I’ve been reading Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth: From Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (Doubleday, 2007). Of the book the pope himself says, “This book is… my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord.’”

I’ve been quite impressed by this book … some very excellent reflections on who Jesus is and how to understand Jesus in light of today’s world and concerns. It’s got an academic and apologetic edge to it, and yet also has some truly inspired pieces that make you feel like you are praying.

I recently read chapter 4, “The Sermon on the Mount” and spent some time reflecting on the part about the “poor in spirit” from the Beatitudes. The Pope connects this saying with the piety of the psalms which reflected people’s sense that even in the midst of their poverty and oppression, God did not abandon them but was working toward their salvation. This, the Pope writes, “developed that generosity of heart that was to open the door for Christ.” (page 75; emphasis mine) I think this sense of generosity of heart is something that should characterize the vow of poverty for us religious.

“[Persons who are poor] know that their poverty also has an interior dimension; they are lovers who simply want to let God bestow his gifts upon them and thereby live in inner harmony with God’s nature and word. The saying of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux about one day standing before God with empty hands, and holding them open to him, describes the spirit of these poor ones of God: They come with empty hands; not with hands that grasp and clutch, but with hands that open and give and thus are ready to receive from God’s bountiful goodness.” (page 76; emphasis mine)

“… in order to be the community of Jesus’ poor, the Church has constant need of the great ascetics. She needs the communities that follow them, living out poverty and simplicity so as to display to us the truth of the Beatitudes. She needs them to wake everyone to the fact that possession is all about service, to contrast the culture of affluence with the culture of inner freedom, and thereby to create conditions for social justice as well.” (page 77; emphasis mine)