St. Francis’ poverty not political

St. Francis

St. Francis

The following comes from a March 24 story on the website of the Catholic News Agency.

Saint Francis of Assisi’s concern with poverty was secondary in his life and stemmed from his utter reliance on and love for God, a priest familiar with the saint said.

“The usual image of Francis and poverty is skewed…poverty is important, but it is secondary to something else for Francis, which is absolute dependence on God,” Dominican priest Father Augustine Thompson told CNA March 21.

While many associate the 13th century saint with poverty, he wrote little about it and when he did, he was pointing to the humility of the Incarnation and the death of Christ, said the Berkeley, Calif.-based priest.

“The one time he talks about poverty itself – he mentions it very rarely in his own writings – he gives as the perfect example of poverty that the second person of the Blessed Trinity became a human being and took on the lowliness of the human condition, and then offered himself on the cross, and offers his body to us in the Eucharist.”

“The Eucharist and poverty for St. Francis are two parts of the same thing,” said Father Thompson, author of the 2012 book Francis of Assisi: A New Biography.

While believing in service to the lowest of the poor, St. Francis also “sees the Eucharist as worthy of the utmost respect, as it is itself the greatest act of humility and poverty when God gives himself as food to ordinary people.”

Thus the saint “had very strong opinions” about “proper celebration” of Mass, and also “was concerned that the chalices, corporals and altar cloths be fitting and beautiful.”

Rather than being offended by the use of precious materials in relation to Mass and the Eucharist, Saint Francis actually wanted to ensure that his friars would have silver vessels to bring to priests “who didn’t have suitable things to keep the Eucharist in.”

Father Thompson explained that “there’s no evidence anywhere in any of the early writing about Francis, or in any of his own writings, that he was critical of the papacy for having big buildings, for example. His ideas about poverty are not political in that sense, and they’re often made that way today.”

It was in this context that Father Thompson explained how he understood Pope Francis’ comment to media representatives March 16 saying, “how I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor.”

“I think that’s his gloss on the title servus servorum Dei.”

This title – usually translated as ‘servant of the servants of God’ – originated with Pope Gregory the Great around the year 600. Father Thompson said that a better translation of ‘servus‘ is the more radical “slave.”

“The slave is the poorest, the lowest you can get; and Christians, no matter what their material resources are, are called to be ultimately slaves of God. St. Paul says this, that freedom comes from being a slave of Christ, being subject in every way to him.”

“That’s how I think Pope Francis understands poverty, and he wants to be slave of the slaves of God. He’s using Franciscan-style language, but I think it’s just a gloss on how he understands one of the papal titles.”

“I don’t think it means something like he’s going to sell the Vatican art collections, although I suspect he’ll feel very uncomfortable living in a building built by the Renaissance Popes.”

Father Thompson concluded that “if there’s anything about Pope Francis’ entire life, it’s his attempt to put himself at the service of others, and that expresses itself in his simplicity of life too.”

For St. Francis, the reason for embracing poverty was not poverty itself, but that with no resources of your own, you are “totally dependent on God.”

He explained that “human poverty can only reflect the great condescension of Jesus, who is God and yet dies for us, and then offers his body.”

Father Thompson said that for St. Francis, “poverty and service are part of a subordination of himself to God, through the service of others.”

St. Francis’ encounter of service to lepers was “the point that changed his life, not giving up his property,” Father Thompson explained.

In his Testament, which he dictated on his deathbed, St. Francis said that “when I was in my sin, just to see lepers was very bitter for me. And the Lord himself took me among them, and I showed mercy to them. And on leaving them, what had seemed bitter to me had turned for me into sweetness of soul and body.”

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  1. Abeca Christian says:

    What a lovely article. The explanation left me in awe. It’s like digging in deeper in the beauty of our Lord. It is.

    Lets pray for those poor in spirit, the broken up in spirit, those who are hurting inside and no one is able to reach them, those who are swaying in the wrong direction, mislead by the blind in spirit. Jesus holy blood heal the broken, the hurting, the lost, etc. Even with our Lord’s passion, his bruised up body is still strong, His pain is not stopping Him from carrying us. His love is so great….look to His divine passion and see how great is His love. He has room for the world and more if they choose Him…no load is too heavy for Him. I only pray that many will see and trust in Him. I know it’s not an easy thing sometimes…but we have nothing to lose.



