Advent: An Invitation to Spiritual Poverty

The Advent season is once again upon us. It is an invitation Christ extends to each one of us every year through this liturgical season of preparation for His birth at Christmas and His Second Coming. Advent is often eclipsed by the secular Christmas season going on around us, which means that too often we fail to enter into this important season that allows us to spiritually prepare to meet the Christ child in the manger.

In many ways the secular Christmas season reminds us that as Christ’s disciples we cannot live the materialism, noise, and busyness of the culture if we want to be spiritually prepared to encounter Jesus. Advent is a season of stillness, waiting, patience, preparation, and detachment. It points us towards heavenly realities and the end for which we are made: eternal life.

The Son of God, the King of the Universe, came to us as a helpless babe born into a life of poverty and suffering. Our culture calls us to the opposite through a season of consumerism. There is an inordinate emphasis this time of year on material things that can get in the way of intimate union with God and spiritual progress. It is not that gift giving is wrong, it is not. The problem arises when it becomes too much of our focus and becomes disordered. Our lives must be marked by spiritual poverty and a detachment from the things of this world if we want to live in intimate union with God. 

This Advent season is an opportunity to ask God to help us overcome our tendency to place our hope, happiness, and dependence on the things of this world. It is only through a complete emptying in the image of Our Savior that we can stoop down to meet Him lying in the manger this Christmas. It is with hearts of total poverty that we can enter into the deep mystery of God lying as a baby in a cold, dark cave who has come into this world under the shadow of the Cross in order to redeem us. Christmas is both a promise of our redemption and an invitation to live the poverty of Christ.

Too often we want to rationalize and justify our dependence on material goods, which in turn clutters our souls. We may not be called to a vow of poverty, but we are called to be “poor in spirit”, which can only fully come about when we surrender everything to God, including material goods. We must come face-to-face with our own nothingness and the fact that nothing in this life can fulfill us. We are made for more. We are made for intimate union with God and for eternal life.

The saints show us the radically of our calling as disciples. They forsook wealth, comfort, and ease in order to love and serve others. They lived in spiritual and material poverty in order to be completely filled with the Most Holy Trinity. They wanted to be able to give everything to the Christ child each Christmas. They understood that our souls become divided when we are attached to the things of this life. As St. Margaret Mary Alacoque put it so beautifully: “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

The level of intimacy we reach with the Most Holy Trinity is directly linked to our attachment to the things around us. The more we are attached, the less we are able to give of ourselves to God. As Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene explains in Divine Intimacy:

In the face of all that life can offer us in the way of honors, satisfactions, affections, affections of creatures, comforts, and riches, the Holy Spirit repeats in the depths of our heart the words of Jesus: “If though wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast…and come, follow Me (Matthew 19:21)”. This means, not only to desire nothing more than what one has, but to give up even this; not to be eager for riches, pleasures, consolations, fame, nor earthly affections, but to sacrifice all these things which fill the heart with the world, and prevent it from being filled with God.

We are filled with God in the measure we give up the things of this world. A detached and spiritually poor heart is the only heart fully capable of dwelling in union with God at the highest supernatural levels. This is the way of nada according to St. John of the Cross. It is something we can seek to live in any vocation.

A life of spiritual poverty allows us to enter more fully into the life of Christ because it frees us from all that would distract us or keep us from Him. The spiritual masters of our Tradition discovered that the more they died to this life, the greater their joy. That is because they sought to live for heaven, rather than earth. They were able to fly to heaven in this life. This poverty is the key to a joy-filled life and a deeper experience of the gift of Christ’s birth.

Poverty of spirit consists in being entirely stripped and empty of all these pretensions, so that the soul seeks and desires only one thing: to possess God, and to be thus content, even when God lets Himself be found only in darkness, aridity, anguish, and suffering. Here is that perfect poverty of spirit which frees the soul from all that is not God; this very freedom constitutes the reason for our happiness, because “the soul that strips itself of its desires, either to will or not to will, will be clothed by God with His purity, joy, and will. The beatitude promised to the poor in spirit is the possession of God, a possession which will clothe them with His infinite riches.

Only He can fill us with “His infinite riches” and be the source of unending joy. This is the gift offered to us each Christmas. Advent is an opportunity to ask God to lead us to greater poverty of spirit so we can be prepared to meet Him and allow Him alone to dwell within our souls. If we refuse to detach ourselves from all of the stuff around us that leads us to become attached to the things of this world, then our hearts will not be completely open to Him this Christmas or in our daily lives.

The question we have to ask ourselves throughout this Advent season is: Do I truly want to be free of the things of this world in order to meet Him this Christmas? The only way to do this is through embracing detachment and a simplicity of life that leads to spiritual poverty. To abandon materialism, comfort, and pleasure as the means for attaining happiness. Those are lies anyway. This requires letting it all go so Christ can fill the depths of our soul.

Each year Christ gives us an opportunity to make way and prepare for His coming. Now is the time to forsake the materialism and consumerism of our culture that gets in the way of our progress towards heaven. May we come to the manger this Christmas truly poor in spirit, so He can be the source of our joy. He is the only gift we need this Christmas.

Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash


Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (

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