Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Freedom of St. Francis

At present, I'm living with a Franciscan community of Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration. On the Franciscan liturgical calendar, May 24 celebrates the dedication of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. The ordo prescribes readings from the Common of the Dedication of a Church, but the readings for the day--Monday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time--turned out to be much more appropriate for St. Francis.

The gospel was the well-known story of the rich man who asked Jesus what he must do to gain the one thing he didn't have: eternal life (cf. Mark 10:17-22). Jesus answered, "Simple, just sell all you have, give to the poor, and come follow me." As you may remember, the rich man didn't find that simple at all, so he went away sad, but many saints, including St. Francis, found it the simplest thing of all, though it sometimes took them time and struggle to recognize it.

St. Francis and St. Clare wove a rich tapestry of interpretations of poverty undertaken for the sake of the gospel. One thread followed the notion that poverty means freedom: freedom from material possessions and all the preoccupations they lay on our shoulders; freedom for Christ. We get a taste of that freedom when we clean out a closet and give away all those clothes we know perfectly well we'll never wear again, or all those books we finally admit we will not actually read. (My monastic vows mean that I don't actually own anything, including books, but I often have to remind myself as I cart a load of "will-reads" back to the monastery library across from my room that, really, they will be just a few steps away if I finally do get around to taking one up!)

For some reason, this notion of poverty as freedom for Christ reminds me of a line from Psalm 119: "Blessed is the one who turns not aside after gain." A Christian's life trajectory is toward Christ, the one all-satisfying good. Blessed is the one who, like the disciples urged to dump even a change of clothes as they set off to preach the gospel, drops everything that hinders or slows that trajectory. But how sad the one who, like the rich man, sees the goal and turns aside after some lesser gain.''

Copyright 2010, Abbey of St. Walburga