But Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish…” […] And taking the five loaves and the two fish (Jesus) looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Luke 9:13, 16-17)
The donor in the scripture passage above could have had no idea of the magnitude of the miracle that would take place as a result of giving all he had to Jesus. All of us, but especially us penitents are are called to the same generosity of spirit exhibited by the boy in the scripture passage. However, as Franciscans living “in the world” there are constant temptations to keep something for ourselves rather than give it all to God. One need only read the story of Annanias and his wife Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 to see where that attitude will get us. They sold their land to give the money to their community but secretly kept back a portion. When Peter confronted them about it (he had been enlightened by the Holy Spirit about their deed) they each in turn fell down dead! That story should certainly give us pause!
Something else that challenges me to go farther on the path of penance is to read about the life of St. Francis. As we know, St. Francis literally “gave it all away”. After his conversion, there was nothing he did not give to God of himself or of all he had. And it seemed that the more he detached himself from material goods, the more spiritual goods he acquired. This was no coincidence, but was a direct consequence of St. Francis’ embrace of Lady Poverty.
St. Bonaventure tells us a great deal about St. Francis’ love for the Lady:
“The memory of the poverty felt by Christ and his Mother often reduced him to tears and he called poverty the Queen of the Virtues because it was so evident in the life of the King of Kings and of the Queen, his Mother. When the friars asked him privately what virtue made one dearest to Christ, he replied as if revealing his closest secret, ‘Believe me, my brothers, poverty is the special way of salvation. It is the source of humility and the root of all perfection and its fruit is manifold, though unseen. This is the treasure hidden in the field in the Gospel, to buy which we must sell all—and anything that cannot be sold should be abandoned for love of it.
“’Anyone who wants to practice perfect poverty,’ he said, ‘must renounce all worldly wisdom and even secular learning, to a certain extent….Anyone who clings to his own opinions in the depths of his heart has not renounced the world perfectly.’”
As I said, if we find ourselves becoming complacent in the life of penance, we need only pick up the Omnibus of Sources and start reading! As penitents living in the world, we need to pray much and ask the Lord for guidance in living a life of poverty according to our station in life.
Of course the Third Orders are not required to live the radical poverty of the friars. However, it would be fruitful for all of us to pray and discern (with a spiritual director if we are blessed to have one) in what way we are each called to detach ourselves from the material world.
There is a form of poverty that is a call to voluntary detachment from all that we have, a total surrender of the distribution of our material possessions to the designs of God. So whether we have, or we have not, it is all the same to us.
In the words of St. John of the Cross: “We are not discussing the mere lack of things; this lack will not divest the soul if it craves for all these objects. We are dealing with the denudation of the soul’s appetites and gratifications. This is what leaves it free and empty of all things, even though it possesses them.”
Sometimes our poverty is imposed on us by health or circumstances. In Ralph Martin’s book, Fulfillment of All Desire the author makes a distinction between voluntary and involuntary poverty. About involuntary poverty he says that “it presents an opportunity to eliminate self-will from such poverty and to more purely accept it as God’s will.” He also says that “since the involuntary poverty of lay people is not highly praised, it can in fact even be poorer than the voluntary poverty of religious whose life is often praised.”
As a model St. Francis pondered often the poverty of the Holy Family. Certainly Mary is a perfect model of living a life of detachment, she who kept nothing for herself, and now from the infinite bounty of heaven, she continues the practice. She understands and embraces holy poverty, even in heaven, and indeed it is the source of her riches in grace. She is full of grace because she keeps giving it away to all who ask, and in response, Jesus keeps filling her up—with more and more each time.
I have a little ritual at the end of my Office prayers. I have some holy cards there, and at the end of my prayer, I kiss the Blessed Mother’s image three times and Jesus once. I kiss her three times—once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Spirit, knowing that she never keeps anything for herself, and when she passes on the kisses to the Blessed Trinity on my behalf they will be much more reverent, holy, and wholly delightful to God having come from her. I kiss Jesus once so that Mary gets a kiss too, because he shares everything with her in a never-ending dance of reciprocal giving.
In our Holy Mother, in St. Francis, and in the Scripture passage above we have holy examples of the importance of giving it all to God. In the end, poverty in penitents boils down to surrender to the will of God in all things.
Blessed Mother, St. Francis and St. Clare, teach me the ways of holy poverty. Heavenly Father, in poverty or plenty, I desire to live only and always in your most holy will. May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
From my other blog: www.pelianitoblog.wordpress.com
Psalm 94:14 For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage.
“My children, my faithful, my delight, how your faithfulness fills me with joy! Oh yes, I know your weakness, but for those who even desire to be faithful, my love fills in the gap. Indeed, my love floods in and the weak little heart that longs to be faithful in spite of itself is lifted higher than it could ever have climbed on its own power. Do you see how merciful is your Lord? Do you see how the humble soul has nothing to fear, not even its own weakness? What does it cost me to be so generous? I tell you, not only am I undiminished by these acts of infinite mercy, but on the contrary, I am magnified in them and they add to my glory. The Blessed Virgin understood this perfectly and seized every opportunity to become littler and humbler. Therefore, her soul ‘magnified the Lord’. This is a mystery, yet it is possible for all my little ones to attain it to some degree. Be little, my children. Be humble. Throw yourself into the infinite fount of my mercy. Your weakness will be instantly dissolved and I will raise you higher than you have ever dreamed. Children when will you trust in me?”
O merciful Father, loving and good, how unimaginable is your love for your weak little ones. Lord, we place all our trust in your goodness and mercy, and give you our desire to be faithful, wrapped in every humble act of the Blessed Virgin, our Mother. Merciful Jesus, we trust in you! Amen.