To say that there is a Franciscan approach to economics, to business practice, appears to many an organizational leader as a pious exaggeration or a delusion. How can an order founded by a man dedicated to absolute poverty claim to have wisdom to offer in a market-driven society? What do I mean by Franciscan economics? Often, the American capitalistic economic worldview is a zero sum game based on scarcity. If you win, I lose, and vice versa. Franciscan economics sees a world of abundance and what I like to call “Just enough.”
Francis and Clare of Assisi chose a life of voluntary poverty, and they had faith that God would provide. This premise sounds both trite and naïve when, as leaders in Franciscan ministries, we feel like we are constantly competing for funding in all types of ways. We seek donations, grants, enough to pay everyone a just wage, and there never seems to be enough to cover expenses and make enough profit to carry on the mission. Can we survive and is our ministry sustainable?
A Franciscan response is that we should seek to have just enough. More and more of anything, whether it is more time, more sleep, or even more money, are not always better. The scarcity model is a myth. Francis and Clare sought to get rid of “stuff” because it distracted them from their pursuit of intimacy with God. How much are we letting fear of failure distract us from our real mission? If we are open and willing to abandon the scarcity myth and see the abundance that surrounds us, more creative, new solutions can emerge. This change is akin to seeing the glass half-full versus half-empty, and a willingness to see abundance no matter what the situation may be.
Paradoxically, when we choose faith over our egos, new possibilities emerge. We can easily be stuck in “how we have always done it,” or we can embrace a “just enough” mentality, which leads to reinvention, cooperation with those we used to think of as competitors, and the differentiating of what is a “must have,” versus a “nice to have.” Discerning and prioritizing, seeking ideas from a wide variety of stakeholders, and planning for life’s new realities then becomes a reality.
Building relationships with others engaged in Franciscan ministries is a helpful way to learn how to think differently about your biggest challenges. The Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neumann Communities in collaboration with The Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University is launching the Padua Program in the fall of 2018, with the goal of supporting leaders, both lay and religious, who serve in Franciscan Ministries.