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

St. Vincent Ferrer On Silence

st-vincent-ferrer-preachingThe following words of St. Vincent Ferrer are very strict, to be sure. But notice that St. Vincent does not prevent us from indulging in recreation – he just warns us against being severe and hurtful. I don’t know about you, but my examination of conscience turns up so very many places every day where I am too harsh on those around me. Come to think of it, Scripture, too, treats this as one of the most besetting sins, as I have written before.

Having laid the solid foundation of poverty inculcated by Jesus Christ Himself when, seated on the mountain, he said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit;” it behooves us to strive vigorously to repress the tongue. This organ ought only to be employed in useful speech, and never to become the instrument of vain and idle words.

In order the better to restrain the tongue, accustom yourself to reply rather than to express an opinion, and then only in answer to some useful and necessary question; all frivolous questions will be best answered by silence.

Yet, if you should sometimes indulge in a little pleasantry, by way of recreation, regulate your tone and manner in such a way as not to wound the sensibility of others. Avoid everything that would lead people to regard you as singular, severe, or as one who exceeds the bounds of piety.

Should they complain of you, or blame your behavior, it will then be needful to redouble your prayers for such persons, that God in His goodness may chase from their hearts all that is an occasion of trouble or annoyance to them.

Nevertheless, speak whenever a pressing necessity invites you, such as charity to your neighbor, or the obedience which you have promised to your Superior. In such cases, think beforehand what you ought to say, and express yourself in few words, and in a gentle and respectful tone, which will indicate the humility of your heart. You should also observe the same rule when anyone questions you.

If you remain silent for a time, it should be done with a view to edify your neighbor, and to foresee what may be conveniently said when the moment for speaking shall arrive. Beseech God to supply your silence, and to interiorly make known to others that the obligation you are under of subduing the tongue prohibits you from speaking to them.

–From the Treatise on the Spiritual Life

St. Vincent Ferrer, OP (1350-1419)