Laura Dittus is a Theology Advisor at EWTN. She holds a Masters in Theology from Ave Maria University and has contributed to study guides for Jesus of Nazareth Volumes I and II (Ignatius Press). She writes from Irondale, Alabama.
“The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” —St. Teresa of Calcutta
One invocation of the Holy Spirit, which is often heard but not given much attention to devotionally, is “Father of the Poor.” In some ways, this seems like an odd way to speak of the Holy Spirit, using a name associated with another person of the Blessed Trinity, “Father.” Perhaps it is time that we consider this term and the riches that lie behind it, and call upon the Holy Spirit in this manner, asking him to provide for us in our personal and communal places of poverty, most particularly spiritual poverty.
The Holy Spirit as Father of the Poor
The invocation “Father of the poor” appears in the Veni, Sancte Spiritus, the Pentecost Sequence, which can be said or sung before the Gospel on Pentecost. The Sequence begins in this way: “Come, Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home/ Shed a ray of light divine! Come, Father of the poor!/ Come, source of all our store!/ Come, within our bosoms shine.”
In what aspects might the Holy Spirit be considered the Father of the Poor? While there are many angles in which this concept could be explored, let me present one that may not immediately come to mind. For the moment let us consider “Father of the Poor” in light of spiritual poverty.
Besides “Father of the Poor,” another title for the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier — the One who makes holy. Poverty is very often spoken of simply in terms of material poverty, but there are many kinds of poverty experienced by persons both communally and individually, and this includes spiritual poverty. Poverty of health, of education, of true community, of virtue, of knowing how to pray, of life in Christ. Many others could be named. Acknowledging that the Holy Spirit is the one who sanctifies, presents us with a deeper significance in the name “Father of the Poor.” We can offer him our spiritual poverties, humbly and trustingly asking for his assistance in our every need; the Holy Spirit, in return, is generous in bestowing those gifts which lead to our salvation and sanctification.
“God needs our poverty”
As I was writing this piece, I came face-to-face with a little experience of human poverty, a trivial one but significant enough to illustrate how God can work with our weaknesses. I had remembered a key quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta that I wanted to use in this post; but, after having pondered it over the course of almost a year, when I set out to write couldn’t find it anywhere. I tried searching my emails and the web, even “retracing my steps” trying to find it. These early attempts were to no avail. Gratefully this little experience of human limitations was an occasion of grace as it gave me occasion to call a Missionary of Charity friend and have a conversation that wouldn’t have taken place otherwise. And the quote? “God needs our poverty, not our abundance.” Had I known the “abundance” of finding the quote right away in the way I remembered it, I would have missed out on an opportunity to call a friend and have a real conversation. “God needs our poverty, not our abundance.”
At first glance, this quote from Mother Teresa of “God [needing] our poverty” is a shocking one. The quote appears in a little introduction before her 15 points on humility so in an immediate contextual way, one can see it pointing to the importance of humility, but that doesn’t limit the phrase to only having application in a singular sense.
Sometimes poverty can actually lead to opportunities for abundance. For instance, if someone only has a small amount to donate to the Church due to a modest income, financial difficulty or the like, this can actually, even occasionally, be an opportunity for experiencing the abundance of creative service. How can I make a donation that would do the greatest good with $20 or another amount? While donating cash is usually most helpful at a parish or other charitable organization, there are times when this could also be put to a particular charitable or apostolic use such as, helping a financially-struggling family buy diapers, or, with the parish priest’s permission, buying professionally-made pamphlets on how to pray the Rosary and leaving them in the back of Church.
Perhaps you are a busy mother and have a poverty of time. Maybe it seems that all you have is 10 minutes for prayer in a given day, or that you can’t even be focused in prayer. Ask the Lord to multiply your time so that those 10 minutes can bear the same fruit had you spent an hour in recollected prayer.
Small amounts of time, offered purposefully and consistently, can add up to real victories. For instance, 15 minutes a day of reading a spiritual book, learning a language or cultivating a hobby or skill, can become over the course of the years many books read over time, or facility with a new language or skill. Maybe 15 minutes can be used for exercise, writing or calling a friend, or reading a book to your child. Placing even small increments of time in the service of neighbor and of the Lord can really make a difference! And when done consistently and with a certain level of discipline, these little investments or “plantings” can reap an abundant harvest. Financial poverties, and poverties of time, can become true sources of blessings, using what we have for God and others.
Maybe the next time we see a situation in which we might be frustrated by our human limitations and weaknesses, we can remember to call upon the Holy Spirit with a little silent prayer such as “Come, Holy Spirit” or “Come, Father of the Poor.” And in these moments, may we know the truth of Mother Teresa’s saying, “God needs our poverty, not our abundance.”