November 19 (The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time) is World Day of the Poor.
Pope Francis challenges us: “This new World Day, therefore, should become a powerful appeal to our consciences as believers, allowing us to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel. The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practice in our lives the essence of the Gospel.”
Poverty is something I have never experienced. I have never been homeless, I have never not had enough food or drink, I have never not been able to find work or pay bills. I have never faced an addiction that has left me debilitated or unable to function.
The vow of poverty or ‘nothing of my own’ that I take as Friar is not the same as being poor, rather it is about sharing everything in common. As religious we do not claim private ownership, everything we own is used for the good of our community so that we can focus on our charism and ministry as Franciscans.
So when I read that Pope Francis has declared an annual World Day of the Poor it makes me ponder all that my life has been, my life as Friar and my life a Christian. It challenges me to look at my life and causes me to ask if donating my used clothes, volunteering every so often at a soup kitchen and giving my loose change to a charity enough? These are all good and well and indeed help the poor, but does it put me into relationship with them? Does it break down barriers of fear and ignorance? Does it help me to see them as brothers and sisters? Or does it simply allow me to stay in my comfort zone?
The poor are our brothers and sisters. St. Francis of Assisi understood this and tried to help his brothers understand this. To help others see the value and dignity that everyone has and is worthy of was the work of St. Francis. This is about relationship.
Being a Franciscan in the footsteps of St. Francis has caused me to look at my immediate relationships. How am I brother to those I live, work, minister and study with? How am I brother to family, friends, neighbours and my brothers? Upon reflecting on this I see that these relationships are mostly healthy and I am challenged to move beyond the comfort zones they provide and integrate the good, lessons learned and the gift of relationship into my interactions, serving and relationship with poor.
“We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself,” says Pope Francis.
How do I ensure that the poor know they have value and dignity? How do I move beyond fear and ignorance to truly be brother to men and women who are trapped or forced into poverty?
The second letter to the Thessalonians says, “you are all children of light and children of the day.” I believe this statement is true for all of us no matter our status, bank accounts or where we live or what we have or what we lack. Being children of light calls us into relationship, it calls us to see Christ in each other.
How do I bear light?
How do I share my talents?
How do I build relationships with my brothers and sisters like St. Francis did?
The questions throughout this reflection swirl around in my heart and my head. They challenge me in my daily living, my life as a Friar, my life as a disciple of Christ, as Advent draws near and as I complete my degree.
As I ponder all these questions I have once again come across a prayer card I have called “The Litany of St. Francis” written by the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate.
Where the darkness of loneliness reigns
Let us bring the light of friendship.
Where the darkness of bitterness reigns
Let us bring the light of forgiveness.
Where the darkness of hurt reigns
Let us bring the light of healing.
Where the darkness of sadness reigns
Let us bring the light of joy.
Where the darkness of doubt reigns
Let us bring the light of faith.
Where the darkness of despair reigns
Let us bring the light of hope.
Where the darkness of hatred reigns
Let us bring the light of love.
This Litany is not simply words – this is the challenge of being children of light, of being light bearers, of using talents and building relationship. I need to spend more time not simply with the words but with the actions that come with these words. How about you?
as I seek to be a bearer of light,
I trust that you are lighting my way,
challenging my heart
and opening me up on how to be in relationship
with all my brothers and sisters.
May your light so fill me
so I may truly enter into relationship
and radiate you.