We can no longer be satisfied by simply being the Church for the poor from our position of establishment. We must realize that sometimes that very generosity, that very attempt to be good to other people, has kept us in a position of power and superiority. Somehow we must be of and with the poor, and then be ready for some mistrust and even criticism.As Franciscans, I think it is crucial that we face this question. The First and Second Orders, by virtue of their vocation to the Evangelical Counsels, live it out in common with their sisters and brothers in other religious communities—but we as Tertiaries need to examine ourselves rather rigorously on this point, I feel. Though, as our Principles state, “we possess property and earn money to support ourselves and our families,” we must consider how Rohr’s words here question our own vocation.
Dom Helder Camara (1909-1999), the holy Archbishop of Recife, Brazil, said it so truthfully, “As long as I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked, ‘Why are there so many poor people?’ they called me a communist.”
Richard Rohr, April 2010
I don’t have an answer, of course, to these questions. The path God has somehow laid out for me has brought me closer to the way of poverty than some of my sisters and brothers, but this is through what might be called (if you leave God out of it!) force of circumstance: I can claim no holiness, or acuity of discernment, for myself. All that life since the farm accident that stopped me working some years ago has done is to give me a different perspective, a way of seeing that I didn’t have before; a cure, maybe, for a blindness common to so many educated people of my generation, who have not had to live frugally amid abundance. But it has not shown me any specific advice for anyone else… Maybe each of us has to plot our own course through this land of inequalities—it would be so hard to offer advice without appearing to manipulate, or to offer criticism.
One thing I do know. As Franciscans we must look clearly, with wide open eyes, at the poor who live among us, quite as much as at the glamorously poor of what used to be called the Third World. (I am using deliberately provocative language here!) We must set aside the dark glasses of prejudice, the tinted lenses of class, and look, really look, into the eyes of the Big Issue sellers, into the bundles of rags under the city bridges, into the doors of the temporary accommodation dotted even among the prosperous and leafy villages of Dorset, and allow them to ask their own questions of us, of our own vocation to the Third Order of St. Francis…