our first guest post of the This Little Light of Mine blog tour, I’m excited to host Sr. Mary Jo Polak, OSB. I met her when I began working as director of liturgy & music at our parish, where she had been overseeing liturgy before me. She continued to be involved in the parish while expanding her influence to include counseling spiritual direction. Please welcome Sr. Mary Jo with lots of comment love!
The enthusiasm for Pope Francis’ style of being pope goes beyond the Catholic Church. The whole world is watching his break with tradition in choosing to wear simpler robes, pay his own bills, and his history of staying close to the people he serves. Why?
Although he is a Jesuit, his decision to take the name of Francis, in honor of the Poor Man of Assisi, ties him to the long tradition of poverty embraced as virtue by the Franciscans and other orders of religious men and women. Francis of Assisi embraced physical poverty – living close to nature, sharing and serving the poor, and even begging for their needs. Men and women through the centuries have done likewise; in the United States, we have the wonderful example of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers, who live on the edge, and serve those who are marginalized.
Now, you may have noticed that I have been talking about physical poverty, or at least the efforts at living a simple lifestyle. This beatitude says, “poor in spirit.” You will also notice, if you look at the bottom of this article, that I am not a Franciscan! I am a Benedictine Sister. Most Benedictines are not known for their poverty. (Think huge Benedictine Abbey churches with beautiful artwork.) But maybe the Rule of Benedict has something to offer when we talk about poverty in spirit.
One of the lynchpins of Benedictine life is that it is communal, family style, nitty-gritty in-your-face living together. We pray together, we eat together, we work together, we share joys, sorrows and cars. The community gets our paycheck and we pool our resources. The bite comes (or the “opportunity for growth”) when the cook works hard to make a supper that we absolutely dislike, and yet we are grateful for her efforts and eat it anyway. The bite comes when you can’t check out that night and run out to a restaurant because (a) you share cars and didn’t put in a request in advance and (b) because it’s really important to spend that supper hour with your sisters.
The keyword is grateful. We learn to be grateful for our sisters and our staff who cook and clean, and by taking our turns in cooking and cleaning we appreciate what others do. (Does this sound familiar to Moms?) We learn to be grateful that we have food at all, because our prayer, reading and conversations with sisters from around the world remind us that there are people who lack basic necessities. And we are no better than they; we are not more deserving of blessings than they. What we have is a gift of our Creator, and this moves us to gratitude.
Common ownership gives another opportunity for growth when we have to ask to use a car, to wait for an empty washing machine, or a turn in the shower. (Does this sound like anything that happens in your house?) Community life and family life gives us the chance to exercise another virtue that the physically poor have: patience in waiting. We have to share, which gives us opportunities for generosity, for letting others be first. Poverty of spirit suggests that we don’t even own ourselves, we are owned by a good and gracious God, who invites us into the non-possessiveness of Love.
Jesus, gentle friend and companion of the poor and outcast,
Help us to hold loosely to the possessions of this world
and be aware that all we have comes from you.
Give us the grace to be grateful, patient, and sharing people.
Blessed be God, for showing us how to be poor in spirit
through the life of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns, forever and ever, Amen.
Sr. Mary Jo Polak is a Benedictine Sister of Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton, SD, where she work as Public Relations Director, and also in Campus Ministry at Mount Marty College.