“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (John 12:5).
Judas’ question in today’s Gospel can generate nearly endless debate about the role of almsgiving and charity in the Christian life. Francis seems to have been acutely aware of the deceptions and subterfuges of some who wanted to follow him. A story is told by several of his biographers of a man known as Brother Fly.
After Francis had preached…a certain man came humbly asking to be admitted into the order. The saint said to him: “If you wish to be joined with the poor, first distribute your possessions to the poor of the world.” When he heard this, the man left, and, impelled by a carnal love, he distributed his goods to his relatives and gave nothing to the poor. It happened that when he came back and told the saint of his generous liberality, the father laughed at him and said: “Go on your way, brother fly, for you have not yet left your home and your relatives. You gave your goods to your relatives and you have defrauded the poor; you are not worthy to be numbered among the holy poor. You have begun with the flesh, you have laid an unsound foundation on which to build a spiritual structure.” That carnal man returned to his own and got back his goods which he did not want to give to the poor and for that reason he abandoned very quickly his virtuous purpose.
The tension between material possessions and the spiritual life has always been part of religious life. We see it in our own religious institutions and in our own lives. Francis knew the many dangers of money. If we listen to his cautions and strive to live his ideals, we can rest assured that we won’t go too far off the path.
—from the book Lent with St. Francis: Daily Reflections
by Diane M. Houdek