Stunning failure evokes stunning words and example
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
“Consider the lilies of the field” words of Jesus treasured by St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is Oct. 4 and whose values have inspired many. Photo by Mary Anna Harbeck
What could possibly be learned from a seemingly insignificant event in a small Italian town some 800 years ago that could help anyone keep this week’s global economic crisis in perspective?
Monday, Sept. 29, is a date that will forever be etched in history for the breathtaking losses in global stock markets following the U.S. Congress’s decision not to pass a financial rescue package for Wall Street.
Fear and anxiety have gripped many. Retirees and those nearing retirement are seeing their financial security placed in jeopardy. Others are coping with the loss of their homes, jobs, and dreams.
For a society so addicted to prosperity at any cost, the full impact of the crisis is yet to be seen. And at the heart of the matter is the question of values. Who would willingly choose poverty over wealth?
Back in the 13th century in the small Italian town of Assisi lived a young man named Giovanni di Bernardone, known to us now as St. Francis and for whom Cochrane’s Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre is named. St. Francis intentionally chose poverty over wealth.
My first memorable encounter with him came about through Franco Zeffirelli’s 1973 motion picture, Brother Sun, Sister Moon.
Zeffirelli focuses on a dramatic turning point in the life of his subject who has grown up in acquisitive, exploitative wealth, only to turn his back on it. Struck by the suffering and poverty of lepers in his midst, and inspired by images from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and in particular, the lilies of the field and the birds of the air who trust in God alone St. Francis himself chose to become a beggar.
In his embrace of “Sister Poverty,” he has ever since drawn the world’s attention to an alternative lifestyle of compassionate simplicity, free from materialistic anxieties free to be truly human.
Oct. 4 is celebrated around the world as St. Francis’ feast day. What a coincidence that it should fall in the same week as our current global financial crisis. To remind us once more of the values that so fundamentally motivated St. Francis, I’d like to close this week’s column by quoting the larger context of Jesus’ words in this most famous sermon of all (Matthew 6:19-21, 24-33 NRSV):
© 2008 Warren Harbeck