If you wish to arrive at the perfect love of God, you must practice poverty in spirit. You must be detached from worldly possessions, from temporal honors, from your fellow creatures, and from yourself.” ~ St. Alphonsus Liguori
Saint Alphonsus was a profound and humble spiritual teacher. He reminds us to cultivate poverty in spirit because he knows from experience that it is the state which will lead us to the Kingdom of God. The term poverty in spirit comes from the Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew [5:3], where it is expressed as “poor in spirit.” Our Lord Jesus Christ, states: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” According to the Lord, being poor in spirit, practicing poverty of spirit, results in the Kingdom of Heaven. We need poverty of spirit, so that we can understand why/how the Kingdom of Heaven results from practicing it.
To be poor in spirit is to practice the Faith in a profound way. It is to take seriously the words we say in the Confiteor [the “I confess” prayer], and realize that we are sinful, and that God is holy, and we are unable to become holy without God’s grace. We have to accept the understanding that we have absolutely nothing of worth to offer God, and yet He loves us and wants us to have His life/His Spirit, within us.
In order to live life in the Spirit, we have to empty our hearts to be filled by the Holy Spirit. The practice of the Faith requires that we empty our hearts of the things of earth so that we will have room for the Love of God. When our hearts are full of self-esteem, vanity, self-will, attachment to creatures, we can practice a robust prayer life – even go regularly to Holy Communion – and still make little progress in the love of God.
The Kingdom of Heaven is both eternity in Heaven with God after death (Romans 6:23) and the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10). God offers us salvation as a gift, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, the full payment for sin’s penalty. We cannot make ourselves worthy of this gift. We must recognize our sinfulness before we can understand our need for a Savior. We must admit our spiritual poverty before we can receive the spiritual riches God offers (Ephesians 1:3). We must be “poor in spirit.”
As we prepare for the feasting of Thanksgiving, let us purge ourselves of the riches in earthly things which we have accumulated in our hearts, and let us, in poverty of spirit, approach each other and our God in humility and poverty, ready to accept the great gifts of love He has prepared for us.