Happy Are You Poor is one of the most instrumental books in my life. Reading it started me on my journey to minimalism, and Dubay’s salient writing continues to guide me today.
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Happy Are You Poor by Fr. Thomas Dubay first came into my life right before I graduated from college. My sister was leaving for the mission field and gave it to me so I could better understand why she was moving across the world. At the time I was hesitant to read another heady book; I was just about done with my nursing degree and I didn’t want to read anything else academic.
Thankfully I did read Fr. Dubay’s book that spring. As an avid reader few books have stayed with me over the years, and Happy Are You Poor has impacted my life the most. It is a grammatically easy read: full of Saints’ stories and anecdotes. In contrast, the message of the book is a difficult one to read and even harder to live out.
Happy Are You Poor Book Summary
What Is Gospel Poverty?
Happy Are You Poor is a systematic defense of the ideal of Gospel Poverty. In the very first chapter of the book, Dubay explains that
The Gospel repeatedly speaks of an ideal of poverty… We must renounce all that we posses to be a disciple of Christ. If a person has two tunics and a needy brother has none he must give one away, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to ender the kingdom of heaven, that we came into the world with nothing and shall leave it with nothing and therefore we ought to be content with food and clothing and gladly give up superfluities.Happy Are You Poor pp. 11-12
Fr. Dubay goes further than simply explaining what the Gospel preaches, but lays out how all Christians, lay and religious alike, are called to radical poverty. The book carefully and repeatedly emphasizes that poverty and destitution are emphatically different from one another. We are all called to a poor life, but not to destitution. He makes this distinction with the concept of a sparing-sharing lifestyle.
-What Is a Sparing-Sharing Lifestyle?
A sparing-sharing lifestyle, Fr. Dubay explains, is one that every Christian is called to. It is living out the reality of the message of the Gospel. Through this lifestyle we all share out of not only our abundance, but also our need, with those around us.
Our final premise: Poverty of spirit is not enough. Availability to others is not enough. A respectful use of creation is not enough. All these are good, of course. They are also convenient and easy prey to rationalization The Gospel demands factual sharing and not mere words.Happy Are You Poor p. 65
This point is driven home time and time again: mere words, or mental detachment are not enough. We need to practice factual sharing with our neighbor. The reader is not left with just philosophical musings; in each chapter there are numerous examples from many different saints’ lives on how they lived a sparing-sharing lifestyle.
Gospel Poverty is not a one-size-fits-all lifestyle. A sparing-sharing lifestyle can take many roles, but they all contain three main parts. First, working for one’s living. Here St. Paul is explicit: if one does not work, one does not eat (2 Thess 3:6-12). Second, we are called to share to equality. Once again we can look to the writings of St. Paul when he tells us our abundance should supply our brothers’ need, so in our need their abundance can supply us (2 Cor 8:14). The third part is the avoidance of superfluities. This is the natural end of correct motivation. Because we entered the world with nothing and will leave it with nothing we are to be content with food and clothing (1 Tim 6:7-8).
Saints Who Practiced Gospel Poverty
The following saints are just a few of those referenced in Happy Are You Poor. Fr. Thomas Dubay reflects on the lives of the Saints numerous times throughout his book and holds them up as examples for us all.
- Saint Margaret of Cortona
- St. Clare of Assisi
- St. Theresa of Avila
- St. Bruno
- St. Ephraem
- St. Peter of Alcantara
- St. John of Kanty
- St. Benedict Joseph Labre
- Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine
Fr. Thomas Dubay Author Bio
Father Thomas Edward Dubay, SM (1921 – 2010) was an American Catholic Priest, member of the Marist Fathers, author, retreat leader, and conference speaker. He received his Ph.D. From the Catholic University of America and taught at the major seminary level. In 1977 his provincial superior asked him to assist religious orders in their response to the Second Vatican Council. During this time he began to receive invitations to speak at conferences and retreats.
Throughout his life Fr. Dubay wrote nineteen books and is considered an expert on the writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. He passed away in 2010 after a two-year battle with cancer. He is buried in Washington, DC.
Select Other Fr. Thomas Dubay Books
- Caring: A Biblical Theology Of Community (1973)
- Faith and Certitude (1985)
- Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and Gospel, on Prayer (1989)
- Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within (1993)
- The Evidential Power of Beauty (1999)
- Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within (2002)
- Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer (2006)
- Saints: a Closer Look (2007)