Today we celebrate the memorial of a saint dear to me, St. Francis of Assisi. I’ve written before about how significant he was to me during the time I struggled with my return to Christianity after years of practicing Buddhism.
There are many things to admire about this saint. One significant element in his spirituality was living a life of poverty and his concern for the marginalized. Francis looked at the Gospels and read:
“if you wish to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions, and give to the poor…and come, follow me.”
“Take nothing for your journey, neither staff nor knapsack, shoes nor money.”
“If any will come after me, let them renounce self, take up their cross and follow me.”
He read these lines and he took them seriously. For Francis, poverty was a way both of imitating Christ and of growing in love for his brothers. It was also a way of avoiding the temptation to sin that exists when one has property.
In the words of Sister Ilia Delio
Just as Francis realized that God humbly bends over in love to embrace us in Jesus Christ, so too he realized that the suffering of humanity and all creation could only be lifted up through solidarity in love. Francis lived a poor, itinerant life but he wrote very little on poverty. What was important to him was to live—not without possessions—but without possessing (sine proprio). He was keenly aware of the human person as weak and fragile and thus prone to greed, selfishness and power. To be poor is to live without possessing anything that could prevent true human relatedness as a brother.
In a similar vein, Steven Clissold writes:
Francis passionately believed that the love of material possessions lay at the root of society’s ills and of man’s estrangement from his maker. Property implied the needs for arms with which to defend it, and led to the struggle for power and prestige and to the chronic warfare which was the scourge of his times.
Francis felt deep compassion for the poor and the suffering. One of his biographers writes that he would grieve over those who were poorer than himself and that from a young age he felt a compassion for those less fortunate than himself. Would that we all have that same level of compassion.