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“One who has no knowledge of himself is already walking in falsehood”

The first beatitude … blessed are the poor in spirit

4/4/2017
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Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Now, for those who know Luisa it is easy to understand that the "kingdom of heaven" is nothing but the Kingdom of the Divine Will. Consequently, being "poor in spirit" stands as a necessary condition to possess It. What is then this necessary and essential condition for gaining access to the greatest and most important of the Beatitudes? Let's say that being poor in spirit consists first of all in the knowledge of oneself and, secondly, humility. As Luisa reminds us in the passage of January 12, 1900 (a fundamental passage to understand her entire spiritual experience), self-knowledge and humility are two sister virtues that are very similar to one another. In fact, Jesus teaches His disciple by explaining that He alone can call Himself humble because the divine condition was deliberately restricted to the human condition, while in man humility has rather to do with self-knowledge, or knowledge of one’s own poverty and limitations, of one’s nothingness.

Know yourself. The theme of self-knowledge is not new to Western culture. It was immortalized by Socrates, as his pupil Plato reminded us. "Know thyself" was the motto of his quest, a motto that was carved into the stone of the temple of Delphi. The conclusion he arrived at was that "he knew that he did not know", being aware of his own limitations, his ignorance and his own poverty, thus living accordingly. Self-knowledge is a great theme that runs through the pages of Luisa’s writings and is often presented as a necessary condition to undertake a true spiritual walk. In fact, it is written that lack of self-knowledge leads immediately to falsehood. But the self-knowledge that Luisa’s writings offer modern man is much deeper than that glimpsed by the Greek philosophers. Today, man can more deeply come to know his own emptiness, his nothingness, and therefore understand the need to be filled by God.

Self-love. But there is a great enemy to self-knowledge: it is self-love or self-esteem. It manifests itself when one is ashamed of his/her condition of poverty and does everything to appear "rich". This is pride, the sin of all sins, the one that separates us the most from God. Self-love never tolerates judgments, criticisms and negative opinions. It craves compliments, to shine above others, to always think it is good, the best. And so it feels compelled to always look down upon others. The more we feed our self-love, the stronger it gets and the more dangerous it becomes for our soul. Self-love makes us stubborn, ignorant and selfish ... It is extremely sensitive and can be extremely violent. Self-esteem can lead to extreme acts when it is not satisfied. It is vengeful and tends to take revenge by harming itself in order to create the conditions for appearing as a credible beggar of esteem or simply of attention. In a soul that is mortally wounded by self-love, this behavior can lead to commit suicide (Vol. VII). Therefore, self-love pulls the soul away from God, or rather God away from the soul, and blinded by pride places itself at the center of the universe, wanting to be loved and appreciated, while it is unconcerned about loving others and God. Self-love makes the soul desire spiritual riches that it wishes to acquire with its own strength, and is therefore the root of all evil. Unfortunately, one who is guided by self-love is like the poor man described by Luisa who, ashamed of his poverty, begins to boast about being rich in front of everyone to the point of seeming ridiculous and an object of mockery, and thus concludes his prideful parable by perishing (Vol. III).

Destroying the seed of self-esteem. Jesus reminds Luisa, and us through her writings, that creatures must destroy the seed of honor and self-esteem, and the way to do this is to love being despised, humiliated and confused. If the creature doesn’t do this, it will always feel a void within, or as Jesus tells Luisa, a braid of thorns around her heart. At this point, self-knowledge risks becoming useless, if not harmful. In fact, it is necessary to distinguish an attitude of despair from an attitude of trust. If not accompanied by knowledge of God (which induces confidence), the awareness of one’s nothingnes is likely to lead to despair. And how many are the people who today live in the darkness of despair, in an interior state of suicide and the desire to destroy themselves? When Jesus tells Luisa that it is necessary to destroy honor and self-esteem, He is far from referring to those self-punishing and self-destructive behaviors that are typical of people who suffer from depression or despair. Rather, Jesus' teaching aims to destroy that seed which is the cause of this despair: self-love.

The usual society. Certainly the path towards the beatitudes today is strewn with many obstacles caused by a society that increasingly worships self-love. How can we not notice that today more than ever appearance is what counts in the confused universe of "likes", displays, outward shows, and successes. It may be obvious, but it is evidence of a society that is building its immense castle of illusions with the sand of self-love. The desire to succeed, to have approval, feel important and to achieve is great. Fashions, personalities that storm the web, political parties, the masses that move very quickly from one celebrity to another are in exponential growth. The divine teaching of knowing oneself is deformed into the human and vain "making oneself known”. All this generates and is born (in a perverse short circuit) from the feeling of exclusion that this same society violently provokes, since the self-centeredness of self-love is blind and considers others as instruments for attaining its own purposes: in the opposite case, people become non-existent and are excluded. In other words, self-love rules out love. All this creates in man an immense void and feeling of unrest as well as the braid of thorns that Jesus speaks about to Luisa. And perhaps this vacuum can become the ideal ground to discover a true thirst for spirituality (which, unfortunately, is too often unnecessarily satisfied by walking spurious paths and fueled by trends).

Divine humility. Now self-knowledge is the necessary virtue for acquiring the virtue of humility. The man who has come to know himself understands that the virtue of humility cannot be found within himself, but that it is only of Christ; only He is the truly humble One. So, for a man to be humble he must love those same humiliations that made Christ humble; it means clothing oneself with the same humiliations. We cannot be humble of ourselves, but can only clothe ourselves with His humility. Jesus wants us to be aware of our limitations. He wants us to be humble, available, open to everything and everyone, extremely flexible, friendly, generous, ready to give everything like supple clay in His hands (the word ‘humble’, in fact, derives from ‘humus’, or ‘earth’). The humble attitude is extremely vital, because it breeds life. The humble can be open to understanding and to the life of universal love of the Divine Will. That it is why Jesus places poverty of spirit first in the list of the Beatitudes. Without it the other Beatitudes would have neither truth nor life, but would be the mere appearance of a wicked heart. Without being poor in spirit how is it possible to accept and desire suffering, to be truly meek and merciful, as true peacemakers, and so forth? And above all, poverty of spirit is the key to the Kingdom of the Divine Will. It was Luisa’s littleness that convinced Jesus to choose her and entrust the mission of making the Divine Will known to mankind. Humility, as Luisa sang, "beckons Grace, unites heaven and earth and the human heart with the divine: it is the smile of God and the cry of hell”. 

Alessandro De Benedittis
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