Translated from the original by Ana Giménez.
The virtue of poverty -as all the other virtues-has its origin in the knowledge of Christ through the meditation of His mysteries. All virtues are linked to freedom. They tend to learn a style of life avoiding becoming slaves neither of anyone nor of anything.
This virtue is received by Teresa from Christ through saint Francisco´s thoughts, her friend saint Clara and saint Pedro from Alcántara. From this last one -made by “roots of trees”- she will admire his strictness, though she will not imitate him due to his rigorousness.
Christianity doesn´t identify with any kind of political or social party, although it considers that societies must be constructed from below, from the ones who are in need and from those who are vulnerable as its founder, who was born in a manger and died naked on the cross. If any political party would dare to put this principle into practice, nobody would vote for it. The same way, those church organizations which have converted the accumulation of money in a symbol of strength, may be approved by the institution, but in a very important aspect, they don´t follow Jesus Christ. Austerity of life is an indication of our believe in the Kingdom to come, we bear in our hearts. We must stand with hands full of love and empty of things to Him. The ambition to accumulate money, very much linked to “reputation” (honra) and whatever the others may say, doesn´t belong to Christianism; they are other gods which are not ours.
Teresa applies this virtue to any moment in her life, and in particular while her foundations. She distinguishes two types of poverty: inner and external poverty. Again, there are no rules here. Everyone of us, according to our situation, has to discover how to apply it to his/her life. I notice in Teresa that over the years, she would diminish the harshness of poverty, and look after her body to serve more and better; and above all, a more efficient way to discover poor people and victims in the world.
Some Teresian texts:
“In the matter of poverty, I think God has bestowed on me great favour; for I wouldn´t ever want to keep what is necessary, unless it were an alms. And so I have a strong desire to be in a place, where I live only on alms” (Spiritual Testimonies 2.3)
“ Always try to be as poor as you can manage to be, both in dress and in food (…) Against the peace which is given by the world in the shape of honours there is no need for me to warn you, as little honour is ever done to the poor” (Conceptions of the Love of God 2.10-11)
“Poverty is the way / The very road He came / Our heavenly Emperor” (Poetry 10.4)
“To act otherwise would be to deceive the world by pretending to be poor when we are not poor in spirit but only outwardly (…) For my own part, I believe that honour and money nearly always go together, and that he who desires honour never hates money, while he who hates money cares little for honour. Understand this clearly, for I think this concern about honour always implies some slight regard for endowments or money: seldom or never is a poor man honoured by the world; however worthy of honour he may be, he is apt rather to be despised by it. With true poverty there goes a different kind of honour to which nobody can take objection. I mean that, if poverty is embraced for God’s sake alone, no one has to be pleased save God. It is certain that a man who has no need of anyone has many friends: in my own experience I have found this to be very true.” (The Way of Perfection, Chapter 2)
“His Majesty does not wish we should be honoured by the great ones of this world: He will have us associate ourselves only with the very poor” (Letter 380.2)
Christ as a model of poverty:
”True, they sometimes convinced me; but, when I betook myself to prayer again and looked at Christ hanging poor and naked upon the Cross, I felt I could not bear to be rich. So I besought Him with tears to bring it about that I might become as poor as He.”(The Life 35.3)
About Saint Pedro from Alcántara´s poverty:
“His poverty was extreme, and so, even when he was quite young, was his mortification: he told me that he once spent three years in a house of his Order and could not have recognized a single friar there, except by his voice, for he never raised his eyes, and so, when he had to go to any part of the house, could only do so by following the other friars. It was the same thing out of doors. At women he never looked at all and this was his practice for many years. He told me that it was all the same to him now whether he saw anything or not; but he was very old when I made his acquaintance and so extremely weak that he seemed to be made of nothing but roots of trees.” (The Life 27.18)