Rich and Humble Temporal Means within the Church


Jacques Maritain divides temporal means which may be used for spiritual ends into two categories: rich temporal means and humble temporal means (cf. J. Maritain, On the Philosophy of History, 1957, p. 70).

Those means which are visible and can be statistically analysed Maritain calls 'rich' means. They are tangible things like organisations, meetings, marches, church architecture and decoration, audio visual aids and mass media means. A characteristic trait of 'rich means' is their influence on one's self-love because their effects and results are apparent. This has the danger of our claiming these results as our own, and as a result, of our adopting an attitude of triumph.

According to Maritain, the second type of means are 'humble' means. They are marked with the stigma of the Cross and express one of the most profound truths in the Gospel: "[...] unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12:24). In these means, a true paradox of the dynamism of faith can be observed: the poorer they are, that is, the more destitute, the more insignificant in themselves and the less visible, the more efficacious they are. As opposed to 'rich means', these 'humble means' are not dependant on tangible success, and they do not have any internal need for temporal success.

The Poverty of Jesus

In our lives and in the Church we are used to relying on 'rich means'. We so very much desire to see the victory and triumph of Christ and to see His might and authority. Meanwhile, He is hidden; He is poor in Bethlehem, even poorer on Mount Calvary and maybe He is poorest of all in the Eucharist. By going to such an extreme in His poverty and humility, He emphasizes the importance of 'humble means'.

Jesus, in His redeeming works, above all, chooses poor and 'humble means'. No evidence of power is present at His birth. He comes to us as a small Child, completely dependent on the people around Him. He resists no one. Neither can He do what He wants, nor can He defend Himself. Above all, He lets Himself be known through his lowliness, humility and weakness. This is how He appeared at the moment of His birth and this is how He was in His Passion. He showed that you too must be stripped of everything. He showed that you must die to yourself like a grain of wheat, choosing that which is most effective: the 'humble means'.

This does not mean that Jesus did not use 'rich means'. The triumphant arrival into Jerusalem is certainly a rich means; it is the triumph of Christ. Jesus wanted to show that if He so wishes, crowds will give Him great homage and will lay their cloaks before Him. By this, He wanted to show that He could do anything. But this event could have misled the Apostles. In order for the Apostles to remain sober in their thoughts, on Palm Sunday, right after His triumphant arrival into Jerusalem, Jesus said the following shocking words: "Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12:24).

There were miracles in the life of Jesus such as the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, but above all He used 'humble means'. During His arrest, once again we see 'rich means' used by Him: the guards had to fall on their faces before Him upon hearing His words (cf. Jn 18:6). He threw them to the ground and showed them His power and might. Later, however, He allowed them to ridicule and scorn Him. He allowed them to spit on Him and to shout at Him on the Cross: "Aha! You, who would destroy the temple and re build it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross. ... He saved others, but he cannot save himself" (Mk 15:29-31). Jesus, with all His Divine calmness, accepts all of this and takes up these 'humble means' to save the world.

The Efficacy of 'Humble Means'

'Humble means' is the acceptance of suffering out of love for God. You encounter such means when your knees hurt during prayer, when you deny yourself something, when you question who you are and at times live in great calmness, silence, and contemplation. Nothing much is known about these things; they are invisible means. They cannot be measured by any sociological statistics. However, these are the 'humble means' that in the light of faith, prove to be the deciding factor in the fate of the world.

The use of 'rich means' will only be effective when rooted in 'humble means' – in a deep spiritual life, in a life of prayer, in dying to oneself, and in total devotion to God.

'Rich means' are the ones that are rich in the eyes of the world but they are seen differently in the light of faith. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom", St Paul says, "and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength" (1 Cor 1:25). That which is humble in the eyes of people, is rich in the eyes of God. The richest, therefore, are 'humble means'. They are the most effective. They are an indication of true wisdom, the wisdom of the Gospel. The use of 'rich means' will only be effective when rooted in 'humble means' – in a deep spiritual life, in a life of prayer, in dying to oneself, and in total devotion to God. The efficacy of 'humble means' stems from the presence of Christ in the soul, according to the rule that God is devoted to the soul as much as it is devoted to Him. The works of an active life, as St Thomas Aquinas says, are born of the fullness of contemplation (Summa Theologica, 2, 2, qu. 188). The efficacy of 'rich means' (the juristic-organisational apostolate) flows from the richness of 'humble means', and not otherwise. 'Rich means' can be limited by external factors, for example by the lack of time, physical strength, organisational management, or by persecution of the Church. 'Humble means' cannot be taken from the Church by outside factors. Their lack cannot be justified, since to use them one needs only good will and love.

