Previous Next

Jesus is born poor

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

In Jerusalem, the Magi asked: “Where is the infant king Jesus?” (Mt 2:2). Where? He is in Bethlehem: in a manger. How come? Because there was no place for them – for Jesus, Mary and Joseph - in the inn (cf. Lk 2:7). The mystery of Christmas, of faith really: the incarnation of the Son of God, which means the unconditional love of God One and Triune for all men and women, and our humble response to that love: “We love because He first loved us” (I Jn 4:19). Life is love: God’s love for us and in us, love manifested in peace, joy, mercy - and poverty.


The persistent social problem of the world today continues to be poverty, which is growing today due to the highly negative economic effect of the terrible coronavirus pandemic. The complex solution to the grave problem of poverty is not found in decreasing the population, but in a fair distribution of resources and wealth, and a stop to wasteful squandering, needless spending and unbridled consumerism. Involuntary poverty is an evil that cries to heaven! Thus, economic and political corruption, excessive spending, and heartless squandering are terrible sins (cf. CCC2409).

Rampant consumerism implies for people having more and not being more. It feeds the desire of material things while numbing the higher values of love and sharing. It focuses on oneself and is selfish. Happiness consists not in having more but in needing less (St. Augustine). Against a throwaway culture, a culture of consumerism, Pope Francis with many others proposes a culture of simplicity and solidarity. Simplicity and solidarity say no to extreme, compulsive, obsessive consumerism, consumerism which is self-destructive (cf. Laudato Si’).

Christ came into the world and lived an ordinary life in the midst of all - the poor and the rich. He mingled with all and offered true freedom and salvation to all. He lived a simple lifestyle and was poor from birth to death. Through the ages, Jesus invites his disciples and followers to live a simple, sober, frugal lifestyle, and share something with the needy. In this context, St. Thomas Aquinas says - being faithful to the teaching of the Bible and the Fathers of the Church:  what is superfluous, that is, what we do not need belongs by right to the poor. God created the world and everything for all, and therefore each one of us has a right to sit at the table and share – as St. Paul VI said – in God’s pie, which is for all. In the Our Father, we Christians ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” (Mt 6:11), that is, to provide us what we need daily and share with others something so that they will have what they need to live a dignified life.


On January 1, 2020, I read a challenging article entitled: The Place of Poverty. Its author reflects engagingly on theplace of poverty in the birth of Jesus and throughout his life. This newspaper column impacted me deeply. I promised myself then that I would share the text with my dear readers around or during this Christmas of 2020. Hereafter I point out to you some key points of this text written by a committed lay Catholic intellectual, outstanding writer and novelist Juan Manuel de Prada.

St. Luke narrates to us that the Son of God was born in a manger. Amazing, indeed: The Child born in utter poverty! “He could have chosen another place, but no: He chose to be born in a crib.” De Prada continues: “He chose poverty, and tells his worshippers that to encounter him intimately, they have to approach poverty and remain in it.” The mystery we celebrate, however, “does not invite us to eradicate poverty, but to have a place for poverty in our life. 

How to have a place for poverty in our life? First, by helping the poor, by alleviating somehow the forced poverty which destroys them. And, second, by loving poverty, understood as a virtue that helps us to be detached from material goods. Possession of goods tends to possess their owners – their souls.  This virtuous poverty, however, does not mean to dispossess others – as proposed and practised by leftist ideologies when in power–, or to ask others - as activists do - to have a simple lifestyle for the sake of climate change. Of course, we are all for responsible and integral climate change

The virtue of poverty inclines us to detach ourselves from the possession of material goods and helps us correct the degradation of nature, our common home. The author had said in another article that the degradation of souls causes partly the degradation of the earth, which is God’s creation. His solution? A virtuous life!  In particular, the living out of the virtue of simplicity, or frugality, which is connected with the virtue of temperance or moderation, and disposes us to live a simple lifestyle. Simplicity in life inclines us to change not our diet to be or become vegetarian. No. Just to be frugal, and therefore free from enslaving attachments. 

Why should we acquire the virtue of poverty? Simply because it is a virtue and therefore a good habit that helps us flourish as human beings and be happy with our human limitations. And in the context of Christmas – and as Christians -, because the Child born in Bethlehem was born in poverty, and remained in poverty throughout his life. Moreover, Jesus had a special love for the poor whom He exalted in the Sermon on the Mount, and in his narrative on the Last Judgment, to the point of saying that our salvation depends on our true love for and sharing with the poor and needy around us and in the world. Jesus furthermore condemned the selfish rich who hoard material goods while poor people around them die of hunger. Jesus said that one cannot serve two masters: God and money. However, He did have rich friends (Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, etc.), but to these, He also taught that they would be saved if they detach their hearts from riches.

Juan Manuel de Prada closes his column challenging us: “The poverty of Jesus continues questioning us today.” 


The column “The Place of Poverty” really questions us, questions me deeply! Let not rampant consumerism and individualism, social indifference and a comfortable life deaden in us our sensitivity and compassion toward the poor and needy. St. Francis of Sales encourages all Christians thus: “Embrace her [poverty] as the dear friend of Jesus Christ, for he was born, lived, and died in poverty. Poverty was his nurse throughout his entire life” (Introduction to the Devout Life).   

As a follower of Christ, the Christian is asked to be poor in spirit as a condition of discipleship. Poverty in spirit entails detachment from material things, a simple lifestyle, and solidarity with the poor. It implies the power to recognize Jesus in the poor, the suffering, and the “fallen” on the highways of injustice, violence and hatred. The Catechism of the Catholic Church cautions us: among the people who may be separated from Jesus after death are those who failed “to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren” (cf. CCC 1033).

I remember the words of the former Manila Archbishop Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales: “St. Peter will not be the one to open the gates of heaven to you. It will be Jesus in the poor you helped.” We all know Jesus’ words: “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me a glass of water…”When, Lord?” What you did to the least of my brothers you did it to me.

By Fr. Fausto Gómez, OP.