Summary of Happy Are You Poor by Fr. Thomas Dubay

Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom 
by Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003.

Happy Are You Poor is a fantastic book that deserves to be read from cover to cover. Fr. Dubay explains the purpose of this book in the preface:

“Happy Are You Poor is addressed to everyone in all vocations of life. It seeks to meet the readers where they are (good intentions in this question of material goods but often with much confusion) and to bring them to where they would like to be (completely possessed by God and not by things)” (7).

From what I’ve read, here are some key points I have taken away.

First, keep in mind that factual poverty is a negation in itself (a not having of certain material goods). Therefore, it is not sought for its own sake (it possesses no value in itself) but for what it makes possible and much easier to attain.

Fr. Dubay lists 4 main values of factual poverty:

1: Radical Readiness

Faith-filled poverty is a concrete experience – not simply an abstract ideal – that “does something to a person in the deep resources of his being. It matures him, develops him, makes him… sensitive and receptive to the mind and heart of God” (56, 61). Dubay emphasizes detachment and humility as two essential aspects of being radically ready for intimacy with God.


Do I experience this radical readiness?  If not, why? 

Am I sensitive to the fact that my deepest hunger is not for things but for Everything? Does this realization govern my day-by-day choices and decisions?

2: A Sparing-Share Lifestyle

“Words are cheap and many of us abound in them. Actions are costly, and the saints abound in them. Without action our faith is dead” (72).

“The saints are aware of the New Testament’s demand that if we see even one brother in need but close our heart to him, we cannot be loving God, that we are to love not simply in word but also in action (1 Jn 3:17–18)” (62).

“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” (65).

The Gospel demands factual sharing with the needy to the point of a rough equality as a sign of sincere love. We are to give even from our need.

“The saints lived heroically the sparing-sharing life of the Gospels, while at the same time they first of all sought eternal life both for themselves and for others” (69).


Am I vividly aware that sharing with the needy is a condition for possessing a living faith (Jas 2:14–17) and therefore of being in the state of grace (1 Jn 3:17–18)? 

Do I/we give to the poor not only from our superfluities but also from our own need? 

Have I practically embraced the consumerist philosophy of “the good life”? Do I consider myself as called to witness against this philosophy by a sparing-sharing manner of life?

3: Apostolic Credibility

“If we wonder why, despite the millions of us who follow Christ, the world has not long ago been converted, we need not look far for one solution. We are not perceived as men on fire. We look too much like everyone else. We appear to be compromisers, people who say that they believe in everlasting life but actually live as though this life is the only one we have” (73).

“Apostles are salesmen. They are selling something, and to sell one must persuade. To persuade, one must be believable” (74).

Saint Bernard was of similar mind when it came to what kind of life an ecclesiastic ought to have. Said he, “Though it be reasonable that one who serves the altar should live by the altar, yet it must not be to promote either his luxury or his pride. Whatever goes beyond bare nourishment and simple plain clothing is sacrilege and theft” (79).

“As the Master himself put it, we cannot serve both God and mammon. It is one or the other, not both. We must make a choice. People, even worldly people, can easily pick up whether we are living for this world or the next. If our actions contradict our words, it is the former they believe” (80).

“The person who like Saint Augustine is panting after his Maker cannot long keep his light hidden even if he tries. If silent love is burning within, there will appear a disinterest in material things without. People will know that this man is interested in people, not in himself. They see the authenticity with their own eyes. Men on fire are sparks in the stubble” (80).


Am I willing to embrace the self-denial and suffering gospel poverty entails? 

Have I actually lived as though I could serve God and mammon?  

Do I in my person enhance the Gospel’s credibility? Are people brought closer to God through their contact with me? Are they attracted to what is good, beautiful, and noble (Phil 4:8–9)? 

In my daily round of activities do I really look on myself as a stranger and pilgrim here on earth? Does the thought of heaven influence my choice of food, clothing, recreation, television?

4: Pilgrim Witness

We are pilgrims, strangers, and nomads on earth (1 Pet 2:11; Heb 11:13–16). Those who actually live this in faith are prophetic witnesses to realism and upset the worldly illusion that we can pitch are tent right here and live as though there were no death, no other destiny.

“But when it comes to our routine choices and decisions, most of us act as though we are by no means strangers and nomads here below” (81).

“We, therefore, need pilgrim witnesses. We need joyous, loving men and women to show in their lives that one can live a sparing-sharing lifestyle and still be happy and fulfilled. We need to induce conversion into the masses first by example, then by word—really, by both simultaneously” (85).


Do I consider myself a stranger, a nomad, a pilgrim on earth? Or do I find myself very much at home?

Is my way of life so different from that of the unbeliever that my compatriots know well that my homeland is not here below (Heb 11:13–16)?

Does my pilgrim status prompt me to want only necessities? Am I a hoarder? Do I save superfluous things?


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