Part 5 - aspects of poverty Secular Franciscans can routinely practice
Secular Franciscans can practice poverty by avoiding luxury in food, dress, unhealthy competition between neighbors for unneeded items (a bigger lawnmower so one can brag to the neighbor you have the best!). Avoid the seeking of idols in material things. It is better to have less, rather than more. You know why the wealthy are often very lonely and unhappy? It is because they have things rather than God on their side. In their luxurious way of life, God is not welcome anymore, and that's tragic. Of course there are many people with some financial means who understand the need for practicing Franciscan poverty - and I am sure there are a number of those amid our Franciscan sisters and brothers.
It has always struck me, how generous and joyful many poor people are. They manage to cope on nothing, because they know their worth: God's love and His protection always. Free and unrestrained indulgence in material things is not our style. Secular Franciscans studiously avoid such a situation.
Wanting more is vanity. It is not necessary to have the fastest car, when it is clear that traffic lights prevent one from getting there any faster than the less speedy model. Although I drive relatively fast (I mean, I am no slowpoke), when there are people who zig-zag through traffic to get to the head of the pack, and then meet me at the next red traffic light, I cringe - because in their zeal they place me and every other driver in peril. And they do not get to the destination faster at all. It is vanity. So let us avoid extremes. I'll be off to the General Chapter, soon (having been invited by CIOFS as I am their webmaster), and living in Florida I did not have a proper winter coat. The coat I bought with Gore-Tex™ and Thinsulate™ set me back around $180, and I felt bad about that... A $50 coat would have sufficed, but the problem is that in Florida, second-hand stores usually do not have heavy winter wear at this time of year. Maybe in March and April, but even then, I did not see anything useful in my size. The General Chapter is held in Hungary this year, where it is very cold and snowy in November.
I have spent money foolishly. I'm spending money, at times, that I do not have, using credit cards and that is very un-Franciscan, and it gets one into trouble eventually. How I manage to make ends meet on Social Security is a mystery to me, and I thank Our Lord for his help and love.
Secular Franciscans exercising poverty should be thrifty and frugal! And, we should be teaching our children these practices. Remember, you can't take it with you, when Our Lord calls you to Himself - so keep your life simple.
"St. Francis, in his simple wisdom, saw poverty and humility as twins.¹" Humility is often called the foundation of all virtues. Read over the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:3 ff.), these words from the mouth of Jesus are the definition of the humble. How happy are they who realize that they who admit absolute poverty before God see everything as a Gift. And then we are grateful to Our Lord for Him.
Nothing can exist without God. Jesus said, "Of myself, I do nothing" (Jn.8,28). Mary speaks of her lowliness. But we are far from worthless. How could we be, since we are made in the image of Our Lord?
It is good to have some ego-strength as the psychologists call the application of inner worth in everyday life. But it is bad when it is all ego and there is no humility involved. All ego results in pride. The humble person guards against that. Like two people talking, and the one says to the other, "I can do anything I set my mind to." And the other comes back with "Try walking on water!" There is a lot we aren't capable of, so stop saying you can! God is like us in everything except sin - try walking on water and you'll quickly see that there are exceptions!
Some people feel that if they are humble, people will try to take advantage of them. First of all, so what!? Who cares, right? And secondly, one can be humble but no one needs to be a "doormat." One should gently stop others from walking over you! Gently, is the key. You're low man/woman on the office staff - that doesn't mean that you go out every day to get coffee for the gang ... that's an example of being used. Excessively. People say, I could lose my job if I complain... no you won't!!! Just don't be angry as you say something about it. Be gentle as Jesus is gentle.
Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, make my heart like onto thine. - This is an old prayer, and one that is still very valid today. If we all had a sense of His gentleness and humility there would be less evil in this world!
St. Francis was a humble man. His expression "Go preach and use words if necessary," is a reflection to his humility. Likewise, his explanation to Brother Leo of what is perfect Joy, these are the words of a humble man. "With St. Paul, the only thing Francis would take "pride" in was the "cross of Christ.¹"
Franciscans do not judge other people. This is a very, very important point in our spirituality! It is so easy, as the world so often does, to judge people by their diseases, life conditions, spending habits, language usages, without showing any appreciation of the inner person. We all have in common that we were born and that we will, someday, die. What clothes we will wear in life, what we will do for a living, and all the frills of living - is completely immaterial; it just isn't important. What IS important is how we live that life, what we do for other people and how we serve Our Lord! Only God judges, we should not. As St. Bonaventure said: "I must consider myself below others, not because I am certain that I am, but because I am more certain of my unworthiness than I am of theirs.¹"
Not judging people is terribly difficult for some. Let me give you an example especially fitting to today's culture. Many people have AIDS or are HIV-positive. That's horrible for them, for they are not looking forward to a long life. Morality, teaches us to repel the sin of homosexuality, which is known to be a possible cause of AIDS. It becomes so easy then to equate homosexuality with all people having AIDS, and form a mass-judgment. No, that is simple un-Franciscan. You will see Franciscans working amid people with AIDS spreading only God's love without resorting to judgment and disdain. If you cannot do this - then you cannot be a Franciscan, for our Lord told us to love our Sisters and Brothers as we do ourselves. We abhor the sin, but we love the person, as Jesus Christ does. And, Christians who love God, emulate Our Lord!
I'm involved in Prison Ministry. I am aware that the people I am ministering to are often murderers, thieves, and are awaiting trial for rape, incest, etc., and other crimes against humanity. At the point in time that I am with an inmate, the only thing I see is Our Lord hanging on the Cross. There are no side issues, no condemnation. Of course I abhor what some of these folks got themselves into, but judgment isn't mine to make!
Franciscans are known as the "Lesser Brothers" - the little people, and we who are Lay Franciscans need to follow up on that concept. Our body, soul, and God's grace within us is a marvelous Gift of Our Lord! Everything that I have is a Gift from God. I know my own sin, but I do not know the sins of others, so I cannot judge them. They deserve my help and support. Humility is Truth. The Gifts of Our Lord to me are a privilege, not a right, and I am thankful for them.
In the next reflection on "Seeking Franciscan Perfection," we will discuss some of the practical aspects of chastity for adults and the young.
Fred Schaeffer, SFO
Article #5, 11/01/2008, 2014
1. "The Third Order Vocation" Leonard Foley, OFM and Jovian Weigel, OFM.1976 Published by St. John the Baptist Province of the OFM (my writing follows the subjects in this books, to guide me along a certain path in this writing).
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