Choosing a Life of Poverty


"How blessed are the poor in spirit the kingdom of Heaven is theirs." [Matthew 5:3]

When I reflect on my experiences of poverty in my life, I immediately remember the past, which greatly contributed to my conviction that poverty is so much more than renouncing material possessions.

I believe that living in material poverty is a gift, but my experiences have taught that true poverty is renouncing selfishness, pride, the search for oneself and everything that prevents us from loving, from seeing and from giving our lives for one another.

Our Need for God and Community
My attention was drawn to a presentation at the June 2011 Healing Conference, which pointed out that the ‘poor in spirit’ are those who recognize that they cannot do all and that the path to happiness is admitting that we are not alone in the world and that we need help.
In other words, we all need God and the people around us.  To recognize this is to be poor, to overcome the notion of poverty that is often focused on the detachment from material possessions.

For me, love in the life of Jesus is synonymous with poverty, because He did not cling to himself, to his greatness as the Son of God (as the Scriptures tell us), but rather humbled Himself and gave His own life for others: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13).

My Vocational Call
I am certain that my choice of Religious Life was not by chance.  From an early age, I was already being prepared to follow God and answer His call, which requires that we take a path of renunciation not only of material possessions, but of life itself.  This preparation happened with every opportunity and choice I made in my life.

I believe that to choose poverty is to choose one another.  When I was a child, I was able to choose to live with middle class families who promised me a better future. My parents never denied that the greatest riches in their lives were their twelve children and yet gave me the freedom to choose to live with them or with other families that could provide me with more than they had:  financial security.

With that attitude, they taught me a great lesson on the practice of poverty.  They were always willing to forsake the greatest riches in their lives in the name of love, without regard to how they would suffer for it.  This is poverty! This is to forsake oneself to see and want what is good for others.

These events make me believe that to live in true poverty is to gather the real wealth that Jesus advises us to seek: "Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and woodworm destroy them and thieves can break in and steal.  But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworm destroys them and thieves cannot break in and steal." (Matthew 6:19-20).

4Sr. Thalyta with St. Francis

Discernment and the Quest for Meaning
I confess that the requests and promises made me feel excited, happy, and anxious for a life that was different from what we had but soon realized that nothing could compensate for how much I loved and missed my family.  Nothing could erase the love that made me restless, troubled me and made me question my choice of a family other than the one in which God had placed me.

Even as a child, I thought about these questions: What kind of person was I, who was able to leave her parents and siblings suffering and go to live in comfort?  Was it fair to belong to the same family, but live so differently from the other members of my family?  What was the purpose of all that if nothing could take away the pain of being so distant from those I loved and remembered day and night?

There was much hardship in my childhood home, but nothing could take away our happiness in being together. The times that I spent with other families that wanted to adopt a child and offered me a promising future were enough to teach me that our life is meaningless when we look only at ourselves, at our own needs.

I feel that the poverty of renouncing and forsaking oneself for others is a daily achievement. Living this renunciation is a great challenge since our selfish tendency is to focus on possessions, abilities, and pleasure.

I am certain that life has meaning only when we forsake our selfish desires and transform them into offerings to others. I must learn how to offer my own life according to the teachings of Jesus, St. Francis, St. Clare, as well as the people and events that God places in my life.

I believe that Blessed Frances Schervier found the meaning of her life when she gave herself totally to the service of the Lord because of her love toward brothers and sisters who suffered.

This is clear in her lifestyle and her words. In my life I wish to follow her example of living the ideal that she left us in the Healing Charism, transforming my life into a loving offering to God through service to our brothers and sisters.

Blessed Frances Schervier’s words of surrender – "I offered myself to God for poor and suffering humanity" – have helped me very much in becoming aware of what it really means to choose a life of poverty.  I believe that I have taken a few steps. The path ahead is long -- may my full surrender and detachment from my own life become ever stronger and deeper in the love of God.

 Sr. Thalyta Pereira Lima, SFP

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