Saturday, April 20, 2013

St. Francis and St. Clare

A Korean lawyer and vocalist, who studied in the States, writes about a spiritual insight she had in her third year of law school. Not until she saw a movie about St. Francis and St.Clare, she explained in her article in the Seoul Bulletin, did she have any interest in saints. And the Italian actor who played the part of Francis was so handsome, she said, that at first he was the focus of her attention, along with the remarkable cast of actors. But she soon forgot them and the beauty of the Assisi countryside, as the force of Francis' personality, particularly his decision to live a life of poverty, resonated with her need to find something she could dedicate her life to.

Though he was the son of a rich cloth merchant and could afford the finest clothes, he gave his fine clothes away, content to wear a rough woolen coat tied about him with a rope (the habit that would soon clothe his first followers), and decided to live a life of intense poverty. Greatly moved by his progress in spirituality, she began to read everything she could find about her now favorite saint, as well as his own poetry and prose. He was, she decided, the saint she would follow.

The words of Jesus, "Take nothing for the journey," and "Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps" were the reason he became a mendicant monk, she discovered.

She then goes on to tell us about her struggle to understand and live these same words, and confesses that they made her think a great deal. She felt strongly the need to succeed in life, to do better than others, and be financially independent.  She had dreamed of making her mark on the world, but now the thought of living a life of poverty and renouncing the self sounded crazy. Francis' life seemed to her to make little sense in our modern world.

With these thoughts on her mind, she talked to a priest about what was bothering her, and received from him help in justifying her own life. Is it wrong, she asked, to desire to live the comfortable life?  Wanting to know what she thought poverty was, he asked, "What does it mean to deny yourself?" The priest answered for her. Poverty is of many kinds: the difficulties we experience, such as loneliness, stress, uncertainty, sickness, and in general the frustrations that come with living--these are all part of our poverty, he said.  To accept these trials with our whole being, without bitterness, and happily accepting whatever difficulties come our way is to choose poverty and to carry the cross.

The priest's words put her heart at rest, and she thanked God for leading her, by that good-looking actor, to a new understanding of poverty. Pope Francis has done much to bring the attention of many Koreans to the saint from Assisi. Many are reading in the daily papers brief accounts of his life, and why the pope picked the name Francis. Nearly everyone would find the life of St. Francis rather odd, but they would also have a chance to reflect on a way of life without possessions and what such a life might mean in living a more fulfilling life for us who live in a consumer-oriented world.

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