'Rich means' are also necessary to the Church and they should not be rejected. God does not want one-sidedness of the apostleship. For example, He wants a Catholic press and a variety of visible forms of this apostolate to exist. St Maximilian Kolbe is in a certain sense a patron of 'rich means'. He dreamed about seeing a million magazines of "Rycerz Niepokalanej" ("Knight of the Immaculate") go out into the world – and his dream came true. It was Father Kolbe who gave out miraculous medals of the Immaculate in the streets of Japanese cities. He dreamed about a radio station, about planes and ships in the service of the Immaculate. These 'rich means' should not be disregarded and should also be involved in service to the Lord. We have to remember, however, that their efficacy flows from the presence of 'humble means'.

St Maximilian was a man of success, so many things turned out well for him. He founded a large apostolic Marian centre named Niepokalanów (this means: Town of the Immaculate) near Warsaw in Poland, which became a source of amazement for the entire Church. He founded similar centres of the Immaculate on other continents, also named Niepokalanów. This undoubted success was gained only through 'humble means'. St Maximilian gives the following testimony about this: "When all other means failed, when they all thought that there was no hope left for me, and my superiors concluded that I was good for nothing, then the Immaculate picked up this instrument, which was only good enough for the rubbish heap" (M. Winowska, Szaleniec Niepokalanej, p.71). It was Mary, to whom Father Maximilian was totally devoted, who picked up this little 'nothing' in order to make use of him to spread the glory of God and to save souls. The efficacy of his apostleship and his work in the service of the Immaculate began when he became gravely ill. His brothers and superiors then claimed that because he was in an advanced stage of tuberculosis he was no longer fit to work and then they all had their doubts about him. Then he was stripped of everything, like the grain of wheat which must die in order to bear fruit. This is a Divine paradox. A man who was considered useless in human terms became a most effective instrument in God's hands, because it was God who lived in him and acted through him. It was God who achieved success through this saint.

Faith is the acknowledgement of one's own helplessness and the awaiting of everything from God. This experience of helplessness and awaiting of everything from God are par excellence 'humble means'. Do you see the value of humble means in your life? God certainly does not limit your opportunities of this kind. Who among us does not undergo moments of torment, some particular difficulties or moments of spiritual deserts? Who among us does not have problems with our own selves and with external conditions of life? All of this cannot be seen, classified, or evaluated. It is so unnoticeable, that one cannot find any statistical data on this subject. Who could possibly know that at a certain point in your life you said 'yes' to God: "I do want – I want everything that You expect from me". Who could know that at a certain point when it was very hard for you, you said through tears that you love Him and always want to love Him? Who knows how many times you vanquished your own self, denied yourself something, and overcame your own will? It is these 'humble means' that are of the utmost importance to you, to the Church and to the world; these are the means that summon the might of God. How many times has God given you the opportunity to take advantage of them? Maybe you wasted these opportunities or refused to accept these priceless gifts from God. Maybe you even resented them and rebelled, while He almost forced them on you and asked you not to refuse that which is so important to the salvation of the world. St Maximilian Kolbe, who was called God's Beggar, best knew the value of 'humble means'. You must not forget that it is very important for you to accept humiliation with joy.

Try to smile in spite of feeling sad, and, in spite of your experiences, you try to look at the world cheerfully and with the faith that love will certainly conquer all. God appreciates everything. The efforts you make when you kneel on hard floor and your knees hurt very much, when you stand in a crowded church and your legs are painful, or when you are tired with a long drive to church in bad weather. He knows all about the humble means He has given to you for your use, which in the depth of your heart, you decide to accept or reject. It is in your heart that your own fate is determined and the fate of those closest to you. Since 'humble means' by themselves do not guarantee your reaching your life's goal, the efficacy of 'humble means' is based on faith, therefore, this efficacy is the evidence that it is God Himself who is acting.

