When many people think of St. Francis, there are two things that generally come to mind: preaching to the animals and praying (if you do quick Google image search, these are basically the only things that will come up). After that, many will point out his poverty and will picture a begging Francis with a ripped habit among the lepers.
But what about work? Did Francis spend his entire day in prayer, then beg for food when he was hungry? Is that what we do today? That’s my question for this week on Ask Brother Casey.
One of the first things Francis did, even the Order was formed, was to rebuild fallen churches. Francis worked with his hands. He saw the need for manual labor and a hard day’s work. This is why when the Order was actually formed and he had to write a rule of life, Francis tells the brothers that, while they should not be ashamed to beg, as “our Lord made Himself poor in this world” (ch. 6), work should come first:
“Those brothers to whom the Lord has given the grace of working may work faithfully and devotedly so that, while avoiding idleness, the enemy of the soul, they do not extinguish the Spirit of holy prayer and devotion which all temporal things must attribute” (Rule of St. Francis ch. 5)
And the early friars did work, just as the poor worked. They did not have big trusts of money or salaried positions, they worked as day laborers, earning a living by their efforts in the fields and cities. That was their primary call. When this was not enough or when it seemed fit to give what they had earned to those less fortunate than themselves, they resorted to begging, taking only enough for them to survive.
Today, friars continue this emphasis on work, and are known to engage in any number of careers. While other religious orders have a charism to a particular ministry, say, teaching or missionary work, the friars have never had this; we use the gifts that God has given us to spread the Gospel and care for the poor, whatever those gifts may be. For many of us, that means becoming a parish priest and earning a stipend for our work, but for others, that means any number of things: art, architecture, farming, law, formation, care of the sick and elderly, photography, cooking, cleaning, teaching, writing… there are more than a few ways to live and spread the Gospel!
“Led by the spirit of Saint Francis, the friars, like those who are truly poor, are to consider work and service as a gift of God. For this reason they are to present themselves as little ones of whom no one is afraid, because they seek to serve and not to dominate. Recognizing that work is the ordinary and chief way of providing what is needed, each and every friar should serve and ‘should work faithfully and devotedly,’ fleeing idleness which is ‘the enemy of the soul'” (OFM Constitutions Article 76).
In many ways, then, this is exactly like the rest of the world: we work to make a living, only relying on asking for help when we can’t make ends meet (or more likely, when we are trying to take care of the poor as well). But unlike the rest of the world, we work not to make money or to get rich, but because it is our vocation to do so. All money that we make is shared with the other friars and the poor.
For those on email, you can watch the video here. Be sure to ask your own questions and I might answer it on next week’s segment! Be creative!