A reflection by Jason Rinaldi
Director of the Pope Francis Center for Renewal
A Ministry of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
The little man lay on the floor overcome by the illnesses that would eventually take his life later that day. A stone floor is no comfort to most people who are gravely ill, but to this man, it was a perfect place to finish his life. The sound of muffled crying in the room was periodically interrupted by his coughing that readily punched through the background noise and echoed off the stone walls that were witnessing his last hours like silent sentinels keeping guard. Humble candle light outlined a face that was thin and delicate with exhaustion. Before long, he asked that he be stripped of his clothing. Everything was to be taken off so that he can lay completely naked on the floor. St. Francis wanted to leave this world with no attachments, nothing that would occupy his heart, not even his own clothing. Naked on floor, gravely ill, hungry from fasting, his last mission was to die like his Lord on the cross…completely stripped of any worldly glory or attachment so that his only love can be God Himself. As gentle as the spring breeze, the little wisp of a man slipped from this life into eternal Glory where he is now a giant in the Kingdom of God. In his prime, St. Francis would travel about the dusty streets of medieval villages crying out, “Love is not loved! Love is not Loved!” Drawing large crowds intrigued by his message they would ask themselves, “How is love loved?”
With the power of the Holy Spirit, his question resonates into our hearts and minds today. Poverty is a nebulous concept that grows in complexity with every passing decade. The “poverty” of a new born and the poverty of the homeless veteran with PTSD both cry out for a just response. The poverty of a disabled relative and the spiritual poverty of the sinner demand an answer from those who claim to represent charity. The poverty of the homeless and the poverty of those denied basic needs or civil rights all cry out for a response from those who have been given more than they need. The Center for Renewal is visited by dozens of amazing people who have suffered under some form of poverty for most of their life; the poverty of loneliness, the poverty of addiction, the poverty of abuse, the poverty of lack of basic resources, the poverty of opportunity, etc. The list grows longer each year as more forms of poverty are introduced by our increasingly complicated culture. Jesus, however, relieved the greatest poverty of all time; the poverty of unredeemed humanity starving for mercy, drained of life and denied any hope for a meaning to the fallen human condition. The solution is both simple and profound.
Jesus answered poverty with poverty. In completing His great work of salvation Jesus hung on the cross. Stripped of honor and glory, tortured and rejected by those whom he loved, he hung between heaven and earth, silent and poor, unable to walk or fight for himself. Friends, reputation and justice were stripped from him; He was absolutely poor. When He mounted the cross Jesus had only one last treasure that was dearer to Him than most other things. This treasure was his own mother who stood faithfully at the foot of His cross. In order to make his sacrifice complete, Jesus gave away His only treasure so his poverty could be absolute and complete. His last act was giving his own mother to people who could never lover her as He did. When He did this, He was completely emptied and poor. A breath later He declared his saving work complete and He closed His eyes in death.
Poverty can only be addressed by a response of poverty because love cannot coexist with things that occupy the heart and eclipse the love of God. God tells us early on in the scriptures that He is a jealous God. Later Jesus reminds us that we cannot serve two masters. Beyond programs, policies, human endeavors, and good intentions, poverty finds its only healing with the holy poverty of those who forefeit themselves in the name of love. “No greater love has a person than to lay down his life for his friends.” Love needs to be loved so that the impoverished who need love will be given true love that is God Himself. From this point begins the great mission of charity.