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Day 15: Poverty

Advent Blog Headers 2023 (15)

Editor’s Note: For day 15 of our Advent series, “The Day of Joy Drew Near,” Ralph Anderson, a newly-commissioned missioner shares his thoughts on poverty and describes how one of his Franciscan brothers embodied this virtue.

When the list for the Advent blog series topics came around, I was the last to sign up. The only slot left was poverty. I have learned a lot about poverty during my journey as a Third order Secular Franciscan, and the providence of God has given me the opportunity to write about it. Poverty does not always mean living without money. There are many ways to embrace Lady Poverty, as Francis of Assisi called her. 

Many Franciscans have exemplified poverty in their lives. Third order Seculars make a public profession when they become Franciscans for life. It is a canonical rite within the Catholic Faith, and it can’t easily be undone. According to our essential documents, you can take private vows to live Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.  A Franciscan brother of mine passed  away a very short time ago, and I have taken this day to mourn the loss of Brother Dave. He came to the order late in life and had already adopted many aspects of Franciscan living before he entered the Inquiry Phase of formation. I was assigned the inquirers by the formation director, so I was part of his journey for a while. Dave was a real pain at times. He would often ask questions followed by “I have to check that out for myself.” It was irritating at first, and then I began to see he had a Franciscan heart.

The Catholic Worker house was started by a lay Franciscan who had decided to live in poverty among the poor in Eugene, Oregon. Dave moved into the house to live in poverty while he was still in formation. Dave wore old clothes, sewed his own shirts, and made his own hats. On the other hand, he drove an expensive convertible which he later sold to buy an old Toyota.

The landlord decided to sell the Catholic Worker house and gave a 30 day notice to vacate. I was invited to help them find a new house because of my knowledge of buildings. There was some discussion about leasing to buy options. The next thing I heard was that Dave had provided them with a cashier’s check for $125,000 dollars. Here was this man who was not yet a Franciscan who had understood what embracing Lady Poverty meant. I, the teacher, had become the student.

Embracing poverty is not just simple living; it goes much deeper than that. Detaching from the world and its standards for living gives a whole new meaning to poverty. Money takes on a different context if it is used for the common good instead of focusing on one’s self. I made private vows in 2020 to live the evangelical counsels Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. The money from my pension no longer belongs to me as well as my life. Like the Lay Franciscans who have gone before me, I live simply with purpose. Like Dave, I try to fill a need with the resources from my simple living. Some may see what I do as extraordinary. The truth is, it is what most Franciscans in all three orders would do if the opportunity should arise. Embracing poverty can be joyous when you see all the good it can do. I hope you will consider embracing Lady Poverty in some small way this year and find the joy on this 9th day of Christmas, 2023.

Question for Reflection: How can you embrace “Lady Poverty” during this Christmas season?

Ralph Anderson, OFS, is from Eugene, OR. He was born in California and spent 63 years of his life there until he retired. During his working career, he made many short-term trips to provide clean drinking water in the developing world in Latin America. He served in Ecuador, Honduras, and Mexico. He became a Secular Franciscan and his heart remained in mission at home and abroad. Before he knew about Franciscan Mission Service, he felt God tugging at his heart to serve full time in a foreign mission. When he served in Honduras, he learned the importance of being present to the people you are serving and avoiding being focused only on the success of a project. When he discovered FMS at a Lay Franciscan gathering in Phoenix, AZ, he knew what God was calling him to: practicing a ministry of accompaniment in a foreign country; not to teach them "our ways," but to learn their culture and traditions, and to learn how we can best serve them; building a relationship of mutual respect with a spirit of humility like Saint Francis of Assisi.