You may say that you pray a great deal for someone who does not believe, for someone's conversion or for someone's health. But everything depends on how you pray. Some times, your one 'yes' spoken to God with joy would suffice. This simple, unassuming means can really perform miracles. If you find it hard to accept God's invitation to participate in the saving of souls, think about John Paul II, about his crown of thorns in the form of being viciously criticised and his great fatigue especially when travelling so often around the world. Think about St Maximilian, for whom so many things worked out, only as the result of 'humble means'.

He so very often found it difficult to breathe; especially during his travels where he was actually suffocating. He writes in his letters that sometimes he simply couldn't breathe and was totally exhausted. His devotion to the Immaculate was called a folly, but it was his determination in using 'humble means' that was the true folly.

If you have not understood the value of 'humble means', then you do not understand the depth of Christianity at all. If you do not understand the value and sense of 'humble means', then you do not understand the Cross which, of course, is at the centre of the Church.

It was from the Cross that Jesus drew everything to Himself. It was under this Cross that His mother stood and did not take back her "yes" when faced with the terrible suffering of the Saviour. It is from the Cross that God's grace of redemption and sanctification of the world flows continuously.

The Saviour draws you to Himself not by His triumphant entrance to Jerusalem but by the Cross. It is from the Cross that He calls you to follow Him and to love Him as He has loved you, "to the end".

The patroness of 'humble means' is Mary, who, if judged from the human perspective, did not accomplish any great deed in her lifetime. There are no rich means in her life at all; there is poverty, silence, a hidden life, humility, obedience, prayer, contemplation and devotion to God. Her life, filled with simplicity and the use of 'humble means', was a life hidden within God. She invites you also to this kind of life. She wants you to live a life of faith, so that in your heart you will desire to use 'humble means', thus imitating her life in Nazareth. She wants you to see the truth of this statement of St John of the Cross: "For a little of this pure love is more precious to God and the soul and more beneficial to the Church, [...] than all these other works put together" (The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza XXIX, 2; The Collected Works of St John of the Cross, Washington, D.C. 1991, p.587).

Victory through Faith

The battle with the Amalekites is the classic Biblical scene which shows the value and sense of 'humble means' in the light of faith. While crossing the desert on the road to the Promised Land, the Israelites engaged in battle with the Amalekites, because the Amalekites controlled the routes through the desert (cf. Ex 17:8-13). Moses, a man of God, knew how to guarantee a victory for his troops. If he were a strategist who thought only in human terms, according to the rules of military strategy, he himself would have stood at the head of his troops. If he had taken leadership himself, he surely would have encouraged his troops, since they were so devoted to him. However, he did something which was absurd from a point of view of military strategy, retreated and left his army under the control of Joshua, his second in command. Then he climbed to the top of the hill to pray there. Moses, as a man of God and a man of prayer, knew very well who decides the fate of the world and the fate of his nation. This is why Moses stood on the top of a hill with his arms outstretched in a gesture of faith. There was a close connection between him and the valley when the battle was raging. When his arms tired, his army retreated. He knew what this meant – God wanted him always to put forth an effort, to incessantly stretch out his arms to the Lord. Aaron and Hur, who accompanied Moses, supported his arms when they became completely numb. So it was throughout the entire day that this gesture of outstretched arms to God accompanied the Israelites' battle. Finally, when night came, victory was theirs. However, it was not Joshua or his army which fought in the valley who were victorious. In fact, it was Moses praying on the hill who was victorious. It was his faith that was victorious.

If this scene were to take place in our times, then the attention of the journalists, the television cameras, and the spotlights would be directed towards the place where Joshua was fighting. It would seem to us that this is that place where everything would be decided. Who among us would have paid attention to a single, praying man? But it was this single man who was victorious because God will be victorious through his faith.

Moses' outstretched arms are a symbol that says it is God who decides everything. He who rules is there; everything depends on Him. Human capabilities can be ridiculously small, but for the Lord, nothing is impossible to achieve. The gesture of outstretched arms, those numbed arms, is a gesture of faith. It is a 'humble means' which expresses the folly of faith in the infinite might and boundless love of the Lord.

