Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Embracing The Power Of Spiritual Poverty

I have recently begun correspondence with a Franciscan Friar from Cochrane, Alberta at Mt. St. Francis Retreat Centre, Brother Gerry Clyne. He serves as the Vocations Director for Western Canada and has kindly agreed to correspond about Franciscan spirituality and life in this amazing mendicant order. Lately we have been discussing the vows of poverty. It has been wonderfully enlightening. The following thoughts are entirely thanks to Br. Gerry.

One of the things that has moved me deeply is better understanding St. Francis’ motivation in his vow of poverty. Unlike many ascetics, Francis did not embrace poverty out of a sense of self-denial or out of a desire to distance himself from the temptations of the world (at least not primarily). Rather, he saw in the Incarnation Christ’s willing divestment of power out of love. Francis took the vow of poverty out of identification with Jesus.

This reliquishment of wealth (both material and metaphorical) allows for a liberty where the friars are free to focus their time and energy entirely on Christ and neighbour. Inevitably, it draws them into proximity, relationship and solidarity with the marginalized, especially the poor. While in the world’s eyes, these vows would seem to disempower them from effecting change, like Christ their true power comes from reliquishing it.

What better lesson can the Church today learn than to collectively divest ourselves of that which the world burdens us into into pursuing? If we truly want to reach people with the reality of the Gospel and impact the world with God’s Kingdom, we have to resist the impulse to mimic the worlds use of power and learn to be truly poor in spirit (and even materially). When we do this, it will birth a creativity of the Spirit that will produce movements that will transform the world around us.

In what ways can we be intentional about embracing this poverty of spirit? What “wealth” is hardest for you to reliquish?

Posted by Jamie Arpin-Ricci in 01:12:52

7 Responses to “Embracing The Power Of Spiritual Poverty”

  1. Bryan Riley says:

    Interesting that there are no comments on this excellent post. I find more and more that we are so acculturated to Mammon worship that we don’t even realize it. In every way we want “more….” We don’t realize how much this worship of “more” controls us. Even those of us who have foregone a few things struggle just as much with this idolatry.

    I find it interesting that there have been a few people pondering this issue. I just wrote a bit ago on “rich”-ness.

  2. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:

    Thanks Bryan. I was really excited with this post, so a little sad no one had commented. Oh well… Glad it resonated with you.


  3. Bryan Riley says:

    I didn’t really answer your questions, though. I was trying to think about how the rich young ruler fits into this. It seems that if something is controlling us, we should give it up. If there is something we don’t want to give up that is the very thing we must.

    It could be a car. It could be the right to live in a detached home. It could be the right to a classical education for our children, who really need more to be discipled by their parents to follow Jesus. Radical thought, eh?

    It could be a lot of different things. It could be all things. But I love how the purpose is on point for a Franciscan. I’ve always just assumed poverty vows were worthless attempts and based on the argument that having is evil, which isn’t in and of itself true. This makes sense in this light.

  4. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:


    I think you make a great point about the rich young ruler. It is also important to recognize that “having” isn’t necessarily wrong, but rather there is blessing in the relinquishment. Thanks for answering the questions.


  5. Linea says:

    It is always more difficult to respond to a post that deals with wealth and poverty when one is in the position of wealth(or relatively so).

    I do know that choosing to live in poverty is much different that poverty inflicted on one by circumstances and I think that would have to do with the poverty of spirit – or choosing poverty as a means of following Christ.

    As missionaries, our choice to live in relative poverty as far as north Americans are concerned still put us in a position of relative wealth to those we lived and worked with. Now that we live in a position of relative wealth as far as North Americans go, we have to constantly be making good choices on how to use this wealth. The wealth is not the problem although it makes us more vulnerable to temptation in this area. We have to guard our hearts so that our focus remains on Christ, not on our resources, as our source of strength. And we have to give a great deal away since these resources are not our private property.

    One of my husbands friends commented to Leo after he was complaining about how much certain things cost, “Yes, but you must admit that you live in a very opulent state of poverty.”

    So having a certain amount of wealth is a great privilege but also places us in a place of great responsibility as to how that wealth is used.

    I am glad we had the experience of living within our choice of poverty before we experienced wealth. I think it helped us to get our priorities straight.

  6. Jamie Arpin-Ricci says:


    Indeed, it is so important for us differentiate voluntary poverty and systemic poverty. Your story is a prime example of how voluntary poverty empower us to be more Christlike in our stewardship of our wealth. Thanks for the living example!


  7. Your blog is impressive,it is always in my mind after i read it.