Franciscan Spirit Blog

Novena to St. Francis | Day Five: Poverty

Novena day five .... St. Francis and Poverty

For St. Francis, poverty wasn’t a state or condition that afflicts some unfortunate people. For him, poverty was a choice—not something that anyone or anything imposed upon him. He had renounced the life of wealth and privilege that he was born into, but that was just the beginning. When we say that Francis chose poverty, in the very same breath we ought to say he did so out of his love for God and the poverty the Lord chose to embrace when becoming one of us.

Again, it all refers back to Francis’ desire to imitate Jesus no matter the cost. And since he was not a man of half-measures, it’s no surprise that we find ourselves talking about Francis and poverty more than 800 years after the fact!

But there are more distinctions that should be made between the kind of poverty that causes human suffering and the poverty Francis pursued. You see, Francis was a poet and lived during the age of chivalry, when men were courageous and women were to be honored and admired. And so he thought lyrically, in terms of symbols, metaphors, and allegory. Biblical poverty became, for him, “Lady Poverty,” the personification of Holy Wisdom. He understood this poverty provided him guidance and direction on how best to be “servants of the Lord of hosts.”

The relationship that Francis had with Lady Poverty is what we Franciscans call the “sacred exchange,” which helps those of us professing the vow of poverty to better understand it.

When I was in initial formation for the Franciscan religious life as a young man, I remember being asked the following question by an older friar: “How big do you want your world to be?” At first I was surprised to be asked such a thing. I’m not supposed to want “big things,” right? But then it began to sink in. By “big,” he meant how inclusive, how comprehensive, how unshackled do you want your life to be?

In other words, how much freedom do you need to follow Jesus? That’s what Francis got when he renounced all of his possessions, even to the point of stripping naked in the middle of the town square in Assisi. He got freedom. He knew in his heart what the cost would be to follow Christ—and he paid it. And so Lady Poverty would be his forever!

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Let Us Pray

Dear God, creator of heaven and earth, of all things we can and cannot see,
you made everything good and you gave us free will to understand creation’s goodness and to participate in its purpose.
Free us from whatever earthly allurements get in the way of our discerning and then following your Holy Will.


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