Some of you may know I belong to a Franciscan religious order called the Third Order, Society of St. Francis. While our order has traditional friars and nuns who make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Third Order is for folks like me with families and jobs. We still live by a rule of life and take life vows, but they are adapted to our context. After 4 or 5 years of formation, I made my life vows as a Franciscan on July 31, 2016.
Recently a friend of mine was making his life vows in the order and asked me to share some reflections on what it means to be a Franciscan. Here is what I shared:
The Life of a Franciscan
The life of a Franciscan is a life of poverty. I will go so far as to say there are no rich Franciscans, unless by rich we mean the great riches gained in giving up everything.
When I say a life of poverty I mean at least three things:
First, I mean the material poverty that causes us to depend upon God and others for our survival and wellbeing. The poverty that for some of us is imposed by the injustice of society and for others is chosen in the renouncing of all the “things” that compete for our attention. The poverty that forsakes the extravagance of society for the extravagance of God’s creation. Lest we think vows of poverty are solely for first order brothers and sisters, the life of a tertiary is not an exception to poverty but a life of contextual poverty. We adopt an attitude of simplicity which meets the need of our own context, but nothing more.
Second, by life of poverty I mean the poverty we encounter in the communities which we are called to serve. Communities which feel the weight of the world’s social sins: racism, white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, classism, greed, and power. We have always on our minds the world’s increasing wealth inequality, the limits to who can afford healthcare, and the walls which separate refugees from shelter. As Francis embraced the most rejected and forgotten of his society, we dedicate our lives not simply to the work of charity, but to the bonds of relationship and compassion with those forced to the margins, remembering that just as we do for the least of these, we do for Jesus (Mt 25:40).
Finally, by life of poverty I mean the spiritual poverty to which Jesus ascribes blessing in Matthew 5. The poverty that calls us to have the same mind as Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7). As Jesus prayed in the garden, “not my will but your will be done” (Lk 22:42), we seek to let go of our desires for worldly power, affection, and security to foster a spirit of continual praise of the Father and Provider of all.
And yet hidden in each of these things there is a surprise gift.
The first poverty teaches us humility and gives us freedom from the prison of materialism and capitalistic competition. Without a stack of things to defend, Franciscans may be open to experiencing the beauty and gratitude of a world that all belongs to God and has been graciously and hospitably shared with creation. The things we hold become sacred and priceless because their worth comes not from market value but from Divine generosity.
The second poverty teaches us love and gives us authentic friendships and intimacy, for the basis of our relationships comes not from the exchange of material goods but the exchange of mutual affection. Instead of segregation between groups of rich and poor, black and white, American and foreigner, documented and undocumented, we perceive all people as our siblings and fellow children of God.
The third poverty teaches us the meaning of joy by walking us into the very presence of God. It invites us to become participants in the unity of Divine Trinitarian love where we find our deepest and truest self as belonging to God.
Yes, the life of a Franciscan is a life of great wealth. I will go so far as to say there are no poor Franciscans, unless by poor we mean the great riches gained in giving up everything.
Find our more about the Third Order, Society of St. Francis at www.tssf.org.