Francis lived a very simple life, which was austere, like most of the ordinary people of his day. They eked out a simple existence often living from day to day. We never get the sense that Francis was obsessed with the ideal of poverty, though many who have followed him have lived that way.
In our rule, and in the vows we profess, we use this formula as the essential guide for our lives:
“To the Praise and Glory of the Most Holy Trinity,
I, Brother Tom,
since the Lord inspired me
to follow more closely the Gospel
and the footprints of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
before the Brothers here present and
in your hands, Brother Provincial Minister,
with firm faith and will
vow to God, the Holy and Almighty Father,
to live all the days of my life
in obedience, without anything of my own and in chastity,
and, at the same time, I profess
the life and Rule of the Friars Minor…”
This may be the only Rule within a religious institute which does not profess poverty as a vow. For any person, be they a medieval friar or a modern day worker, poverty is an evil. It is obscene. Anyone who experiences poverty knows that it is harmful to our bodies, our minds and our soul. You cannot commit your life to a negative value.
For we Franciscans, our evangelical witness is about living a life of simplicity, where we do not grasp at things. We do not obsess over ownership of the goods at our disposal. We give up ownership in order the profess to the world that not sharing the goods of the earth—and not grasping—is the essence of the Gospel life we live and witness.
So, we hold on to what we have very lightly. We learn over our lifetime as friars to let go of things, whether that be material goods, aspirations centred on individualism, or values and ideas that run counter to the Gospel and the life of the fraternity. We live without anything of our own so that we are free to find God in the world around us, in all of creation, and in the men and women we encounter everyday.