If we loved our poverty more, we would take it a lot better. I want to strive with intellectual and spiritual possessions, but that is not the way to union with God, nor the way to sanctity and perfection of love. Blessed are the poor in spirit is to be without talents, or to lose them, or have them frustrated; to be without distinctions, without colors or decorations, without special abilities, or to have them ignored and denied. That can be one way to sanctity, if you accept your emptiness with burning love and gratitude and wait for God to fill you. And when He does, you will get all the rest thrown in with His wisdom.
Simple living in littleness and openness further takes shape by identifying with Christ and following his example in such a way that we reduce material needs, curb a thirst for possessions and the domineering power that comes from ownership, and use all God’s gifts in a spirit of generosity, justice, and moderation. Gospel poverty for Secular Franciscans, then, consists in acquiring possessions justly, keeping needs to a minimum, and using what we have as custodians for the generous benefit of others. In this way we achieve the wealth of the kingdom and do not get enslaved by the wealth of the world according to the charter for happiness given in the beatitudes.
Christian social action is first of all action that discovers religion in politics, religion in work, religion in social programs for better wages, Social Security, etc., not at all to “win the worker for the Church,” but because God became man, because every man is potentially Christ, because Christ is our brother, and because we have no right to let our brother live in want, or in degradation, or in any form of squalor whether physical or spiritual. In a word, if we really understood the meaning of Christianity in social life we would see it as part of the redemptive work of Christ, liberating man from misery, squalor, subhuman living conditions, economic or political slavery, ignorance, alienation.
Jesus teaches the way of poverty, and he lived it. He says clearly that we must renounce all of our possessions. But he goes further and says that we must even renounce our relationships and our very selves as well. Why? Probably because we have done these things so poorly in the past, and these unhealthy patterns have become so ingrained that only complete renunciation will allow us to break free. Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of poverty. It was there that he gave up not only possessions and relationships but also his very life. He not only taught the way of the cross, the way of poverty, but he actually became that way.
I have come to think that care of the soul requires a high degree of resistance to the culture around us, simply because that culture is dedicated to values that have no concern for the soul. To preserve our precious hearts, we may have to live economically against the grain, perhaps so as not to be forced into soul maiming work just to place bread on the table or put our children through college. We may not want to be plugged into electronic media and have our thoughts laundered daily with biased news, superficial commentary, and “lite” entertainment. We may not want to contribute to disastrous pollution of nature or participate in the current value empty philosophy of education. This comtemptus mundi is not a misanthropic, superior rejection of life’s pleasures but, rather, a compassionate attempt to find more grounded pleasure and communal fulfillment in deep appreciation for life relieved of ambition and control.
…if the citizens themselves devote their life to matters of trade, the way will be opened to many vices. Since the foremost tendency of tradesmen is to make money, greed is awakened in the hearts of the citizens through the pursuit of trade. The result is that everything in the city will become venal; good faith will be destroyed and the way opened to all kinds of trickery; each one will work only for his own profit, despising the public good; the cultivation of virtue will fail since honour, virtue’s reward, will be bestowed upon the rich. Thus, in such a city, civic life will necessarily be corrupted.
Poverty invites us to go beyond ourselves, by taking from us everything on which we might tend to lean. It is not a matter of simply being poor but of having nothing that can prevent us from being wholly open to the grace of God. The practice of poverty, therefore, is the condition and sign of our openness to the mystery of God.
~ Ilia Delio, Franciscan Prayer
We need always to be thinking and writing about poverty, for if we are not among its victims its reality fades from us. We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it.
In Franciscan Spirituality, the poverty and humility of God form the foundation of our entire theology. God’s desire to love us and to be physically with us is manifested in Jesus, the Word of the Father. Our God is not a God of vindication but a God of reckless abandon, giving everything (kenosis) in order to complete His desire to love each one of us.
This is what fed the insatiable desire of Francis to conform himself to Jesus, imitating Him as completely as possible. Francis sees Jesus in the same light as the Father, poor and humble, but the beloved (totally loved) Son of the Father. Francis too wants to become a beloved son of the Father and pursues a life imitating his (as he remarks) elder brother Jesus, who alone can lead him to the Father.
For this reason, Francis for himself sets out on a path of poverty and humility in imitation of the life Jesus lived. This is the only way he sees where it is possible to move beyond personal needs and wants, beyond ourselves, and to reach the place of transformation and surrender.