Category Archives: holy poverty

The treasures of the church

DSC07607Saint Lawrence, a deacon of Rome, was not martyred with his bishop, Pope Sixtus. The prefect of Rome knew that he was in charge of the treasures of the church and demanded that he present them to the Roman authorities.

According of one version of the legend, Lawrence, distributed all the goods of the Church to the poor, the ill, and the widows, even selling the sacred vessels. Then he gathered the poor and presented them to the Roman prefect, announcing, “Here are the treasures of the church.”

Needless to say, the prefect was not impressed and proceeded to have Lawrence martyred on a gridiron. The saint seems to have had a sense of humor. After some time over the flames he told his executioners to turn him over since he was done on that side. (Does this qualify St. Lawrence as the patron saint of barbecues?)

All kidding aside, Lawrence knew what was important – the glory of God and the poor.

The glory of God is shown when we gather around the table of the Lord, rich and poor, sharing the Body and Blood of the Lord.

The glory of God is also shown when we gather around the table of the poor where all have a part, where all share the goodness of creation, where, in the words of the Salvadoran martyred Jesuit Rutilio Grande, everyone has a place, a stool, around a long shared table.

The servant of God serves God at the table of the Eucharist and the table of the poor – both are part of our mission, our identity.

Recalling the absolute equality around the Lord’s table, where there are no divisions, we gather around a table where those who have more share so that all may experience the abundance of God’s creation.

This may call for sacrifices, for selling what we have, even what we think we need. It might even mean, as it meant for St. Lawrence, selling the goods of the church to feed the poor.

This is not all that radical. It was mentioned by Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis  [On Social Concern], # 31:

Thus, part of the teaching and most ancient practice of the Church is her conviction that she is obliged by her vocation – she herself, her ministers and each of her members – to relieve the misery of the suffering, both far and near, not only out of her “abundance” but also out of her “necessities.” Faced by cases of need, one cannot ignore them in favor of superfluous church ornaments and costly furnishings for divine worship; on the contrary it could be obligatory to sell these goods in order to provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who lack these things. As has been already noted, here we are shown a “hierarchy of values” – in the framework of the right to property – between “having” and “being,” especially when the “having” of a few can be to the detriment of the “being” of many others.

That is the witness of St. Lawrence, as it is the witness of many saints, recall the example of St. Dominic who sold his books to feed the poor in time of famine.

The question then is how can we truly serve God and the poor, recognizing the real treasures of the Church.

The image is from a holy card designed by Ade Bethune. A collection of her works is at St. Catherine University.



The poor woman Clare

In the height of the Middle Ages, a woman from Assisi held out against the powers that be so that her community of sisters could live a life of poverty. Two days before her death on August 11, 1253, the approved Rule of Life of the Poor Ladies arrived at the convent of San Damiano outside Assisi.

Saint Clare was the first woman to follow Francis in imitation of the poor Christ. She left her family of power and wealth and promised to live a life of evangelical poverty on Palm Sunday, 1212.

Clare Assisi

It was not easy. Her brothers tried to drag her away. But once she showed them her shorn hair, they left. Later, two sisters and her mother joined Clare.

In a letter to Saint Agnes of Prague who had joined the Poor Clares in Bohemia, Clair wrote about their way of life as a mirror.

In this mirror by the grace of God you will be able to observe blessed poverty, holy humility, and love beyond the power of words to describe. As you gaze into it, you behold the poverty of Him who was laid in the manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. What wondrous humility! What astounding poverty! The King of angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger.

The mystery of the God who comes among us as a poor child moved Clare, Francis, and many others. They felt called by a God made vulnerable to be poor and vulnerable as He was. They sought to live open to the loving care of God.

How easy it is to look on our talents, our possessions, our connections to provide a fortress of safety against vulnerability.

But Clare and others were willing to put these aside – not because they are bad, but because they can detain us on our way to God if we cling to them.

Today, I pray that God – through the intercession of Clare and Francis – help me to become empty and welcoming, holding on to God. In that way I might be able to be more available to those most in need.