Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints, Saint. Francis of Assisi. Even during the years I practiced Buddhism, I felt a great affinity for Francis. I am not alone; this is a saint who is beloved by many, including the current Pope, who took Francis’ name.
In a talk I gave this past Monday night, at the first session of a monthly series on Christians mystics I am co-presenting at St. Catherine’s, I reflected on several elements of Francis’ spirituality.
One of the central elements of Francis’ spirituality was a life of poverty and 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.”
Francis 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.
We would do well to emulate this aspect of Francis’ spirtuality. His wisdom is as relevent today as it was in the 12th Century.
Note: I neglected to record the talk I gave on Francis last week. But for those who may be interested here is the prayer material I distributed to participants for their individual reflection during our session.