Mary's Virtues, Poverty

Madonna degli Alberetti - by BELLINI, Giovanni - from Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice


Our Redeemer chose to be poor on earth,
so that we could learn from Him to despise worldly things


Note Bene: Bible verses quoted in this Book are from the English Douay-Rheims translation commissioned by the Catholic Church. 


Mary Virtues, Poverty

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori

Our Redeemer chose to be poor on earth, so that we could learn from Him to despise worldly things. "Being rich", says Saint Paul, "He became poor for your sake, that through His poverty you might be rich" (2Corinthians 8:9). Jesus exhorts each one who wishes to be His disciple: "If thou will be perfect, go sell what you have, and give to the poor...and come, follow Me" (Matthew 19:21).

Mary, His most perfect disciple, imitated His example most perfectly. Saint Peter Canisius proves that Mary could have lived in comfort on the property she inherited from her parents, but she preferred to remain poor. Retaining only a small portion for herself, she distributed the rest to the Temple and the needy. Many authors even believe that Mary made a vow of poverty. Perhaps the basis for this is what she said to Saint Bridget: "From the beginning I vowed in my heart that I would never possess anything on earth". The gifts she received from the wealthy Magi were surely not of little value. But we are assured by Saint Bernard that she distributed them to the poor through the hands of Saint Joseph. It is quite clear that Mary immediately disposed of these gifts from the fact that at her purification in the Temple she did not offer a lamb, as was prescribed in Leviticus for those who could afford it (Leviticus 12:6), but two turtledoves or two pigeons, which was the offering prescribed for the poor (Luke 2:24). Mary told Saint Bridget: "I gave to the poor all that I could, and only kept a little food and clothing for myself".

Because of her love of poverty she was willing to marry Saint Joseph who was only a poor carpenter. She helped maintain the family by working with her hands, by spinning or sewing, as Saint Bonaventure assures us. The angel told Saint Bridget that "worldly riches were of no more value in Mary's eyes than dirt". She always lived poor, and she died poor. Metaphrastes and Nicephorus tell us that at her death she left nothing except two simple dresses. She left these to the two women who had served her during the later years of her life.

Saint Philip Neri used to say that "no one who loves the baubles of the world will ever become a saint". We may add that Saint Teresa said on the same subject: "It follows that anyone who chases after perishable things is in danger of perishing himself". But, on the other hand, she adds that the virtue of poverty is a treasure that comprises in itself all other treasures. She says the "virtue of poverty", for as Saint Bernard remarks, poverty does not consist merely in being poor, but in loving poverty. Therefore Jesus Christ said: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Such persons are blessed because they do not desire anything but God and find everything in God. Poverty for them is paradise on earth. This is what Saint Francis meant when he exclaimed: "My God and my all". Let us then, as Saint Augustine exhorts us, "love that one good in which all good things are found". Let us address Our Lord in the words of Saint Ignatius: "Give me only Your love and Your grace, and I shall be rich enough". "When we have to suffer from poverty", says Saint Bonaventure, "let us console ourselves with the thought that Jesus and His mother were also poor like ourselves".



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Most holy Mother, you had good reason to say that your whole joy was in God: And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. In this world you desired and loved nothing but God. Draw me...after you (Canticle 1:3). O Lady, detach me from the world, that I may love Him alone, Who alone deserves to be loved.