3 Gimme's of Franciscan Spirituality: Perfect Charity

My apologies for not finishing this series sooner. Between a headache, a few house jobs, and my time in prayer here at Novitiate I've gotten behind with some of my blogging. While my first and foremost priority is being a Novice (as my formators will agree resoundingly) I will attempt to keep up with the blogs as is available. If I drop off the face of the earth, you can assume I'm either praying or doing something to get in trouble!

This last article finishes the talk given by Fr. Charlie Polifka about the "Three Gimme's" as stated in Francis' prayer: true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity. If you haven't read either of the two previous articles, you can find them here: true faith and certain hope.

Out of the three things Francis asks of God in his Prayer before the Crucifix, one of the ones that we can easily identify with is the concept of charity. Yet just the same as we did with faith and hope, we need to identify exactly what we mean when we use these terms.

A great view on charity comes from Pope Benedict XVI's letter: Caritas in Veritate. In his letter he describes charity: "Charity is love received and given."(3) As God shines his love onto us, it's our role as Christians to share God's love with others in a genuine fashion.

The challenge, as Pope Benedict goes on to discuss, is to recognize this expression of God's love in a rapidly globalizing world. While Francis' world was much smaller, our inter-dependent world puts us in contact with people we don't know and our actions affect people in other countries for which we may never meet. How does one love a group of people one has never met?

The understanding of perfect charity is at the heart of the Franciscan charism: the ability to see Christ in the poor. In a recent article, I talk about the Francis' love of the poor in his conversion...with specifics to the Encounter with the Leper. His drive was not just that he saw Christ in the leper (the lowest of low in his time and culture), but that he recognizes that he sees all of creation as his brothers and sisters in Christ.

For us as followers of Francis, the challenge before us is to learn how to love all of God's creation, and to share that love that has been shown to us. It is a lovely idea and Francis' life is filled with examples of how he is able to accomplish this (not least of all, how he learns to deal with a growing community of brothers!). But in our technological era and in an individualistic society, we are presented with different challenges in order to attain this perfect charity.

How then do we go about this? First and foremost, we have to let go of the things we cannot do. For goal-oriented people like me, there is a great desire to "save the world," "cure world hunger," or "end poverty." We are but human beings given gifts from God. Oscar Romero puts it best: We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

Too often our desire is to solve. But in doing that, we run the risk of doing charity for selfish reasons. I have friends who are homeless, yet I am not capable of solving the homeless problem myself. If the root of charity is God's love, than my main focus is living that love and not seeing people as a means to achieve a temporal goal. When the poor become statistics, their humanity is taken away.
Second, Francis give us a great example when he is presented with his own community who want to share in his lifestyle:
And when God gave me brothers, no one showed me what I should do, but the Most high revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the holy gospel. I had it written in few words and simply, and the lord pope confirmed it for me. And those who came to receive life gave all that they had to the poor and were content with one tunic patched inside and out, with a cord and trousers. And we did not wish to have more.
Our witness should be to this new way of living, this new kind of community where we focus on the needs of the poor and marginalized.

Third, and perhaps most important, is that we must not only educate ourselves of the poor and needy in this world, but as former OFM Provinial Fr. Joseph Chinnici writes: "We must enter into the experience of the poor." PCO6 Letter #16. It is there that we understand and begin to know the poor that we can truly spread God's love. It is the Sense and knowledge that follows Francis' request for perfect charity.

What then, is God's holy and true command? Again, it is that we "die on earth," and willingly choose to live the Kingdom of God here on Earth. It is a monumental challenge for each of us friars, yet it is the example that has been set before us by our founder Francis. And even he realized he needed help along the way.

This is the third and final article of the series. If you found these articles helpful, insightful, or informative, be sure to share them with someone you know. Peace. -V
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