Editor’s note: In this excerpt from Sunrise of the Soul, guest writer Gerard Thomas Straub reflects on the intersection of Franciscan spirituality and poverty.
St. Francis’s love of not only the poor but of poverty itself led me to explore the worst slums on earth in order to understand the saint’s deeper meaning, his radical dependency on God.
For me, Franciscan spirituality rests on the foundation of poverty. St. Francis’s concept of poverty was interconnected with his concept of God as the Supreme Good, and that Jesus Christ was the summum bonum of God given to humanity. Because of his great trust in the supreme goodness of God, St. Francis could give up everything and depend completely on God to supply every one of his needs in service of the poor from God’s overflowing goodness.
Francis knew that even in his “poverty” he would be very rich, thanks to God’s endless love and infinite goodness, which God wishes to shower on us. Francis wasn’t interested in appropriating the things of God for himself. Francis was focused on expropriation, letting go of everything for God, who gives it back a hundred times more in return.
Franciscan poverty should not be equated with the experience of living in desperation. This is not what Francis or God wants from us. St. Francis wants us to let everything go and joyfully trust that God will supply every one of our needs. When St. Francis faced the end of his own resources, he was able to see the vastness of God’s unlimited resources. St. Francis understood that a person’s spiritual life will not prosper without an intense awareness of their own poverty and emptiness.
All growth begins in a womb of darkness.
Unity with God, Francis discovered, is obtained in only one way: total surrender. This is Franciscan poverty. This lesson is best learned by being one with the poor and helping to liberate them from the prison of unjust, immoral poverty that robs them of their human dignity, a dignity that flows from being sons and daughters of a loving and merciful God.
For St. Francis, voluntary poverty was a way for him to always be dependent on God for everything. When Francis experienced the self-emptying love of God, it awakened his desire to love God and God alone. He longed for nothing else but God. Moreover, Francis put his full trust in the grace of God, the overflowing goodness of God. Every moment was pregnant with the grace to see the boundless love of God in everyone, and to return that love by loving others and all of creation.
In Francis’s eyes, everything that is good, every kind gesture, every act of mercy, every gentle touch, every gift of charity, every embrace of forgiveness, every moment of peace, flowed from God. Moreover, all loneliness, every disappointment, the very wounds of rejection, the bitter sadness of loss, and the times of suffering open us to the transcendent and allow us to experience the hidden closeness of God.
Without God Francis knew he was nothing.
With God he knew he lacked nothing.
The Sunrise of the Soul: Meditations on Prayerful Stillness, Silence, Solitude and Service in the Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi by Gerard Thomas Straub, OFS,
Copyright 2020 by Pax et Bonum Communications, Inc.
Used by permission of Paraclete Press
Available for purchase at www.paracletepress.com as well as your local booksellers