To Be Poor or to Become Poor?
Franciscan Formation – Inspirations (Part 3)
“The friars may live gladly among the poor…
actively committed to better their conditions”.
One gets the impression that throughout the history of the entire Franciscan family there has been excessive focus on “not having,” that is, on being poor. It would seem that in the various controversies about poverty and in some of the reforms that were implemented, poverty has become almost an end in itself. The Lord and our belonging to him no longer occupy center stage. The concept of whether we have or don’t have becomes an end in itself. The question of being poor gets confused with the ideal of making oneself poor.
There is a danger when one experiences poverty without developing the virtue of poverty within oneself. Poverty by itself is simply lack. When it is experienced, one can easily become envious of those who have. It becomes easier to justify one’s own dishonesty, too. We can see this when we look at how much theft, corruption and tax fraud there is. Poverty as a virtue, on the other hand, is being grateful for what you have: I see what I have; I accept it; I develop it; I bless the Lord for what I have received from Him; and I want to dedicate everything to the service of His Kingdom. Poverty without its virtuous sense is a “bottomless pit”; it is a spirituality focused on acquiring possessions, because one can never have enough. Even if you give something away to someone, there must be some form of repayment: a thank you card, a newspaper article or a commemorative plaque, etc.). Being poor can also lead to a form of self-divination. In such a situation, one gets puffed up with a sense of wonder and pride; I am poor, this means that I am better, closer to the ideal, closer to Christ. I am not like those who possess. Thus a tendency to judge others can develop.
St. Francis of Assisi, and his followers like St. Clare, as well as his successors like St. Bonaventure and St. Maximilian M. Kolbe in our day, took great care to ensure that the life of the friars and the community be simple and modest. The friars are to openly give witness of their discipleship of Christ who made Himself poor for us. The Poverello constantly encourages us to live a modest and simple life, which is expressed by going to work, serving others, not hoarding goods, asking for alms, sharing with others and showing mercy. Underlying all this is his invitation “not to…judge those whom they see dressed in soft and fine clothes”. St. Francis experiences and contemplates the poor and humble Christ. He tries to follow Him. He always unites the reality of poverty with the reality of humility. For us, humility is a gift we must ask the Lord to give us. It is a virtue we develop. When we think about our formation to live in poverty, we see that humility helps us to discover the truth about ourselves: What are the talents that God has given us that we must cultivate and put at the service of the Lord? What are our vices and sins? For these, we must do penance and continually invoke the Holy Spirit, who has the power to give life to our “dry bones”.
We must first train ourselves to live in poverty. This will probably require us to stand at the threshold of our own cell and look at what we really need and what we don’t. Sometimes we accumulate too many things because we think someday they will be useful. Then, when we have to move to another friary, we end up needing a truck. When we shift our gaze from external things to ourselves, we learn how to become more honest and trustworthy, we learn how to work and serve. We learn what to avoid. Such a prayerful look at our own reality will allow us to make a clear evaluation and give us the strength to act wisely.
Forming one’s own community in poverty is equally important. It would be worthwhile to stand at the threshold of one’s own friary and see what serves the Lord and what is extra. We should determine what is beautiful, renewable and solid, and what is unnecessary and irritates others.
We need to have a missionary vision in order to mature in poverty. Our friaries, our buildings, our possessions and even ourselves, have a role to play in this. If someone or something remains unused for evangelization, that is inconsistent with virtuous poverty. In the missions, we can clearly see that if the friars didn’t have kindergartens, schools and school buses, they would be unable to provide education to the children and youth in their care; if they did not organize jobs, they would be unable to offer the people means to support themselves. In the same way, if the friars did not create water reservoirs, dig wells, and build churches and hospitals, etc., they, too, would be without sources of income.
Virtuous poverty makes it possible to proclaim the Good News, not just to the people, but to all of creation, by every means. It is not so much poverty that enables us to bear good fruit as it is virtuous poverty. This fruit is good because it comes from the One to whom we have given everything we have.
Friar Piotr STANISŁAWCZYK
General Delegate for Formation
 Friars Minor Conventual, Constitutions, Rome 2019, art. 18 §2.
 Cf. Gemelli A., Franciszkanizm, Warsaw 1988, pp. 46-47, 83-85.
 Cf. Leon-Dufor X., Słownik teologii biblijnej, Poznań 1994, pp. 1000-1001.
 Cf. Later Rule VI; FF 89-92. Rule of St. Clare VI; FF 1787-91. Horowski A., Ubóstwo według świętego Bonawentury w Postylli do Ewangelii św. Łukasza, “Polonia Sacra” 20 (2016), nr 1 (42), p. 27. Krzyżak T., Kolbe. Historia życia św. Maksymiliana, Niepokalanów 2011, pp. 129-130.
 Later Rule II, 17; FF 81.
 Cf. Iammarrone G, Duchowość franciszkańska, Cracow 1988, pp. 125-126. Iriarte L., Powołanie franciszkańskie, Cracow 1999, pp. 147-148.
 Cf. Ez 37, 1-14.