June 24, 2010

An Invitation to Holy Poverty

One must be grateful for the graces that serve to humiliate us by dismantling our pious illusions about ourselves. Humility is impossible without honesty about our spiritual condition.

This morning has been a fine example for me. Among the most challenging chores of my current transition are figuring out my health coverage, finding a new physician, and figuring out how I will get the prescriptions I need. I have asthma, and have had it for a long time. Over the years I have seen the drugs improve tremendously; at this point I hardly ever experience symptoms, but I know I need my daily doses of medicine. I am grateful to have had some kind of health coverage throughout my adult life thus far, but it has always been in some sketchy or incomplete way. I have always been able to see doctors, eventually, and to get what I need, but not without a lot of struggle and torturous explanations. This has been so both in and out of religious life. For the last few years I have had it pretty easy, both because my community has made some great improvements in how us younger brothers are covered, and because I live next to our retirement residence and thus have easy contact with doctors. But things change in the itinerant life, and now I have to figure out how things will work in my return to student life. Various people tell me entirely different things, and of course I get anxious about how I will be able to make sure I can keep breathing.

So I find myself this morning, already having lost an hour on account of trying to puzzle some of this out and fretting about it. That's a good hour of a Thursday morning, the time I usually try to use to draft my Sunday homily. But then, thanks be to God, I'm able to surrender to the grace of confessing my arrogance. Is this not one of the standard anxieties of the poor? This is what poverty is in this world; to have difficult access to those who control the resources that are life's necessities, or to be excluded from them altogether. I will never really know such poverty, but if I claim to be a poor man by my vows, should I not be grateful for this little taste?

Whatever part of me feels annoyed by all this, as if I--in my being a North American male from one of the privileged classes--resent having to deal with such things at all, it reveals that I am not entirely converted to the life of evangelical poverty. But I'm grateful for the grace this morning of being invited to surrender to this taste of the anxiety of the poor; may it make me compassionate and drive me to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God to the real poor of my neighborhood and world.

Our Capuchin Constitutions have a wonderful line on all this, which I think is derived from St. Bernard: "Let us not wish to be numbered among those who go by the fictitious name of 'poor' who love to be poor in such a way as to lack nothing." Amen.


Unknown said...

Somewhere in his book, Ted Nugent points out how we call ourselves poor as we make phone calls and text message and surf the web from our fancy cell phones! What is poverty, really?

Brother Charles said...

On the nature of holy poverty, check out posts here and here, though it would not be my intention to compete with the Nuge. :)

Unknown said...

I guess it all comes down to acceptance of material poverty and adaptability to the current situation! I tend to agree with the Nuge when he talks about how men are not "manly" anymore. We need to be survivalists! We need to know how to grow and catch our own food, to take care of our bodies, create and build our own shelters. Now adays men wear pink shirts, drive to the coffee shop, pay others to do work for them and then abuse there bodies with cigarettes, alcohol and fatty foods. What will happen to us when someone like Bin Laden turns off our lights? Will we be able to take care of ourselves?

ben in denver said...

You have called me back to Francisco de Osuna, whose work I'm supposed to be reading for my men's group, Fray Francisco is far more manly then even Ted Nugent, even though he never killed a bear. He had this to say on accepting God's invitations:

"The holy doctor [St. Jerome] has said many noteworthy things on the subject, but you should especially remember always that virtue for the good Christian is gratitude in the midst of persecution, and if you lack this virtue, you do not deserve to be called a faithful Christian and even less a good religious."

Those sixteenth century franciscans were demanding! Not even a Christian for not being grateful for the sufferings God has given you. That's tough.

Anyway, thanks for the reminder. We are supposed to be discussing his treatise on gratitude on saturday morning.

From George said...

The late Russian Dr. Buteyko devised a natural management of asthma. Have you ever checked it out?

Brother Charles said...

Ben: Good to hear from you. It's always an encouragement.

From George: Thanks! I'll check it out!

Anonymous said...

