Our holy Father St. Francis climbed a mountain one day and asked if anyone had seen her for whom his heart yearned. When asked who she was he responded that she was the fairest maiden in all the land, fit to be the bride of a king. His listeners urged him to divulge her name. When he could no longer withhold it he responded that her name was Lady Poverty.
But Lady Poverty had already found her spouse, Jesus Christ. They were betrothed in a manger in Bethlehem and married on a hill named Golgotha, in Jerusalem. From that day forward, their fate was sealed.
Francis discovered that to be a disciple of the master, one must also embrace the most noble Lady Poverty, for “you cannot serve God and mammon at the same time.” This is the mission and the glory that Francis proclaimed to the universal Church, which changed the history of the Church for all time.
Now mind you, Francis was not the first to discover Lady Poverty. Over a thousand years before him the Apostles and the Desert Fathers had embraced her as their spouse as they embraced Jesus. But as time passed she became relegated to the silence and the solitude of the cloister. So much so, that many Christian men and women believed that she was the exclusive privilege of those who lived the monastic life.
But Francis was a layman. He was neither a monk nor a priest. He was the son of a merchant, the richest merchant in the City of Assisi, Peter Bernadone. As a child he had been baptized John Baptist Bernadone. But his father had a love affair with France. And since Francis’ mother was French, upon returning from one of his trips to Paris, his father discovered that his young son, John, spoke fluent French. Thus he nicknamed him Frenchy or in Italian, Francesco. He was the first known person in history to bear this name.
The name Francesco suited his father’s high dreams for his son. It gave him an air of class among the other working people of the city. The set him apart from the medieval society in which he lived. He was rich, he was not bad looking and he was half French. He had everything that a man could want for happiness, except a wife, a young maiden to be his prize, who would stand at his side as the trophy wife.
So, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Francesco set out to find his trophy wife. To his great surprise she had nothing to offer but sacrifice. But not only did she have nothing to offer, she was a demanding wife. She demanded total dependence on the Providence of the King. She demanded that Francesco not only let go of his material attachments, but that he also let go of his attachments to his own will, his plans and his desires. If he wanted to follow the master, he must do so on the Master’s terms, not his own. He had to live one day at a time, awaiting his Master’s direction. This was total poverty. This was total surrender to the bride of Christ. And it was only through total surrender to Christ’s bride, that he would have access to Christ himself.
Desiring nothing more than to have complete communion with Christ, he obeyed Lady Poverty. He stripped himself not only of his fancy clothing, his property, his inheritance, his plans for the future and his dreams, but he also stripped himself of his old self. He became a penitent. As he took off more layers and threw them away he was left with only one garment that he could not easily dispose of, his humanity. He was sinful and that could only be wiped clean by the King.
Fortunately for Francesco, the King was merciful and he loved Francesco very much. Not only did he forgive him his sins and replaced his sinful coat with the robe of a penitent, but he gave Francesco many brothers and sisters. On day, the King and Lady Poverty called Francesco into their presence. As he knelt there in great expectation, they said only one thing to him. The words that they spoke, resonated with Francis. He had read them in the scriptures and heard them at mass. They were the same words that God had spoken to Abraham. The King stretched out his hand and put Francesco into a deep sleep. And while he was asleep he saw himself at the head of a long ling of men and women wearing the same penitential robe with a rope around their waists. The line stretched to the end of time. And in the dream Francesco heard the Lady’s voice saying, “These are your sons and daughters whom you shall lead to the King’s throne and they will not cease coming until my Lord and God returns again.”
Today, more than 1.7 million men and women, celibate and married, walk on the line that follows in Francesco’s footsteps leading to the King’s throne with only one Lady to protect them. That royal lady to protect and shelter them. She is Lady Poverty, the spouse of the King, Jesus Christ.
Comments and questions are welcome.
Br. JR, OSF