St. Vincent Ferrer on Living Poverty

Pope Francis has called for a Church that is “poor, and for the poor.” Somehow that comes across as liberal, when in fact it is profoundly traditional.

The following is an excerpt from St. Vincent Ferrer, the great Dominican missionary of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. In this chapter, he is discussing love of neighbor – and somehow all of his points come down to an embrace of poverty.

His words are so provocative, I hardly know how to introduce them. In short, he teaches us we should be much more worried than we typically are about how materialism gets in the way of love. Materialism that makes us focus on things rather than people, and materialism that view people in terms of their things – so that we Americans are strangely unwilling to preach the Gospel to anyone but the rich and powerful.

I should add that he lived at a time of horrific poverty: no one who can read these words on the internet can dare to tell St. Vincent that we need to make sure to take care of ourselves.

st-vincent-ferrer-preachingFour dispositions are needed:

1. To consider yourself a stranger on the earth, so that whatever you possess therein may appear to you to belong to others rather than to yourself, that you may feel no more attachment to them than you would to the possessions of a person who lives far from you.

2. To regard a superabundance of things for your own use as hurtful to you as the subtlest poison, and to view it with as much alarm as you would a rocky sea on which it is difficult to escape being shipwrecked.

3. To accustom yourself, in the use of things that are necessary, always to feel the effects of poverty and want, poverty being the mysterious ladder by which we safely ascend to heaven, to be possessed of eternal wealth.

4. To shun the pomp of the rich and powerful ones of the earth, without, however, disdaining them, and to let it be your glory to associate with the poor, your joy to remember them, to see and converse with them, however denuded of everything, neglected, and despised they may be, since, by these very circumstances they are the living expression of Jesus Christ; they are kings, whose society should be to you a special honor and a subject of great joy.

-St. Vincent Ferrer, OP (1350-1419), “On the Dispositions that We Ought to Have in Regard to Our Neighbor,” in Treatise on the Spiritual Life


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