At this point of our Advent observance, we have already installed the crèche in our respective communities as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Each piece, usually made of unique materials that vary from country to country, is not only meant to display the characters present at the nativity of our Lord. They are there to help us reflect on the sublime meaning of the Lord’s birth that we may celebrate Christmas meaningfully and to guide us to welcome the new year as we are called to be living testimonies of God’s good news to everyone.
Primo Maestro once said that “to carry out the great works of God we must start from Bethlehem, from the manger”. True to his words, the cover of the first issue of the Famiglia Cristiana in 1931 had the image of the Child Jesus lying on the manger. This image helps us to see the richness of Christmas hidden in the poverty of the manger, and thereby leading us to purify ourselves of the pollution that darkens the poverty that we embraced when we professed our vows.
The vow of poverty is not a new subject, yet it remains relevant to each one of us. This is particularly true when we speak about how we live out the personal and communitarian aspects of this vow. Poverty is neither to be destitute nor to dress in rags. It is not even to deprive one’s self of the necessities to live a decent life. Rather, it is to detach one’s heart and mind from material goods as if these are the things that matter most. Today, we often deal with tensions in carrying out our ministry and simple living. Discernment is an essential feature of engaging this tension. We have to be honest with ourselves in determining if having a bank account filled with funds for our own disposal could weaken our resolve to be poor in spirit. There is an inner relationship with the things of this world that we are always struggling with.
Let us stop and gaze at the Christmas crèche, allowing it to give us an opportunity to pray and reflect on the very root of our existence. We have to remind ourselves with the words of our founder as regards “Pauline poverty which renounces, produces, preserves, provides and builds” (Constitution and Directory # 91.2).
It is ideal to renounce comforts that are not compatible with our lifestyle and instead live according to our means and calling. It is unfortunate that one of the reasons why others find it difficult to be sent to the missions is not that they are afraid of new environments and cultures. Rather, they find it difficult to renounce the comforts that they built up for themselves. This Christmas, let us remind ourselves of the discomforts that the Child Jesus experienced as he endured the poverty of the manger. May our reflective gaze on the Holy Family inspire us that poverty calls us to give up the comforts that prevent us from giving everything to the Lord.
Produce and Provide
Pauline poverty primarily calls us to dedicate our time to our apostolic assignments and to work hard—giving back to the congregation the fruits of our studies in order to produce useful and relevant products for the men and women of today. We all know that we need lots of effort and time in order to respond to the signs of the times as we reconcile both prayer and action – ora et labora – so that our produce can sustain the needs of our aspirants, of our old members who have given their lives for the congregation, and for the continuous development of the legacy that our founder has entrusted upon us.
Preserve and Build
Taking care of one’s health is also part of the personal and communitarian poverty that we should observe. We must eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and live a healthy lifestyle. In doing so, we can do charity not only for our community by not spending fortunes for our medical expenses but also of having beneficial effects on our mind, body, and spirit. It is an alarming reality that junior members in some circumscriptions are already having medical issues at such an early age. This has to be addressed squarely. Another aspect of poverty concerns the material goods we use for the apostolate. We have to carefully administer all the things that we have and to maximize the use of the expensive media equipment with respect to their lifespan. Our founder encouraged us to dream big, which has to be understood as to build firmly our apostolate while remaining humble in our successes, knowing fully well that everything depends on God’s providence. This calls us to rekindle our personal relationship with God through prayer and other communitarian activities—the basic foundation of our religious life.
The Child Jesus in the manger invites us to see and to feel the genuine poverty that he took upon himself, reminding us every Christmas that we have to live the vow of personal and communitarian poverty. By doing so, we are following in his footsteps without being unnecessarily attached to material things. With our eyes gazing at the manger, we are invited to live unburdened so that we may adequately respond to the needs of the evangelization in today’s world.