Brother Francis and Brother Masseo had reached a village and as they were quite hungry, they went begging for bread, according to the rule, Brother Francis along one street, Brother Masseo along another.
The account within the Little Flowers continues: “But because St. Francis was a very small and insignificant looking man, and therefore was considered a common little pauper by nearly all who did not know him … he received nothing but a few mouthfuls of food and some small pieces of dry bread. But to Brother Masseo, because he was a tall handsome man, people gave plenty of good large pieces and some whole loaves.
“When they finished begging, the two came together to eat somewhere outside the village. They found nothing but the dry ground to put their begged food on, because that region was quite bare of stones. However, with God’s help, they came to a spring, and beside it there was a fine broad stone, which made them very happy. And each of them placed on the stone all the pieces of bread he had acquired. And when St. Francis saw that Brother Masseo’s pieces were more numerous and better and bigger than his, he was filled with intense joy because of his longing for poverty, and he said: ‘Oh, Brother Masseo, we do not deserve such a great treasure as this!’ And he repeated those words several times, raising his voice each time.
“Brother Masseo replied: ‘Dear Father, how can this be called a treasure when there is such poverty and such a lack of things that are necessary? For here we have no cloth, no knife, no dish, no bowl, no house, no table, no waiter, no one to serve.’
“St. Francis answered: ‘That is what I consider a great treasure— where nothing has been prepared by human labour. But everything here has been supplied by Divine Providence, as is evident in the begged bread, the fine stone table, and the clear spring. Therefore I want us to pray to God that He may make us love with all our hearts the very noble treasure of holy poverty, which has God as provider.'”
St. Francis speaks here of poverty, real, voluntary poverty, not just spiritual but material. In a sense, one safeguards the other. They work together like faith and good works.
Have we today transformed St. Francis’ spiritual treasure into a bit of a cartoon; a caricature of her former self? Worse yet, do we ‘turn on’ poverty when we need a quick spiritual balm to ease our guilt pangs? Did we really need to upgrade to a 60″ Smart TV so we can better see the suffering of the poor on the evening news?
To St. Francis of Assisi poverty was a Lady, someone a knight swore life-long allegiance and service. She was not a lady of the night. Fidelity to Christ the King, Lord and provider or all, would demand no less.
I fear that in our supra-rationalist age, even devout Christians, might dismiss St. Francis today as a providentialist and so loose sight of the true revolution of the Spirit that demands of the body denial of the comforts of this world and a solid faith in God as provider.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9)