The Ten Evangelical Virtues of Mary

Seventh Virtue: Poverty

How Mary Teaches Us to Find Great Riches

by Felix Carroll

Ask a young person what they want to be when they grow up. They may say a doctor, a lawyer, a stockbroker, a scientist. Notice that no one ever says they want to be poor.

The American Dream itself stresses material prosperity. We are lured into wanting the big house and the fast sports car. Poverty carries a social stigma. It suggests failure. It's a sign of weakness, a badge of dishonor.

Jesus was raised in a much different environment than this. His mother lived in great poverty, yet she received riches altogether different than the ones many of us seek. Namely, the riches of eternal salvation. Indeed, through her poverty, we discover the joy in possessing God alone as the greatest treasure imaginable.

How poor was she? When she was ready to give birth, she and Joseph were forced to take shelter in a stable. She had nothing but cheap swaddling clothes to keep Jesus warm. As for a crib, she fashioned one out of a feeding trough for animals.

Yet Mary knows full well the way God works. Her words in the Magnificat remind us that God favors the weak and lowly over the proud, powerful, and wealthy. And in her maternal, protective manner, Mary reminds us where God can be found. Not among the lavish and wealthy, but among the plain and simple. Not in the places of power, but among the humble and broken. She knows that it is in poverty and neediness that we see God — in our own neediness and poverty and in the neediness and poverty of others.

In the Rule of the Ten Evangelical Virtues, we are told how we can possess and cultivate such poverty in our own lives. The Rulestates that devoted souls "lay Jesus in the manger when they love frugal cells and simple bedrooms; they wrap Him in swaddling clothes when they wear coarse and rough garments; and they nourish Him with virginal milk when in their hearts they do not receive evil thoughts."

In other words, we should live simply, without splendor, and in a fashion that imitates Mary. It's clear Mary took her cue from the anawim, "the poor of Yahweh," who in the Old Testament were considered the holy core of the nation. They were people wholly submissive to God and disposed to His will. Disowned by this world, they didn't rely on others or themselves, but on God alone, and God made their cause His own.

When Mary says at the Annunciation, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 2:38), she, too, presents herself as submissive in the style of the anawim. She offers herself as an instrument of God, unanchored to possessions and obsessions of the material world. And she shows us how, through poverty — through possessing and desiring nothing but God — one can be blessed with riches of salvation.

It's telling that upon the birth of Christ, it wasn't kings and generals that first came to the manger to visit Him. Instead, the visitors were shepherds, foreshadowing how Jesus would later single out the lowly as recipients of God's favors and blessings.

Indeed, Jesus is His mother's Son. Time and time again He tells would be disciples what they must do in order to achieve salvation: "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Mt 19:21). Knowing full well the human heart, Jesus warns us how riches smother the divine word in the heart (Mt 13:22) and that men tend to see in riches "their life" (Lk 18:25).

Does this mean we must get rid of all our possessions?

No. But too often the tendency is to become possessed by one's possessions — to consider wealth and belongings as extensions of oneself. What we should do is express gratitude to Him for all that we own and share what we have in a manner that gives Him glory.

When we ask children what they want to be when they grow up, there's nothing wrong with them wanting to be a doctor, a lawyer, a stockbroker, or a scientist. We just need to instill in them a wish to be Christian first — to know that the best way to express our love of God and to receive His rich blessings is by living in solidarity with the poor in imitation of Mary and her Son.