Spiritual Motherhood

Spiritual motherhood is brought about through humble means since it is realised by participating in the death of Christ: "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a grain of wheat". Following that, it is brought about through participating in His Resurrection: "but if it dies, it produces much fruit". Sharing in the death of Christ is brought about primarily by accepting suffering because it kills egoism. On the other hand, sharing in the Resurrection is putting on a "new self created in God's way" (Eph 4:24) in the likeness of Christ, who is Love. It is the apostleship of begetting Christ in souls. It means that the apostle shares Christ who is present in his soul. According to St Paul, the apostleship is a spiritual fatherhood which, in the essence, is the same as spiritual motherhood: "[...] for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel" ( 1 Cor 4:15). Our apostleship as spiritual motherhood is, due to faith, our partaking in the spiritual motherhood of the Church. Through our faith, which fully manifests itself by the use of humble means, souls are reborn to live for Christ. Spiritual motherhood is brought about through the living word, which is the fruit of contemplative contact with God. It is brought about through prayerful devotion to God, and particularly through sacrifice and suffering.

A person fears suffering, but none of us can free ourselves from it, just as we cannot free ourselves from the burden of each day. However, the advantage of our suffering and difficulties can be wasted. Only accepting them and linking them with the Cross of Jesus will allow us to enter the extraordinary mystery of spiritual motherhood.

Two great sinners played a special role in the life of St Therese of the Child Jesus. When she was fourteen she learned about one of them, Pranzini, who had murdered three people. Despite being sentenced to death, he showed no remorse. Therese could not come to terms with the thought that he might die without being reconciled with God. For a month and a half, she offered all of her prayers and suffering for Pranzini. Then God gave her a sign: this great sinner, in the last moment before his death, took a Crucifix and kissed the wounds of the Saviour three times. When Therese learned about this, full of emotion, she said to Celine, "This is my first son." Therese, being only fourteen, already had such a clear understanding of spiritual motherhood. She writes later, "[...] suffering alone can give birth to souls for Jesus [...]" (Letter to Celine, July 8, 1891). Pranzini was a prototype of all sinners, whom Therese wanted to pray for in a special way and for whom she wanted to offer her suffering. She knew that prayer alone was not enough; that in order to save souls one has to offer the greatest gift for God, one's own suffering.

A more dramatic figure of a great sinner, according to testimonies of St Therese, was Fr. Hyacinthe Loyson. His name is never mentioned either in her autobiography, in Therese's letters, or in The Story of a Soul. Only twice, in her letters to Celine, does she mention "a certain Lily faded and withered" and that "he is really culpable" (Letter to Celine, April 26, 1891; July 8th, 1891). We find out about her desire to save this soul from the records of the process of beatification and canonisation. Hyacinthe Loyson, a Discalced Carmelite, superior of the convent in Paris, was a great and unusually gifted preacher whose conferences moved audiences in all of France. Even the Pope congratulated him on his successes. But at a certain point in time this exceptionally religious man turned from being a great preacher into becoming an apostate – a fighting apostate. He started to travel across the dioceses in France and, despite many protestations, he preached that the Church had moved away from the true Gospel. He fought the Church in this way for forty-three years. This battle terrified the convent in Lisieux, so much so that no one had the courage to mention his name. He was never directly mentioned, and that is why his name never appears in the writings of St Therese, who was offering her prayers and sufferings for his intention during nine years. For Pranzini, a month and a half was enough for his conversion, whereas for Fr. Loyson, nine years seemed to be insufficient. Father Loyson was excommunicated and later wrote an open letter incriminating the Church and the Carmelite Order. This provoked vehement protests and great indignation. Therese, however, did not lose hope. With a beating heart she said to Celine that his conversion was her main desire. "Dear Celine, he is really culpable, more culpable than any other sinner who was ever converted. But cannot Jesus do once what He has not yet ever done? And if He were not to desire it, would He have placed in the heart of His poor little spouses a desire that He could not realise?" (Letter to Celine, July 8th, 1891). This is her often-repeated statement: that if Jesus gives us the desire for something then it is not meant to remain unfulfilled. "No, it is certain", she writes, "that He desires more than we do to bring back this poor stray sheep to the fold. A day will come when He will open his eyes [...]" (ibid.).

