The Real Effects of Poverty
It ain’t pretty
Letter from St. Ignatius to students experiencing poverty
“From various letters we gather that God Our Lord visits you with the effects of holy poverty, in other words, discomfort and lack of certain temporal things, such as would be necessary for health and well-being of the body. It is no small grace that His divine goodness deigns to grant this real taste of something that should always be desired by us in order to be conformed to our guide, Jesus Christ, in accordance with the vow of the holy Institute of our order.
In fact I know of nowhere in the Society where the communication of this grace is not felt, although in some places more than in others. Moreover, if we compare ourselves with those brethren of ours in India, who in the midst of such great bodily and spiritual hardship are so badly provided for as regards food — in many places not eating bread, still less drinking wine, getting by with a little rice and water, or suchlike things of little nutritive value — being poorly dressed too, and in short destitute of all outward things, I do not think our suffering is too hard. We too can reckon ourselves to be in our Indies, which are to be found in all place.
Given this, if the person whose duty it usually is to provide what is necessary cannot do so, we can resort to holy begging, whereby it may be possible to satisfy our needs. When despite all this God Our Lord wills that there should be something to suffer, the sick must not go short. Those who are in better health will be better able to exercise patience, and may Jesus Christ Our Lord, who made patience so lovable by example and teaching, grant it to us all, bestowing love of Him and delight in His service in place of all else. (St. Ignatius of Loyola)
In the Catholic Church, religious and priests are required to take the vow of poverty. This means that they have to renounce their desire for wealth and worldly goods and resolve to serve the Lord wholeheartedly .
500 years ago, during the time of St. Ignatius, there were also many men who resolved to follow St. Ignatius in his vow of poverty. Amongst them were men who were from rich and noble background.
From the letter from St. Ignatius above, we can gather that many of the new followers of the Jesuit order were suffering from the real effects of poverty. Not only were the students lacking food and clothing, they appeared to also suffer greatly from bodily and spiritual trials. Hence, the need for St. Ignatius to write a letter to comfort them.
Indeed, poverty is sometimes romanticised. We imagine that it is state of being where we can be greatest communion with the Lord. This is indeed the truth. But before that can be even achieved, there is a need for real suffering to occur. The effects of hunger, thirst, cold, dirtiness and discomfort is not easy to bear. Yet, in time, these sufferings have profound beneficial effects on one’s soul.
St. Teresa of Calcutta
Let us now consider the story of St. Teresa of Calcutta. After receiving a message from God, St. Teresa had a strong desire to establish her own community to serve the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta.
When she finally got the Pope’s approval, she headed to the slums to begin her work. There she felt the real effects of poverty and it took a toil on her. At that time, she was tempted to return to her former religious order. However, she persevered, determined to grow conformity with the poor in every way in order to serve them as best as she could.
In the years ahead, her religious order flourished and she attracted many young women to join her in the service of the poor.
This is a photograph of one of the communities she has founded. (Taken from the book Catholicism by Fr. Robert Barron) Let us just take a moment to admire the faces of the ladies in the photograph. All of them are so genuinely happy — so filled with joy. Yet, they live in the poorest places in the world with lack of food and creature comforts.
This indeed, is the profound effect of holy poverty.
St. Peter of Alcantra
Let us now consider the life story of St. Peter of Alcantra. He was a Franciscan friar (1499–1562)who took his vow of poverty to an elevated level. He ate only once in 3 days and slept only two hours every night in a sitting position. In addition, he endured the effects of cold, living in a cold room even during winter.
As a result of his great mortifications, he received a good number of mystical experiences and eventually became one of the spiritual advisors of St. Teresa of Avila.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote in The Book of Her Life that St. Peter of Alcantra was one of the few souls she had witnessed to proceed straight into heaven after his death, not needing to go through purgatory. Perhaps his earthly mortifications were sufficient to purify his soul.
Lent is about to arrive. Let us take this opportunity to partake in the sufferings of poverty. Let us resolve to take our lenten fasting to a new level and dedicate this sacrifice for the saving of souls.