St. Francis of Assisi: The Little Poor Man

He was called "Il Poverello," the little poor man. The religious poverty of Francis is prominent in his rich legacy to the world, but it is often misunderstood. Frequently our reflections on Franciscan poverty are surrounded by a misty-eyed sentimentality that prevents us from being challenged by his life and message.

Two incidents illustrate an important truth regarding Francis and the ideal of poverty. One day the saint was carving a bowl out of a piece of wood when suddenly he tossed it into the fire near where he was sitting. He explained to his companions that the wood was interfering with his contemplation of God, for he found himself preoccupied with carving while trying to pray.

Not long after that episode Francis accepted a large piece of real estate, Mount Alverno, as a gift from a wealthy count. It may seem odd that a person so scrupulous about possessing a wooden bowl would find no objection to acquisition of a valuable tract of property. The rationale, I think, is that the mountain was one of Francis' favorite places of hermitage; it was on Mount Alverno that he experienced his most profound contemplative moments. The gift of land was an object that fostered and nourished his sense of God's presence, whereas the wooden bowl was a distraction to his spiritual life.

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