When we analyse St Therese's faith, we see that her faith was a certainty. She knew that Hyacinthe Loyson would be converted: "Let us not grow tired of prayer"; she wrote, "confidence works miracles. [...] It is not our merits but those of our Spouse, which are ours, that we offer to our Father who is in heaven, in order that our brother, a son of the Blessed Virgin, may return vanquished to throw himself beneath the mantle of the most merciful of Mothers [...]" (ibid.). Therese so desired to save his soul that she offered her last Holy Communion for his intention. She died fully realising that Fr. Hyacinthe Loyson was not converted, but the certainty of her faith remained unshaken. The priest did die fifteen years later, aged eighty-five. Jesus loved Therese so much, that this time He did not have to give her any sign. Jesus knew that she would not stop believing that Fr. Loyson would be converted. When in 1912 Loyson was dying, there was no Catholic priest with him and there was no confession. It is known, however, that before his death he received a copy of The Story of a Soul and read the writings of St Therese in one reading, which he described as "a folly and something quite shocking". During his difficult death, those close to him heard the words "Oh, my sweet Jesus" repeated (cf. Letters of St Therese of Lisieux, vol. II, p.731). This last act of love directed towards Jesus allows us to assume that Fr. Hyacinthe was saved – thanks to the prayers and sufferings of Therese. He was also her spiritual son.

This statement by St Therese "[...] suffering alone can give birth to souls for Jesus [...]" shows us what spiritual motherhood depends on. A mother is one who gives life and who supports that life. A person fears suffering, but none of us can free ourselves from it, just as we cannot free ourselves from the burden of each day. However, the advantage of our suffering and difficulties can be wasted. Only accepting them and linking them with the Cross of Jesus will allow us to enter the extraordinary mystery of spiritual motherhood. Taking part in the royal priesthood of the faithful, we are called to this kind of motherhood. We are to gain and give birth to souls for Jesus. Think about all the many things that are difficult for you: maybe the lack of health, domestic conflicts, rebellious children or some spiritual torment. These things could be of even less significance, but if they are accepted and offered, they cause you to participate in the spiritual motherhood of the Church which means giving birth to souls for Christ. There is nothing more important than this. This motherhood can be brought about by a verbal apostolate and by an apostolate of prayer. However, suffering is the most effective means. Moreover, it is the most effective form of apostleship, since the greatest nakedness, which is a 'humble means', is found in suffering. In it there is a minimum of you and the maximum of Christ – in suffering, the Cross is most truly outstretched.

The Testimony of John Paul II

On May 25th 1985, in St Peter's Square in Rome, Pope John Paul II placed a cardinal's biretta on the head of Archbishop Andrzej Maria Deskur. This was an unusual consistory which invoked shock and amazement. Why was the Pope appointing a paralysed man as Cardinal? Surely, the Cardinal dignity is not a title or award for the work of a bishop. Cardinals are the first advisers and associates of the Pope. They have a very important role in the Church. Why then was a man unable to work because of his suffering appointed Cardinal? John Paul II discreetly revealed this mystery in the evening of the consistory in his speech to pilgrims from Poland. This is what he said about Cardinal Deskur: "He is particularly close to me from long ago, in my student years in the seminary, throughout the years of my priesthood and through many meetings in Rome, but especially throughout the last meeting before the conclave. Then the Providence of God touched Bishop Deskur with this extreme handicap, which he has until today. Among all the cardinals appointed today, he is the only one in a wheel chair and brings into this College of Cardinals a special stigma, the stigma of suffering which is a sacrifice. We do not know the ways of God; we do not know God's mysteries, but it is hard for me, personally, not to be convinced that the sacrifice of Archbishop, now Cardinal, Andrzej, happened in connection with the conclave which took place in the middle of October, 1978". In the suffering of Andrzej Deskur, the Holy Father saw the price that was paid so that he, Cardinal Wojtyla could become the successor of Christ. We know that as soon as the Pope was elected, his first steps were directed toward the Gemelli clinic where the sick and paralysed Archbishop Andrzej Maria Deskur laid. He was the one to whom the Pope, according to his own opinion, owed so much. The Pope had gone to meet the one who had given the Pope the 'better part' – his help through suffering, a difficult part, but the most effective, like all humble means. The fact that the disabled Archbishop Andrzej Maria Deskur was appointed Cardinal is an indirect indication by John Paul II of the value of humble means.

