Category Archives: poverty

Poverty, contemplation, and Charles de Foucauld

One hundred years ago today, on December 1, 1916, Charles de Foucauld was killed by Tuareg rebels in Tamanrasset, Algeria.

DSC06472My white diaconal stole bears his symbol of the heart of Jesus with the Cross. Why does he appeal to me so much?

When I lived in New York City in the early 1970s, I came across the Little Brothers of the Gospel, a community inspired by his life and spirituality. Their life of contemplation combined with living and working among the poor, inspired me. Their simplicity and their evangelization by the witness of their lives still challenge me.

This combination of accompanying the poor and living a contemplative life can be found in other heroes of mine – Saint Francis of Assisi, Servant of God Dorothy Day, and Saint Benedict the Black. There is no opposition between a life with Jesus and a life with the poor.

I hardly live a life like the poor, even though I live among them. I also fail to spend enough time in contemplation with the Lord. But these are the challenges of my life. These are the challenges that Blessed Charles de Foucauld gives me.

But I believe that I cannot respond well to these challenges until I can pray with conviction Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment:

Father, I put myself in your hands;
Father, I abandon myself to you.
I entrust myself to you.
Father, do with me as it pleases you.
Whatever you do with me,
I will thank you for it.
Giving thanks for anything, I am ready for anything.
As long as your will, O God, is done in me,
as long as your will is done in all your creatures,
I ask for nothing else, O God.
I put my soul into your hands.
I give it to you, O God,
with all the love of my heart,
because I love you,
and because my love requires me to give myself,
I put myself unreservedly in your hands
with infinite confidence,
because you are my Father.

 

The poor Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas was born into a family of the lower nobility. But his family had plans for him. Sent to school at Monte Cassino with the Benedictines, they probably hoped he would become an abbot and maybe even a bishop.

But God had other plans for Thomas.

St. Thomas Aquinas statue, detail, Ames, Iowa

St. Thomas Aquinas statue, detail, Ames, Iowa

At the University of Naples he ran across the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans, a mendicant order that saw voluntary poverty as part of their way of living out their vocation.

Dominic, the founder of the order, had come to this position when he was trying to convert the Albigensians in southern France. Many of those who tried to convert them came with their finery and fancy wagons. Dominic saw that the Albigensian leaders lived simply and poorly. And so Dominic saw the value of poverty.

Thomas’s decision to join the Dominicans did not make his family happy – but after being imprisoned by his brothers for a year, they let him join the Dominicans.

Thomas proceeded to become one of the most learned scholars of his age. But in this he did not forget the value of poverty.

Thomas defended the voluntary poverty of the mendicant (begging) orders and in fact he wrote of the poverty of Christ:

Christ chose to have parents who were poor but perfect in virtue, lest anyone should glory in his noble lineage and the riches of his parents. He lived a life of poverty to teach others to spurn riches. He lived an ordinary life having no high position to recall others from an inordinate greed for honors. He endured labor, hunger, thirst and bodily scourging, lest those who are intent on bodily pleasures and delights draw back from the good of virtue because of the rigors of such a life.

The poor Christ was his inspiration.

How can we live as followers of the poor Christ in our daily lives?