  3. LOVING THIS! Especially when I see how disgruntled people get when mere women are (gasp!) allowed in the sanctuary…

    FROM CATHOLIC WORLD NEWS: Pope washes feet of prisoners—male and female—at Holy Thursday liturgy
    “I do this with all my heart,” Pope Francis said as he washed the feet of a dozen young prisoners at Rome’s Casal del Marmo detention center. “It is the example set by Our Lord,” the Pope said, recalling how Jesus washed the feel of his disciples. “It’s important for Him to wash their feet,” he said, “because among us the one who is highest up must be at the service of others.” He encouraged the young detainees to ask themselves: “Am I really willing to help others.”
    As part of the traditional liturgy of Holy Thursday, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Pope washed the feet of 12 young detainees: 10 male and 2 female. He thereby disregarded the liturgical rules of the Church, which specify that the celebrant should wash the feet of males in the congregation, in a gesture that recalls Christ’s service to his own 12 apostles. Although many other bishops and priests have included women in the ceremony, Pope Francis became the first Pontiff to do so.
    The papal Mass was not open to the media, but his homily was broadcast and photos were made available after the ceremony. Pope Francis had surprised other Vatican officials by his announcement that he would celebrate the Holy Thursday liturgy in a prison, following the pattern that he had established in the Buenos Aires archdiocese.

    • Catherine says:

      What is Pope Francis really saying?
      Posted on 28 March 2013 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

      Here is what I think Pope Francis is up to.

      In this explanation I am not necessarily endorsing specific things that he is doing (washing the feet of females in a prison) or not doing (refusing the mozzetta, etc.).

      I am trying to get at what I think Pope Francis is really up to.

      Before liberals and traditionalists both have a spittle-flecked nutty, each for their own reasons, try to figure out what he is trying to do.

      Firstly, we are not succeeding in evangelizing. We are going backwards, globally. Francis knows this. This has to be foremost in his mind. This fact was probably foremost in the considerations of the College of Cardinals. How could it not be? So, Francis is faced with the obligation to address the problem of evangelization.

      In the wealthy west, the Church is often perceived (and it is so very often portrayed) as not being compassionate. The Church doesn’t care about women in crisis pregnancies (and therefore we don’t condone abortion or contraception because we are not “compassionate”. The Church doesn’t care about the divorced and remarried (because we don’t admit them to Holy Communion and therefore we are not “compassionate”). Likewise, getting down into the nitty-gritty of defending small-t traditions and fighting over their meaning, their larger value, history and worth today, we are not compassionate (because we talk about the details of worship we are therefore ignoring the real needs of people and we are therefore not compassionate).

      There are all sorts of ways in which people have lost the sense that the Church is actually about compassion, properly understood.

      I think what Pope Francis is up to is trying to project, re-project, is an image of the Church as compassionate. He is trying to help people remember (or learn for the first time) that she is actually all about compassion, charity in its truest form.

      We’ve lost the message and we have to get it back.

      For example , in his sermon for the Chrism Mass he indicated that priests need to be edgier, take more risks in getting out there with people. He is probably thinking (like a Latin American bishop might with enormous slums in the diocese) that you depart from certain things for the sake of connecting elsewhere. You risk being over-interpreted or losing control of the message for the sake of getting the real message out there again.

      I’ll wager that, as a Jesuit, Francis doesn’t care about liturgy very much. He is just not into – one whit – either what traditional liturgy types or what liturgical liberals want.

      Some liberals live and breathe liberal liturgy. On the other end of the spectrum, such as the undersigned, traditional Catholics think that liturgy is critical but for different reasons (“Save The Liturgy, Save The World”, comes to mind). Francis isn’t invested in either of these camps.

      For Francis, I think, it is more a matter of “a pox on both your houses”.

      Putting it in a vague way, Francis wants people to leave Mass feeling “joy”, or something having to do with the “kingdom”, etc. As he said at the Chrism Mass he wants people leaving Mass “as if they have heard the good news”.

      Look. I am not saying his is the right approach. I am saying this is what I think he is doing in his liturgical and personal-style choices (where he is living, what chair he sits in, etc.).

      Francis wants priests to talk to people and find out what they need and get involved in their daily struggles. Liturgy, for Francis, seems to be involved precisely in that. Do I think Francis may be missing huge points in this approach? Sure, right now I do. But I am leaving the jury out.

      I don’t have to 100% embrace what Francis is doing even as I struggle to see and understand what I is up to.

      I am quite sure, however, that Francis isn’t trying to ruin what Benedict and John Paul before him tried to construct. He is up to something else. He is getting at the problem of the Church not making any headway in evangelization.

      Here is a problem.

      Liberals will find it far easier than conservatives to claim that Francis’ actions are endorsements of their liberal thing.

      Remember this: Liberals could give a damn about the gender of the person whose feet are being washed. Their focus is really the gender of the one doing the washing. Liturgical liberals are included in this. They only care about the washing of the feet of women, because ultimately they want women to do the washing. This is about the ordination of women, not about their feet.

      Before these liberals start taking their victory laps, I would remind them that Francis is not going to touch doctrine. He has clearly talked about the Devil. He has spoken clearly before his election about same-sex stuff as discrimination against children. He has firmly fought Liberation Theology.