Ironically, the cell phone is one of the biggest technologies making it possible for people to live on less than 2 dollars a day. The cell phone has permeated even the most impoverished areas because of dependence on satellite connections as opposed to land-based infrastructure.

Principally, our poverty comes not from what we lack materially but rather on what we fail to perceive about our distinct human privilege of being crafted in the image and likeness of God.

Judy said...

Does not the community provide health care coverage for all of its members? It would surely be to its advantage to do so. Lack of medical care leads to sickly friars, and sickly friars are unable to exercise their ministry to the fullest.

Wanna experience poverty? Try living on Social Security alone. It ain't easy. I am beginning to learn about poverty now, but even now I am not sure if I "get it."

NCSue said...

I don't know, really, as I'm not in (professed) religious life, but is it really required by your vow of poverty that you disregard the need to take care of your body? It is, after all, the temple in which the Holy Spirit resides.

I see from your post, however, that there are issues which you religious face that we "in the world" don't face with the same forebodings. At least we don't contend with the vow of poverty.

Roger Bryant said...

I'm a Type I diabetic. With no insurance. I don't need to profess a vow of poverty. I already live it...

There are some things that we all are subject to, the frailties of health being one of them.

I'm pulling for you. We're all in this together.

Unknown said...

I think most of the world lives poverty in
some way! I really think the Franciscan need to take up poverty to a new level!

Jeanne said...

Doesn't your order have insurance coverage? My aunt is a Dominican sister and has insurance through the diocese where she lives...no recourse for you even if you are a student to get into a policy at the local diocese? Good luck. I know it's hard. I am self employed. Insurance is expensive and hard to get when you are self employed or on your own but keep digging. Somehow, someway, you will get what you need!

Brother Charles said...

No, worries, Jeanne, we do. The situation used to be that most of us got seen for free through personal relationships with parishioners, etc., and nowadays most of the brothers are old enough for medicare. Since I've been in the Order we've employed various other strategies for the few of us who are too young for medicare, some of which have worked well, others not so much. I'll be covered. The post is more about my spiritual struggle with anxiety than any genuine temporal problem. Peace.

Anonymous said...

I think this vow is the one I will struggle with the most, though not for reasons that those on the outside, so to speak, would consider difficult. Sometimes poverty itself can become an attachment for me. I really struggle with things that I don't know whether or not they are accidental or essential. To give you a simple example, I am very much drawn to the habit, and would like to live in the habit nore or less exclusively, with some practical exceptions, such as going for a run, things like that. But I believe the habit has such sacramental witness, and once I receive it I believe will enable me to avoid many of the traps into which I still to this day fall, such as my desire to look good for simple vanity's sake. I also have an aunt in religious life who has more clothes than I would ever know what to do with, and I don't want that to be me (lol, Lord, I thank you that I am not like them! Too proud to simply beg for mercy, I suppose).

But while this all sounds well and good, I also worry that perhaps I am forming an attachment to the habit, and that perhaps the manner in which I am embracing it can become an obstacle to true poverty? I don't know. Our guys have a mixed record of how it is worn, and certainly I wouldn't be discouraged from wearing it as I desire. But I guess I just don't always trust my motivations, and fear that my desire to embrace poverty is actually a mask allowing me to avoid it at is deepest heart.

Sorry for rambling. Chalk it up to pre-novitiate angst :)

Greg said...

Many of us see Francis as a happy and peaceful man walking through nature enjoying the beauty God created. (Cue in the beatific music...)

But, as you point out, when we study his holy poverty and humility, we can wake up with nightmares.

And then we realize it was not as much about deprivation as it was about not letting anything impair our relationships with one another. (Ilia Delio does an excellent job of explaining this idea.)

Early in his ministry Francis used to call his body Brother Ass. I know the feeling. But then later, I believe he realized he had been too hard on the vehicle.

Anyway, I imagine you are in no danger of falling short on the poverty Francis loved unless you start getting cranky at the seminary and start diss'ing the works of Bonaventure.