Friday, March 2, 2012

Consistent Ethic of Love: Humility

My MIL paid me the nicest compliment the other day. While helping me get ready for a special dinner out, she looked at the clothes we were trying to form into a nice outfit and said, "You could look like a model but you don't have anything to wear that's model-like."

The compliment was in both parts of that statement, because although I'm very flattered she thinks I'm pretty enough to be paid for it, what really pleases me is that we didn't find anything in my closet that would announce "Look at me, I am rich and beautiful."

It's not that I don't love fashion. Or that I don't want to look nice. I do take care with my appearance. But mostly what I have in my closet are things people have given to me as a gift, because I have made the conscious decision not to spend our money on clothes for myself. The last time I bought myself something, it was with Kohl's Cash (don't you love Kohl's?)I earned from shopping for Christmas gifts, so I was limited to whatever they had available at the store that week. Everything else I buy for myself is usually from a thrift store.

Why is this related to taking the poor with me? Because it requires humility. When I receive a gift of clothing (whether it's my style or not,) it is now part of my closet. If I ask for a pair of khakis and receive a pair of jeans, I don't go out and buy khakis. When I have a special dinner, I have to choose from what I already have, and if my most favorite shoes, a gift from my sister, don't match anything in my closet, then I have to compromise and "make it work" with whatever I can find. Or I have to wait until I spy something at the thrift store.

There is a poorness of spirit inherent in living humbly and allowing myself to be dressed by others, as the poor must often do. Detachment from material goods is a necessary component of true Christian spirituality, as St. Francis of Assisi describes:

"...the treasure of blessed poverty is so surpassingly worthy and so divine that we are not worthy to contain it in these utterly vile vessels, for poverty is that heavenly virtue by which the things of earth and time are all trodden underfooot, by which all obstacles are removed, and the human mind is freely joined with God Eternal."

Br. Michael H. Crosby, author of "The Spirituality of the Beatitudes" writes:

Poverty can be sanctioned only if it is freely embraced as a way to promote that reign of God more concretely on our world. Otherwise it contradicts the blessedness and goodness of God; it is a curse that violates god's plan. It signifies that the reign of God has not yet fully arrived. To experience that reign more fully, to experience its authority and power, it is necessary to reorder our possessions on behalf of the poor. Jesus offers no other way to experience the treasure of heaven except solidarity with the poor.

Bl. Josemaria Escriva enumerates on this:

It is time to do away with the uncontrolled consumerism that seeks an ever higher degree of material well-being; time for sobriety in drinking, eating, and buying clothes; time for generosity to people and organisations that are struggling, or that are involved in working for the good of others; time to moderate our expenditure; time for the kind of advertising that does not aim to arouse desire for whatever is most expensive; time to reflect on how to educate our children in a practical knowledge of what things cost, and why efforts are demanded of them; time to do without some superfluous creature-comfort or unnecessary whim…
Superfluous creature-comfort...Oh, how easy it is to desire these! I need to point out here that my closet is chock full of clothes. I am certainly not suffering a lack of things to wear, for every season, and I am often complimented on my appearance. The sort of "poverty" I am embracing is only a hardship because we Americans are so spoiled with choices and freedoms that refraining from a trip to the mall seems like a huge sacrifice, when in reality it's about as worthy as a billionaire taking a commercial flight to the Bahamas instead of his private jet. Ohhh, here's the worlds smallest violin playing just for me...

But it does take humility. And it is a conscious choice. I do it specifically to keep myself humble and to live in solidarity with those who don't have the sort of luxuries we consider commonplace. I'm curious about the little ways other people practice humility and evangelical poverty in this extremely comfortable world we inhabit. If you do this, what is your sacrifice and how does it work in your lives?