Look at this picture of St. Francis... A man who had access to riches and power gave up all he had and was satisfied to don this patched old cloak and sleep beneath the trees. It seems only natural that he and his followers should do so, but why? Why is poverty so important? Why would even a non-religious person understand immediately that a follower of Christ must live in poverty?
Abandonment. Poverty speaks of abandonment of the good for the better... it speaks of the abandonment of one's own will for the Divine Will... the abandonment of one's own being for the Divine Being. One who truly understands religious abandonment will seek to have no "strings" attached to his goods. He is prepared to give them away at a moments notice for the sake of His Christ. In this way he abandons the worries and personal pride attached to possessing something. Similarly his will, his responsibilities, and his own understanding are all abandoned into God's care. It is, through this means, that one becomes completely Christ's... prepared to jump to His call in a moment, no matter where it may take him.
Most people who have any sense of holy poverty assume that when one has found the greater Good, he no longer pines for the lesser material goods. This is entirely correct! One who serves God is filled with a good so far above all personal comforts that he no longer needs the consolation of things. But it is also true that one who knows the Consummation of All Good can identify the simple good in each of God's creations. Francis stands here delighting in God's creatures.. in the grass... in the trees... in the cloak that he is wearing! A nun, who has taken a vow of holy poverty, thanks God for each meal, not with shame for indulging herself in some way, but with joy! Truly, a better explanation of holy poverty is that it is a realization of the greater good, and therefore a realization of how good the simple necessities are in themselves. We need no compensation if we are filled, and one who has realized holy poverty is ever filled and satisfied with the fulfillment of his simple needs and the access to the Heavenly Spring of Love.
St. Francis speaks often of serving Lady Poverty... he sees a beauty in this abandonment and fullness of life, and longs for it. He realizes that the more he realizes this beauty, the more open he will become to the Love of Heaven. How wonderful this realization is! Holy poverty enables one to open himself up physically and willfully to the spiritual. It is a true love which moved St. Francis... the love of Christ and of something greater. One is never filled when he has an excess of all things but does not have God... but as soon as God is added, he is filled with the greatest thanksgiving and joy at even the smallest of material joys.
Because I was first introduced to sainthood and godliness through stories of heroism, I naturally find a romance in all things spiritual. When men go to battle they suffer in extreme poverty and often pain quietly for the sake of others, and they see this as noble. A mother will go without her bread so that she can see the delight on her children's faces as they partake of the sustenance their mother has forgone. There is joy in giving so that another may have... and one can easily see the connection between this and poverty. By only caring for her necessities, even offering those necessary comforts, a nun is indulging in this special thing. By serving others and receiving nothing in return she too is rising to this nobility. She is a Bride of Christ, an heir to a princess' throne in Heaven, and therefore she spends herself in service of her people. Through holy poverty one becomes noble in Christ and can delight in the content of others...
I have the girlish habit of trying to be "beautiful" for my Jesus. When I was at the Poor Clare cloister, I, as usual, delighted in putting on my flowing embroidered skirts with the lovely colors, pretty beads and decorations, and beautiful frills... then I would brush my brown hair carefully and hide it beneath a scarf or a veil. But as I would sit in the Chapel before Him, and watch the sisters working in the sanctuary in their habits... it was impossible not to realize that their simple habits were more beautiful than all my pretty frills. One cannot walk into a Poor Clare convent and not realize that it is beautiful to Jesus, immensely beautiful to Him. In its simplicity it has risen to the beauty of Christ. No one shall be prouder than the bride who kneels before Christ as her curls are chopped and a simple veil is placed upon her head. This simple act of love is one which will bring a smile to the eternal Lover's Face. Is there anything more beautiful than Holy Poverty?
Ah, there is so much more to say about poverty! I sometimes wish that I rewrite whole books that I have read for everyone to see... I wish that I could write the Bible out in my blog... and write out each chapter of my loveliest spirituality books... but to increase the number of words does not increase the meaning of what is discussed. This is hard for me to realize, for I am a writer... but it is true. I cannot give everything that is in my mind, my heart, my soul. I cannot explain everything that I understand, nor tell all the amazing things that I have read so that others can understand as I do. Therefore, I engage in poverty of words (yes, I actually would write more than this deluge of words I have already written), and hope that it is as beautiful to you as it would be if I spoke every word that my heart knows to speak on this subject. It is my hope, also, that He who has all words is pleased as well.