      What liberals forget in their present crowing is that even as Francis makes himself – and the Church – more popular by projecting compassionate image, he will simultaneously make it harder for them to criticize him when he reaffirms the doctrinal points they want him to overturn.

      Bottom line.

      Francis is pushing out to the world (ad extra) an image of compassion. I think he is correcting both sides, within the Church (ad intra), which may both be, both sides, losing the forest for the trees: we are not succeeding in evangelizing and we cannot sacrifice doctrine for the sake of mere popularity or worldly acceptance.

      • I think Fr. Z has it backwards. The pope doesn’t need Fr. Z’s endorsement.
        Fr. Z,. needs the Pope’s endorsement!

    • Anne T. says:

      Fritz, women have always been allowed in the sanctuary in the proper manner. The altar societies of the past and even now were made up mainly of women who decorated the altars most beautifully. I do not consider such wonderful service and work “beneath” me if and when I have the time to do it.

      • Anne T. says:

        In other words, Fritz, there are many ways for women to serve at the altar without trying to be or to compete with men. I get so tired of other women saying they speak for me. Most do not. Have you not heard, “The hand who rocks the cradle rules the world,” and it is so. Compare Judith, Jael, Rebekkah, Sarah and The Blessed Virgin with Jezebel and Athalia, and you will know what I mean. Women, like men, can do tremendous good or tremendous evil.

  4. Richard I think you are missing the point of the article. He is not necessarily saying one has to live with the poor to experience poverty. He is saying one must abandon oneself to God completely whether in imporverished situations or not. God should be the focus, not worldly things (even if one is surrounded by the material, one shouldn’t be “attached” to material things). Actually this is the charism of poverty adopted by the Jesuits (which interestingly Pope Francis is). Whether one is living in the streets of Calcutta or in a mansion, we are called to complete surrender to God. In fact, Mother Teresa taught this too. She said all are called to holiness whether a beggar or prince.

  5. Abeca Christian says:

    Why all the hostility from some here….this is a very good article and very inspiring. Why are some missing the spiritual aspect side of it? It’s really sad that some are missing the beautiful message. Give up the bad will….

  6. good cause says:

    You found a priest that was “familiar with the saint”? That’s a pretty old priest.

    Francis lived a resolute life of rich younster and rejected it in resposne to a call he felt from God. A saint for our times to be sure..

  7. From Pope Francis – ” Spiritual poverty threatens world peace” as reported by Catholic News Agency -March 22, 2013.
    “But there is another form of poverty!” he told the diplomats.
    “It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously.”
    “It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the ‘tyranny of relativism,’ which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples,” Pope Francis said.

  8. How about a compromise? Preserve the liturgy of the washing of feet and follow canon law; this action was performed with only the disciples present and having their feet washed. Christ instructed his successors through this act.
    Christ’s parable of the wedding where people from the street were invited when guests showed up without wedding attire seems more appropriate for gestures to non-Catholics and/or both sexes. It would avoid controversy if these acts of charity take place outside churches and sanctuaries.
    Perhaps those who are not “liturgists” fail to see how the liturgy is compromised and politicized by introducing extraneous elements: The Mass is the Mass; rallies for youth or other groups may precede or follow it. To incorporate them into the Mass is to ignore the greatness of the Mass, of which the Franciscan St. Padre Pio declared: “It is easier for the earth to exist without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

  9. Let’s see he does not want to be called “Pope”, and has told his household to call him Jorge, he refused the Papal ring from Guido Marini, he did not wear the Papal stole or mozzetta on the day he was elected, he will not wear papal shoes, he shortened Mass during Holy Week, he does not kneel during the consecration, he washed the feet of two females including two Mohamadeans. Yet many of you here see nothing wrong with this????? The warning signs have been there for all to see for the last few weeks.

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Janet I will pray to the Holy Ghost on what you are trying to say…..I pray that our Lord will speak to Pope Francis to help ease our concerns…with what is really going on and to guide him to be faithful to Christ’s church. We must pray for him….I hope you do agree with me on this. Sometimes if one keeps trying to appear like one is for the poor and goes to the extreme, it makes one wonder if true humility is really there because isn’t humility also knowing your role and to keep tradition not defy it.

    • Janek, I have seen Pope Francis kneel on a kneeler before the Blessed Sacrament, and I have seen him semi-genuflect at the Consecration. The man has lived all his life with only one lung and who knows what other ailments he has in his senior years. It is probably very hard for him to genuflect at times, and it is probably easier for most elderly to push themselves up from a kneeler than up from an altar. Therefore, we should give this pope some allowances for any hardships he has in kneeling or genuflecting. I doubt Emeritus Pope Benedict can genuflect very well any more either. It might have been excruciating for him. Maybe that is one reason he retired.

