Francis and Gandhi: poverty and nonviolence

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every one’s need, but not every one’s greed.”
Gandhi

Today, the birthday of Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi, the Mahatma, in 1869, is the international day of nonviolence.

Gandhi

Though St. Francis never would have used the term “nonviolence,” he was an advocate of all that leads to peace.

In particular, St. Francis saw the relationship between possessions and war, taking seriously the words of Saint James (4:1-2):

Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.

Because of this Francis sought a life of poverty for himself and his companions, a truly shocking proposal in the thirteenth century and even more so now.

The response of the church officials was strong. As G. K. Chesterton notes in Saint Francis of Assisi:

“The good Bishop of Assisi expressed a sort of horror at the hard life which the Little Brothers lived at the Portiuncula, without comforts, without possessions, eating anything they could get and sleeping anyhow on the ground. St. Francis answered him with that curious and almost stunning shrewdness which the unworldly can sometimes wield like a club of stone. He said, ‘If we had any possessions, we should need weapons and laws to defend them.”

There are few of us who have the courage and the trust in God to give up all, but we can start by trying to live lives of austerity.

I am not talking of the mandatory austerity that has often been imposed on countries since such austerity measures most often affect the poor.

I refer to the voluntary austerity that we see in Francis, in Gandhi, and in many who accompany the poor. This is what Pope Francis writes about in Gaudete et Exsultate, ¶70, commenting on the Beatitudes in Saint Luke’s Gospel :

Luke does not speak of poverty “of spirit” but simply of those who are “poor” (cf. Lk 6:20). In this way, he too invites us to live a plain and austere life. He calls us to share in the life of those most in need, the life lived by the Apostles, and ultimately to configure ourselves to Jesus who, though rich, “made himself poor” (2 Cor 8:9).

I believe that developing a spirituality of austerity, trying to live “a plain and austere life” is what will help us work to peace. Austerity, “sufficiency for all as the first priority,” is a personal commitment to the poor and can be,  in the words of Denis Goulet, “the economic expression of a society’s commitment to placing the needs of all above the wants of the few” (The Uncertain Promise,  p. 164).

When we learn to live austerely – as persons, as communities, as nations – we begin to live nonviolently, in the spirit of Francis and Gandhi.

DSC04739


The sculptures are found in a park south of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

One response to “Francis and Gandhi: poverty and nonviolence

  1. Pingback: The Upside-Down World of St. Francis | walk the way

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