The Pope had gone to meet the one who had given the Pope the 'better part' – his help through suffering, a difficult part, but the most effective, like all humble means. The fact that the disabled Archbishop Andrzej Maria Deskur was appointed Cardinal is an indirect indication by John Paul II of the value of humble means.

Cardinal Deskur was previously the head of the Papal Commission for Mass Media. Thus, he was in charge of the distribution and of the function of 'rich means' within the Church. He did much in this field. He contributed a great deal toward preparing documents of the Church, which laid out the way of action for the Catholic Mass Media. However, the Pope did not mention these merits. He said nothing about the greatness of Cardinal Deskur's contribution for the development of the Mass Media. The Cardinal brought with him into the College of Cardinals the stigma of suffering, which is a sacrifice. One gets the impression that, in this way, the Pope wanted to emphasize the value of humble means.

On the first of June in the afternoon, Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur received his titular Church of San Cesareo in Palatio, the same church that was received by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1967. The Cardinal, in the majesty of his suffering, celebrated Mass seated. Instead of a cardinal's throne, there stood an armchair on wheels by a low altar. His hand, crippled by the illness, held the crosier with difficulty. A peculiar paradox; the head of the Papal Commission in matters of rich means was marked by the stigma of humble means.

The words of John Paul II regarding the attempt on his life should also be understood in the context of the doctrine of 'humble means'. He called that incident a particular grace. On October 14th 1981, during the Wednesday general audience in St Peter's Square, while speaking to thousands of pilgrims, he said these significant words: "God allowed me to experience suffering through the past months, allowed me to experience my life in peril, and allowed me at the same time to understand clearly and profoundly that this is His special grace for myself as a person. It is a grace for the Church as well, since I serve as successor of St Peter. Christ gave me this grace that I may give testimony of His love through suffering and through the danger to my life and health. I find this to be a particular grace and for this I offer special thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit and to the Immaculate Virgin Mary".

Without 'humble means', without the suffering which marked his life, could John Paul II have so effectively been the shepherd of the Church? Could he have drawn crowds? The Pope mentions the dramatic days of the attempt on his life once more on his Saint's feast day, November 4th 1981: "The incident on the 13th of May gave me a great deal to think about and made me look even more, in the light of the Gospel, at my human and Christian life according to those words about the grain that must die so that it can bear fruit".




Father Tadeusz Dajczer, Rich and Humble Temporal Means within the Church. chapter 5 in The Gift of Faith, 2nd edition (Ventura, Ca: In the Arms of Mary Foundation, 2001): 132-145.

Reprinted by permission of In the Arms of Mary Foundation. All rights reserved.


Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer was born on August 10, 1931 in Pruszkow, near Warsaw, and ordained to the Priesthood in 1955 in Warsaw, Poland.

After his Ordinations he studied at The Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he obtained his Ph.D. Upon his return to Poland he established the Phenomenology of Religion department at the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw. In 1994, the current President of Poland, Mr. Lech Walesa, awarded him the title of Professor of Theological Sciences, the highest academic title given to outstanding university teachers and scientists. He is the author of many articles and books in the field of religious studies and spirituality. Presently, he is a retired professor of the Faculty of the Academy of Catholic Theology (ATK) in Warsaw.

In the life of Fr. Dajczer, a decisive moment took place during his confession with St. Padre Pio. St. Padre Pio asked his penitent, with astonishment and great force, why he did not want to go toward God to the end. For Fr. Dajczer it was a shocking experience and at the same time, the beginning of a search for sanctity both for himself and for his penitents. He is the author of the book The Gift of Faith, which has been translated into 26 languages, and the founder of the Families of Nazareth Movement, which is currently present in 40 countries.

Copyright © 2001 Fr. Jaroslaw Zaniewski

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