The Deeper Meaning of Our Lives – Franciscan Poverty

In my more recent post (read post), I spoke of how the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ reminds us of the deeper reality of the Mass. The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ is STILL so much more!  Today’s Feast is not only about the deeper reality of the Mass, it is about the deeper reality of all our existence! The Gospel reading from today’s feast, is not from the last supper, but the Miracle of the feeding of the over 5,000 with the five loaves and two fish. Just as we fail to see the true and deeper significance of the Mass, we also fail to see the true and deeper significance of all our existence. In today’s Gospel (Lk 9:11-17) the disciples are with Jesus, and the crowd, much greater than 5,000 are in a kind of “ecstasy” in the presences of Jesus who is feeding them spiritually by his teaching and healing. Then the disciples, being practical, raise the need for our physical/material feeding. They recognize, to their credit, that if they were to work for themselves to go and buy something to eat for the crowd, it would not only be a nearly impossible task, but it would take them away from the presence and teaching of Jesus. So they rightly come to Jesus with their (and the crowd’s) material needs. He responds by blessing the little they have, and it is enough to sustain the crowds, who are then able to remain in the presence of Jesus, focusing on what is most important.

This is an image of what our whole life is about! Going to Jesus for all our needs; spiritual and material.  Oh, but how few of us truly live like this!  We are all taught from our earliest days, that we must “provide for ourselves”.   We teach our children, that in order to be happy, we must go to school, get good grades so we can go to a good college, to get a good job, to make money, to buy a house, provide for our families, have a retirement and insurance package, so that we can be secure.  This message is drilled into all of us, even by people of faith, and the result is that most of us spend the majority of our lives busy about things that in the end, do not really matter!  But did Jesus ever teach this message?  Jesus in fact, in Mt 6:24-33, taught the opposite!  He taught “… I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap, or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them….  Do not worry... your Heavenly Father knows you need them [food to eat, clothes to wear, etc.] Set your hearts on his kingdom first… and all these other things will be given you as well.”  Most agree, that these are beautiful words. But regretfully, most of us believe they are just that… beautiful words!  We do not believe they are true, and meant to be lived!  In truth, most of us serve money, and the pursuit of passing worldly things.  We know our life is eternal, yet we spend most of our time worrying about things that only pass away.  Like the woman in the story that opened this reflection, who was so saddened by how her friend was unable to truly see what the Mass was about, so too is God saddened, that we for whom Jesus poured out His life on the cross, do not even trust Him enough to believe he will provide for our basic needs!   How will God ever trust us with true wealth, when we do not even trust him in the SMALLEST of things, the passing wealth of this world? (cf Luke 16:11-13.)

Today’s Gospel is trying to show us how to Grow our Faith. It needs to be fed to Grow.  The first and most basic way our faith grows, is to trust in our Heavenly Father for our material needs!  As we do that, we see that God really does provide, and then we will learn to trust Him in greater things, and then He will entrust us with Spiritual Gifts, so that we may proclaim His power and glory to others!   As a Franciscan Priest, I am blessed to hear many examples of people who have learned that God provides for them, even in the small things of life, that is; our material needs.  This knowledge has caused them to have a deep faith, and live a life in service of God.

At the Northern California Renewal Charismatic (NCRC) convention, I sat in on a talk by Deacon Ralph Poyo, evangelist, who shared that as a high schooler he decided to live literally the Gospel passage of Matthew (6:33). He has raised a family, on a youth minister’s salary!  Many of his relative and friends (including his parents!) counseled him that shouldn’t take that job, because he could not support a family on that salary, and to do so would be irresponsible. Today he travels throughout the country, preaching the New Evangelization, and asks for nothing for his talks. But through his meager salary, and donations, he has provided for his wife and five daughters, even sending them all to college, and owning a home! (See more about Deacon Ralph’s ministry at Deacon Ralph shared this with us. That after he first learned to trust God in material things (providing for his family), God then asked him if he was ready to trust Him in bigger things.  The bigger things were his ministries. God used the material things in Deacon Ralph’s life, to teach him trust in God, to strengthen his faith, so that God could give him greater gifts. Deacon Ralph further shared, that God works this way because the greater gifts require greater faith, because the attacks from the enemy will be greater for those who receive the greater gifts.

Today’s feast, the Body and Blood of Christ, is teaching us BOTH, the deeper meaning of the Mass, and the deeper significance of all our life.  God feeds us. He is the Bread come down from heaven for the life of the world. Few of us really trust in God. Let’s change that! We Franciscans attempt to follow the poor Christ, in the Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, who recognized the importance of poverty, as a necessary way to follow Christ.  As already described above, God teaches us faith through our depending on Him for our material needs.  As our faith is strengthened by our dependence and trust in God, in first material things, then God give us even greater things, spiritual gifts to serve Him and proclaim the Gospel and witness to Him.  But there is still more! St. Francis taught his friars to espouse the virtue of poverty for yet another reason. Though poverty God is able to direct our ministries and lead us in His will!  St. Francis taught, like Deacon Poyo lived, to never seek money in return for our work and ministry, but to trust in providence of God, through others, to live. In this way the friars could trust that if they received enough to be able to live in a certain area, doing a certain ministry, then indeed that must be God’s will. If they could not live in a certain area, doing certain ministries, then they were to move on, for God must be telling them to move.  Here is an image I like to share. Years ago, while serving as Pastor for one of our parishes, I went into the school library one Saturday afternoon, to lock up the building after morning Religious Education for our kids. But because the door had been left open for several hours after class, a stray cat found had his way into the library. I did not wish to lock the school with him inside, so I chased him, to catch him. Not an easy task! As I chased, he went behind books and into cabinets, when I reached in to grab him, he would scratch back!  I thought, this poor cat is lost, and would eventually die if I lock the doors, and make a mess in the mean time!  I was struck by an idea. I went into the house, opened a can of tuna, and took out 12 paper plates. On each plate I put a bit of the tuna. Then I took the 12 plates to the school, and made a trail of plates, each with a little tuna, from the center of the library, down the hall, out to the parking lot.  I left, and came back a half hour later.  Each plate was completely clean, and the cat was gone! Free at last! This is a good illustration of why St. Francis required his friar to embrace poverty, and depend on God, for our daily bread; so God can lead us!

Would you consider, trusting in God this completely, and following the poor Christ in the Spirit of St. Francis of Assisi?  Would you consider doing as the young rich man who came to Jesus asked what must I do to become perfect? Jesus responded; “Go sell all you have, give to the poor, and come follow me.” (Mk 10:17-22).  Join us, sharing daily in the banquet of the Eucharist, and in the banquet of life! Come and see more about our life, and witness our young men in formation receiving the Franciscan habit, at our Investiture (the beginning of the Novitiate year), and making their First Profession of Vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, on July 20th, and 21st, in Pismo Beach, CA. Join us at our next Come and See event July 18-22.

Enjoy the following slide presentation of the Friars helping with Christmas Distribution at St. Paul of the Shipwreck in San Francisco.

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