Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Are You Poor

You ought to read Happy Are You Poor.  I think you'll like it.

This from a friend whose literary recommendations are usually good.  I was a little leery of this one, though. I'd read one other book by this fellow Dubay: Fire Within.  This same friend recommended me that one, too, a book with which I wrestled mightily in pursuit of an understanding or prayer and the mystics.  It defeated me, not once, but several times.  Even still, it lies on the bench in the family oratory, and I pick it up now and again to see whether I find myself either more enlightened or more capable of gripping its sense.  So far, not...

This one is easier.

Indeed it was.  Easier to read, much harder in its effect.  Life-changing.

I am not much given to the notion of "life-changing" events.  A priest friend recently observed that there is but one change in our Christian lives, the one in which we accept Christ.  Everything else becomes awareness and growth.  It's a perspective I like.  In my experience the "life-changing" events so easily touted by the world (and sometimes the faithful) are too often simply experiences of powerful emotion that fade back into the distance with time.  Perhaps it is just cynicism left over from coming of age in the touchy-feely sixties, group hugs, encounter groups, and all.  A real revision in my life, I have found, is rarely the result of an experience alone.  It comes from realization and humility and grace and work.  Lots of grace.  Lots of work.

This book would be the exception that proved my rule.

In decisive terms, Fr. Dubay takes on the issue of wealth and its place in the Christian life.  He challenged me, in my considerable comfort, to reassess the reasons I have what I have--and what I am to do with it.  His analysis is clear, his arguments irrefutable.  The call to moderation in the Christian life is clear, unmistakeable, and--at least in my case--too often ignored.  It is easy to make excuses.  After all, I'm doing well compared to others,  I think to myself.  Of course, the standard isn't what others do, it's what Christ did, and Happy Are You Poor makes it impossible to dodge that reality.

I read the book with an increasing sense of disquiet, and an increasing sense of the connection, call and claim of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  The teachings are hard for comfortable Westerners.  I found myself having mental arguments with the author, reading snippets, and putting the book down, finding it too difficult to assimilate, literally pacing the floor as I absorbed what this unseen teacher had to say to me in such gentle and demanding terms.  And always, always coming back again, settled a little, to move deeper into what he had to say.

It was a change because it put me face to face, again, with Christ.   I realized with new clarity the depth to which I am called to reshape my life.  Christian faith is not a box to be checked off on the grand-master list of life.  It is something intended to transform even how I look at--and deal with--the food in my pantry and the clothes in my closet.  Intellectually, I knew that Christian faith is both counter-cultural and involves a radical commitment.  His book made me face it clearly, I think for the first time in my life--or at least, the first time in a long time.

One thing was certain.  I heard the teachings of Christ on the blessing and burden of material goods come through loud and unmistakeable in the voice of a man I had never met.  Like the crowds in Jesus' time, I was confronted with clear, difficult teachings--would I turn away, or would I try to embrace them? Just how strong is my faith?  Just how much pull does the world have on me?

I think of that book every day.  I remember its admonishments in the market and at the computer and as I work and as I play.  My checkbook reflects it.  So does my calendar.  Not perfect, but better.  Not obedience delayed so as to be disobedience, but obedience evolving, awareness growing.  And with it a better understanding of that fundamental change that comes from knowing Jesus and giving oneself over to Him.  Faith a little stronger, freedom a little sweeter.  As hard as the road is, the road of making right my relationship both with things and my fellow man, it leads to great joy.  And the signs are pretty easy to follow, even if the path seems a little steep now and again.

Ahab called Elijah the disturber of the peace, for Elijah pointed out to the king his sins.  Fr. Dubay was the disturber of my peace.  I finally saw a picture of him when I noticed the announcement of his death on my favorite catholic website.  A cheery man with a shock of white hair and eyes that sparkled even in a photograph.  Not quite what I imagined the disturber of my peace to look like, but surely his good temper was the result of what he knew so deeply and taught so well.

Like the ancient prophets, he set clearly before me my deficiencies, and showed me in ways I could understand how to turn away from the things that separate me from my Lord.

One man I never knew leading me closer to another Man I continually meet in new ways. I feel as though I have lost a good friend with Fr. Dubay's death, even though I never came face-to-face with him, never exchanged a single word.  Just goes to show that knowing someone isn't a matter of meeting up with that person in the present time.  It's a matter of connection that runs far deeper and is much more durable.  Finding a friend is, indeed, life changing.  Another good lesson to keep in mind.

Thank you, God, for the Gift of Father Dubay. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.


  1. Oh, thanks. I was looking for that book from interlibrary loan but I had the title wrong (Blessed instead of Happy). I'll try again.

  2. Thank you for pointing out this book; I shall get it. I first read Thomas Dubay last year, when I read his: The Evidential Power of Beauty. It opened my mind to many things. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

    "You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity." (Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate in physics)

    "It is significant that whatever else may be said about (abortions), no one, not even the perpetrators, is in the least tempted to call them beautiful."

    "The radiant splendor and unimaginable unity of this divine plan for creation is still another illustration of the evidential power of beauty: truth is indeed symphonic."

  3. I have to come back and comment further. I am reading the book (just finished chapters 7 and 8, tough ones) with a friend --- who's out in California for a month. I just sent her a long email explaining all the out-of-context quotes of Fr. Dubay, and all the relative data he omits. He has a definite socialist slant, and is NOT in line with many other authors (St. John Newman, for instance), nor on many points of Church teaching on his radical approach.