Thursday, 22 May 2008

On poverty and St Francis

I came across two great takes on how we should approach the spirit of poverty today, one serious, one anything but.

We are not, of course, all called to be religious, and commit to the evangelical counsels in their fullness. But we are all supposed to strive to achieve them in ways consistent with our state of life.

So first the serious discussion of Benedictine vs Franciscan approaches to poverty in this week's "Abbot's Notebook", always worth reading, from Abbot Christopher of Christ in the Desert monastery:

He makes some important points that I think are worth meditating on:

"Probably all of us who live in the "developed" countries need to meditate a bit more on our acquisitiveness. All of the spiritual paths seem to indicate that we must have detachment from the goods of this world if we hope to enter a deep spiritual life.

Detachment does not mean in some kind of dire poverty. There is no message in the Gospels or from Jesus that we must all live in abject poverty. I remember many years ago when I was told that I was trying to live Benedictine life according to the ideals of Saint Francis. How I objected to that!

Yet it was probably true. I was young and idealistic and wanted our community to have no saving and to live simply from hand to mouth. That does seem to be the idea that Saint Francis gives in his writings. But it is not the idea of a Benedictine monastery.

The Benedictine ideal is for each monk to have just what he needs, no more and no less....For the Benedictine ideal, the identification with the poor comes really through the vow of obedience.

Truly poor people simply cannot take decisions about their lives because they do not have the means to make those decisions. Monks are not able to make the decisions about their lives because they have given that right over to their abbot. The result can be the same: poverty because of the inability to make our own decisions.

A person with means can decide to start a trip today and not worry about any expenses. A poor person might dream of a trip but must plan very carefully if any trip is at all possible.....In so much of the present culture in "developed" countries, it is taken for granted that we should be able to do what we want to do and when we want to do it. The amount of "frivolous" purchases--buying things that really don't help any quality of life--is amazing in our "developed" countries. People often buy things just because they want to buy something, not because they need it. People want extra cars, extra homes, extra toys, etc. This can become a sickness in a culture."

And for a light hearted take on the same issue, let me refer you to 'Ask Sr Mary Martha', who was asked for a saint to keep neo-cons at bay (not by a traddie however!):

St Francis, she suggests, is the obvious solution:

"Francis encountered a bum on the side of the road and, itching to ditch his soldier suit, traded his duds with the bum.

Now think about that for a minute. That's a little out there, don't you think?

Say you were coming home from your job one day in your three piece pantsuit and matching pumps. Maybe you were thinking about how much you hate your job and your boss and having to wear this three piece pants suit with the matching pumps.

Suddenly you spot a homeless woman. You slam on the brakes jump out of the car and ask her to trade clothes with you.

Think her clothes are clean?

The two of you strip right there on the street and you put on her filthy, stinking old clothes and she walks off in your pumps.

When you see her all dressed up, you have another great idea.

You give her your car! Hey, you can't get back in your car in those stinking clothes anyhow. You'll ruin in the upholstery. You'll never get that smell out, even with a little cardboard pine tree hanging from the rear view mirror.

Francis was not a normal person.

Of course, his father blew up at him when he finally returned home and told him to take those stinking rags off. What his father meant was, "Get those stinking clothes off and put on your real clothes that I paid hundreds of dollars for!" But Francis just dropped his drawers and walked off naked into the sunset....

So get home in the stinking rags of the homeless woman (who is now at Starbucks in your car and pantsuit having a soy latte that she bought with the change in your car seat) and your husband says, "Get those stinking clothes off!" And your response? You strip completely and walk out the door, never to be seen again in any type of normal setting.

The next thing anyone knows you are talking to birds and squirrels and getting the stigmata."

Do read the whole thing. Its priceless.

PS Her parting advice is to lighten up on those conservatives - after all you are going to have to share heaven with them. Hmmm....


Sister Mary Martha said...

What makes you think I wasn't serious?

Terra said...

Dear Sister,

I didn't mean to imply that the underlying message wasn't a serious one!