When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5 v 1-11
Two of the beatitudes contain qualities of discipleship that speak of poverty. The first, which we have spoken about already this week in relation to meekness and humility is about being “poor in spirit”. The second is “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Despite many differing views of Jesus’ life and teaching, we can say confidently that Jesus was a poor man who fully embraced life with those on the margins of society. As a follower of Jesus, St Francis of Assisi did the same, and it became his litmus test for all orthodoxy and ongoing transformation into God. We can hear this in his prayer that we have been listening to in the last few days in our music section.
St Clare of Assisi (1194–1253) wanted to imitate St Francis, she was one of the first of his followers who went on to found the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition. She wrote their Rule of Life, the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman.
Franciscan writer Bridget Mary Meehan helps us understand how radical simplicity enabled Clare and her sisters come to a singleness of focus and heart.
“Clare understood that love and poverty [or what I would call simplicity] are connected. She taught that poverty frees one from the bondage of material things and from all the things that clutter the human heart and soul. . . . .
Gospel poverty was at the heart of Clare’s rule. The Poor Ladies owned nothing; they lived simply without property, endowments, or any kind of material possessions. For Clare, doing without things led to deep communion with God. Her way of life was characterized by a deep trust in God to provide for the needs of the community. Whatever the Poor Ladies received was sufficient. Openness and receptivity reflected Clare’s attitudes toward people and things. For her, everything was gift. She and her “ladies” lived the gospel passionately according to the Franciscan ideal.”
Through the centuries Clare has continued to be a beacon of light to women and men who long to love Christ with an undivided heart, to serve others generously, and to live simply in a world that glorifies material possessions. If we have too many clothes in our wardrobes, too much money in the bank, too many things cluttering our lives, Clare can help us find the one thing necessary—God, who will liberate and fill our emptiness with divine love. This can be counter intuitive and it is definitely counter cultural – it takes practice. It is indeed a spiritual practice; learn to do without. If you can do this then you will experience the freedom and joy that comes with living with a loose grasp on material things and being willing to share our possessions as well as our time and energy with those in need.
Throughout our Thought for the Day reflections in over 100 days of lockdown, we have returned to the practice of mindfulness as a theme. Taking time to notice and appreciate the simple gifts of each day has helped us be grateful rather than fretful in these strange times. As Thought for the Day ends tomorrow and becomes Thought for the week next Wednesday, let’s bring back that theme and consider today:
How often do we take a deep breath and appreciate—really appreciate—the air we breathe?
How often do we savour the food we taste and smell the flowers along our path? When was the last time we listened to our child, laughed with a friend, embraced our partner?
It is true that the best things in life are free, but we are often too distracted or too busy to see the simple treasures of life right in front of us.
Today’s music (video filmed in Assisi):