    • Actually one young woman was Islamic. The other is an Italian Catholic.

  10. Larry from RI says:

    Is St Francis the one that confronted an Imam of Islam with the truth and the Imam had great respect for the saint????
    Will PFI confront the world with the truth no matter the consequences???

    • Abeca Christian says:

      Larry I don’t blame you to have high expectations of our Pope.. After all he does represent our church and we are on constant spot lights. So yes I would think that our Pope Francis, being as humble as he is striving to be, he would expect nothing less from the faithful.

      • Abeca Christian says:

        let us not forget that…..we should not expect nothing less from the faithful….when it comes to speaking up and defending the faith….

  11. Anne T. says:

    Catherine and Others, when Pope Francis washed the feet of the women, I am sure he did it with compassion, propriety, dignity and in a very fatherly manner and in the Spirit of the Law instead of the Letter of the Law. Nevertheless, he is an older man, and this type of ritual (washing the feet of women) should not be forced on any priest. I have been told that many priests, especially younger ones, do not want to wash and should not wash the feet of women as they consider it a very sensual experience, and inappropriate for the keeping their vows of celibacy. The feelings of these men need to be taken into consideration also. There are many ways of showing humility and compassion to the poor without washing women’s or even anyone’s feet. Refusing to wash someone’s feet does not necessarily show a lack of humility but doing it is not necessarily improper either. It all depends on the person and how and why they do or do not do it.

    • Bob One says:

      At parishes I have attended on Holy Thursday for twenty or thirty years, everyone in the parish washes the feet of others. People simply go to one of the many stations, kneel and wash the feet of a person in a chair, wipe them, and then sit in the chair while someone washes their feet. I have never seen a priest refuse to wash the feet of women. I can’t imagine that a priest would say that it would be a near occasion of breaking the vow of celibacy. That is just weird.

      • Well, Bob One, evidently you have not had to hear the confessions of some priests to other priests. If some say it bothers them, then it must bother them.

        • No priest has told me another priest’s confession; I should make that clear, but often the laity overhear priests talking to one another or a priest might tell a member of the laity that they have had such complaints, quite possibly outside the confessional. Remember, too, that there are some women who deliberately try to entice a priest. They are probably rare, but it does happen. The Holy Thursday ritual is optional (does not have to be done), so please keep all this in mind if a priest does refuse to have the ritual or wash women’s feet. God only knows what he is going through. Don’t judge him harshly.

          • Catherine says:

            “Remember, too, that there are some women who deliberately try to entice a priest. ”

            Thank you Anne T. for your wisdom. I understand what you are saying. Bob One is probably disappointed to hear that you are not interested in whitewashing reality.

    • Anne T. says:

      To clear up another matter, I have been asked to take part in such washing of women’s feet in the past and get involved in getting people (husbands and wives) for such a ritual, I have always politely declined. I only take part in those things that follow the rubrics.

      • Abeca Christian says:

        Wow Anne T in San Diego, the parishes I attend have not done any of that…it’s always been just men and the pastor.

        • Anne T. says:

          Abeca Christian, some of these churches went back to just the pastor washing the feet of twelve men when things got too complicated and stretched out. They had taken a simple ritual and made it way too long and confusing.

    • Catherine, I don’t think very many men think of feet washing as sensual or erotic. I agree that the few who do ought to not be made to. Isn’t it like an alcoholic priest who uses unfermented wine for the Blood of Christ?

  12. Abeca Christian says:

    The idea of humility is also lost when one knows it represents humility….it is not genuine therefore not humility. If I ride the bus or take a limo does not mean I am prideful because I rode in a limo or am more humble because I rode in a bus. The cameras are following……humility is also knowing your place, taking steps for safety and care. What we do in private with our Lord and He only see’s our true humility. Yes as with any church leader one must set a good example and be of witness to our true Catholicity. But never compromising the important elements that cloth our Catholicity.

  13. Abeca Christian says:

    But never compromising the important elements that cloth our Catholicity. While the world views the church having many riches, gold adornments etc….what they miss is that they points or represent the riches that heaven is, of course heave is far greater but it gives an idea to the human soul, who only understand things in their human condition. It points to heaven. We don’t neglect the poor no not at all but like my grandmum pointed out when she was alive, she came from a very poor family, they sometimes didn’t have shoes and she came from a large family too, what she remembered the most was her visits to the beautiful Cathedrals in Mexico. They pointed to Jesus, Mary, heaven, the angels and saints….it was so beautiful that for her, that she would forget how poor she was and looked forward to when our Lord would call her home…..she wanted heaven and she knew in her heart that the church cared for her salvation through it’s loud and clear, lovely message of hope and faith in Christ. Those were not her exact words but that is how I remember them.

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COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.