Francis Corner by Fr. Vito Martinez, OFM Cap – September 13, 2020

We invite you to read occasional reflections by our associate pastor, Fr. Vito Martinez, OFM Cap about the Spiritual Father of his religious order, the Capuchin Friars. Please take some time to get to know this very special and important saint in our Catholic tradition.

“A Life of Poverty, Part 1” by Fr. Vito Martinez, OFM Cap

Last time, I made an argument that the Francis and the Birdbath image presents only a sliver of St. Francis’ contribution to the Church, and that there are various images of his life that convey the depth, the radicality, and the desire to conform himself to Jesus. Many know the Franciscan Spirituality for its adherence to poverty, but what does that mean and what image best reflects that?

Today, I ask you to consider the image of a young Francis of Assisi naked. Yes… naked.

When brought before the bishop, Francis would brook no delay nor hesitation in anything: nay, without waiting to be spoken to and without speaking he immediately put off and cast aside all his garments and gave them back to his father. Moreover, he did not even keep his drawers but stripped himself stark naked before all the bystanders. But the bishop, observing his disposition, and greatly wondering at his fervor and steadfastness, arose forthwith, gathered him into his arms and covered him with the mantle which he himself was wearing. (1Cel, 6)

This story serves as a transfiguration moment for Francis, where he lets go of his old life in order to be fully invested into his new life with Christ. As he experienced God more and more in his life, he lost interest in the finer things of his rich life as well as the pursuit of status and greater wealth. Francis’ father worked hard as a clothing merchant with the hopes of making Francis a noble. He had a suit of armor made for Francis with hoping he would gain the rewards.

However, Francis failed as a knight and was captured, held captive for a year until his father paid the ransom. And as Francis moved farther and farther away from his father’s image, he was brought before the bishop to be disowned.

Yet Francis’ nakedness is a radical response to his father. Perhaps it was the outrageous response of a privileged son to his father or it was a statement about trusting in Our Father versus his earthly father. But as Francis removed all his clothes given to him by his father and was wrapped up in the mantle of Bishop Guido, this image reminds us that poverty is not only just the absence of goods but also includes a surrender of the self.

Franciscan Poverty is not just the absence of goods (sino propio) but it is a decision to “let go” and live humbly (kenosis) for the sake of the Gospel. Each Franciscan community finds its balance between sino propio and kenosis, otherwise called simplicity and minority. While neither of these ideas were new during Francis’ time, he created an example of following Christ that inspired many. As Franciscans, we seek to let go of worldly things as well as the desire for status, wealth, and ego projects that turn our focus inward instead of towards God.

This is the image I leave with you for now: Francis of Assisi standing naked in the town square with everyone gathered around. Instead of shame or humiliation, he triumphs in being poor and humble like his God.

In part 2, we’ll talk about simplicity and minority as the pillars of Franciscan Poverty, and how the Franciscan vision of God affects our relationship with one another.

Peace and all good,
Fr. Vito