A Millionaire who became a Friar

Sunday’s Gospel of Zacchaeus reminded me of the Story of Br. George.  Zacchaeus was a rich man, who gave away much of his money to change his life and follow Christ. He was not only rich but the scriptures tell us he was the “Chief Tax Collector”.  He was a successful business man, like a CEO of a large corporation.  God loves all people equally, and whenever someone leaves their past life of following their own will, and begins a new life following God’s will, God is pleased. However, THE WORLD PAYS MORE ATTENTION, when a “Successful and Rich” person, leaves their former way of life, to start a new life as a disciple of Jesus. Especially if that new life is the humble life of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, of a Franciscan Friar like Br. George!

One year after I entered the Franciscans, we were told that there was going to be a new brother joining us. He was an “Older Vocation”; a wealthy and worldly man, who was leaving behind his life as a corporate executive, a father and formerly married person!  Br. George had been a one of the Vice Presidents of a large bank. He had worked in various countries throughout the world, and was currently living in San Francisco. He had been married, and then divorced and had received an annulment. He had two adopted children and one biological child. He drove a fancy car, and had over a million dollars!  Shortly after George entered our community, the bank sent a camera crew to our house, to film a day in the life of the new brother George, and to interview him about his change in life. The newspapers in San Francisco even ran an article about this man who left “it all” to be a Franciscan!  To this day, Br. George is one of my best friends in the order. He is now almost 80 years old, and has never regretted his decision to become a Friar!  I must admit, however, it seemed to take George a little time to adjust to our way of life; especially the vow of Poverty! For example, during our first year, for our guardian’s birthday, Br. George arranged for all twelve of our community to go to the bank’s downtown San Francisco high rise office building, to the private corporate dining room, where we were served the most spectacular meal, complete with waiters and a large picture window overlooking the whole of San Francisco! It was fabulous, but not representative of the life of a poor friar!

The story I would like to most share about Br. George, came later in that first year. Br. George was called to go to court and testify in a bank fraud case as part of some “unfinished business” he had to do for the bank. The court clerk asked Br. George to take his place on the witness stand and state his name and occupation. He said; ‘I am Br. George, a Conventual Franciscan’.  The judge, shocked, asked what are you a Franciscan Friar doing here in a court case about bank fraud. George replied; ‘I used to work for the bank’.  The judge listened to Br. George’s short explanation of how he left the bank to become a friar. When he heard about the vow of poverty, he asked; “How much money do you make as a friar?” Br. George answered “$100 a month”. The judge exclaimed, “$100 a month? What did you used to make when you worked for the bank?” George responded by sharing the amount of his previous salary.  The Judge exclaimed; “Why would you do something like that!?”  Br. George replied, “Well your honor, the pay as a Franciscan Friar is not that good…. BUT THE BENEFITS ARE OUT OF THIS WORLD!” The entire court broke out in laughter!

Br. George was able to “Leave it all behind” because he had found, what Zacchaeus found 2000 years ago when he looked into Jesus’ eyes! He had found a treasure more precious than anything this world could offer. Zacchaeus knew that what he found in Jesus was more valuable, because he had already achieved and possessed everything this world could offer!  But nothing compared with the life changing experience of encountering Jesus and following him, and sharing in His ministry of Proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  This is the same discovery that St. Francis, who was the son of a rich merchant, made 800 years ago. This is the same discovery that St. Bernard of Quintavalle, one of the richest men in Assisi who followed St. Francis, also found. This is the same discovery that countless Saints, and followers of Jesus in the Spirit of St. Francis, rich and poor alike have made over the last 800 years of the Franciscan Order!  How about you? Come and find out more about the life of a Franciscan at our next Come and See experience, November 25-27, 2016.  Click Here for more information.

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