J M J
Every religious is obliged to practice poverty, above all, every son and daughter of Saint Francis. He practiced this virtue in a special way, loved it above all others, desired it most, pursued it constantly, and considered it the greatest treasure. He guarded it carefully so that no one would take it away from him or encroach upon it. He advocated this virtue in a special way to his spiritual sons and daughters and left it to them as a singular legacy.
O my Holy Father! What an advantageous exchange you have made! For temporal goods you have received eternal ones. You even got rid of the clothes which covered your body; then, Christ clothed you in a garment of graces and love and adorned it with his wounds. You understood well that only the poor and those who are dispossessed of everything have the easiest access to a poor and stripped Christ; that his first blessing was for the poor; that this was his most beloved virtue; that it appealed most to his Sacred Heart. Christ practiced poverty from his birth to his death. He had nowhere to lay his head. He chose a poor virgin to be his mother, poor fishermen to be his apostles and a poor carpenter to be his foster father. All of this showed you the beauty and the nobility of this virtue and encouraged you to strive after it.
Tell me, Father, why do people not strive for this virtue even though they know about this? On the contrary, they run away from it or are afraid of it and even consider it as the greatest misfortune. I think it is because the beauty of poverty is hidden. Many people cannot see beyond it or understand it except those who are blessed by God with this grace.
As I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, I reflected, dear Father, upon the manner in which the Lord led you to this perfect understanding of this virtue and I could not help thinking that it was through love. Just as the love of Christ for his people stripped him of his glory and majesty and led him to leave the bliss of heaven for the utmost poverty and wretchedness of earth, so too, the love of Christ stripped you of worldly goods and led you to poverty and contempt.
O Father obtain for us that love of God, and it will teach us all things; it will make us understand this virtue which you love so much. If even your sons and daughters do not practice it as they ought, though they are obligated by the Rule, it is because they do not have or have very little of the love of God.
I reflected upon our Congregation and I could not depict this virtue in it, at least not in the same way as our Father Saint Francis practiced it. It is true, we do not have large estates, neither do we have steady funds on which we could depend. We live from day to day but the Providence of God gives us so much, that we have thus far never felt a lack of anything Therefore, if we do not want for anything, if even not only our needs but our wants are taken care of, then we do not practice the poverty of our Holy Father, Saint Francis. Jesus, however, sees that we are weak, that our love is not great and so he does not yet want to test us. Even though we do not yet have our Constitutions we would be able, if we had an ardent spirit, to practice this virtue to the highest degree. But to put into effect the strict observance of poverty, to keep up its spirit, a good superior is needed not someone as cold like me. There is no love of God within me, therefore, I do not understand the virtue of poverty, neither do I have the enthusiasm to practice it as the other sisters, and for that reason, I am less scrupulous about being faithful to it than they are. I have no inclination towards money or great riches, but I must admit that sometimes I experience doubts and a great fear when I see that there is no money for simple necessities or that all human means have been used up and that one cannot count on help from anyone. I become concerned, not for myself, but for so many persons who must be fed and clothed. However, I hope that this momentary loos of trust does not insult God, because thus far he has never let us down and never abandoned us in our needs. Indeed, it is good to be completely dependent on him rather than being concerned or worried. It is better that we feel financially insecure rather than if we had the largest funds guaranteed because our capital is in heaven and our Treasurer is God himself. He will never disappoint us; his treasury will never run dry.
Our Congregation was founded and developed in poverty. The Sacred Heart evidently must be pleased because from the beginning up to this moment we have experienced the providential care of God and his obvious blessings. We should, therefore, not fear poverty as much as riches, so that the latter would not keep away from us the blessings of God.
If my prayers were to obtain from you, Lord, some graces for our Congregation, I would not ask for comforts or an abundance of things, but for only as much as you would deem enough for its upkeep. I would not even ask you to protect us from the greatest needs, but I would beg that all the sisters would be so disposed as not to feel annoyed in any way with this virtue but would love it and would strip themselves of material goods so that they could come to a closer union with you.
You know, O Lord, that my concern about insufficient needs is momentary; that I should rather treat it as a temptation. As far as the future of the Congregation is concerned I am not afraid of that; however, what terrifies me and with which I cannot reconcile myself is the lack of spiritual needs: a cooling off of the love for your and neighbor; a weakening of unity and sisterly love; a laxity in religious discipline; and indifference in your service; a scarcity of spiritual direction; a lack of spiritual life; a creeping in of materialism; a being governed by purely natural motives; a seeking after temporal conveniences or worldly fame. It is this kind of lack which I fear. It is this kind of lack that I am apprehensive of for the Congregation. You see, Lord, that I do not even understand poverty well and do not love it as I should, but you know that I desire that our Congregation would practice it; would be guided by its spirit; would be permeated with it to the end of its existence. I beg that you would remove everything that would harm this virtue, because you know, O Lord, that a weak person can do nothing for himself; that small transgressions and relaxations of the Rule quickly lead to greater ones.
I am so proud that it is hard for me to admit to myself and to Father that I lack this virtue; that I do not feel the enthusiasm nor the inclination for it as a daughter of Saint Francis ought to have. I cannot even say that I practice it because I not only have what I need but even an excess of things. It is true that I do not own anything nor do I want to have anything. I do not desire affluence or any special comforts for myself nor for the Congregation. It does not matter whether I have a torn or patched habit or tunic; whether I do not have something I need; whether my room is large or small; whether it is this or that one or whether I would even have one. It is all the same to me and I doubt whether I would even ask for something, since I do not recall ever asking for anything.
I do not have anything in my room except a box of letters and papers, a picture of Saint Francis and some spiritual books and in these – I could say – I am rich and I love them even though such riches really point to spiritual poverty. A soul is really poor who must depend on special books for affections instead of the heart in order to praise God. Oh What I would not do, with what eagerness I would get rid of those books if I could only learn like our Holy Father, Saint Francis, to read that one book – Christ Crucified. However, I cannot even hope to ever come to that kind of understanding. Such a perfection is not for me, and yet how difficult it is to be without it. It would be enough.
As to sleeping – I do not use any comforts. It makes no difference to me whether I sleep on a mattress or on the floor; I do not even have any merit from this. There are only two things in which I am not mortified and from which I find most difficulty in restraining myself, that is, a sensitivity to cold and a spoiled palate. Even though I could not find any special pleasure in the most palatable dishes, I cannot say that I have a favorite food, and yet I do not eat that what the other sisters consider most nutritious. I try to make excuses to myself and to others that only the most delicate food really agrees with me, and I do this supposedly to build up my strength. This shows that my lower nature always prevails. It seems to me that I pamper myself (or rather, I allow others to do so) because I have that opportunity; however, I trust that with God’s grace I will be able to comply with everything. Nevertheless, at present I am living out poverty, because poverty demands mortification; it destroys the love of the body and I am so sensual, so eager to pamper myself. It seems to me that I would be able to bear any lack if I had to, however, that what one does from necessity, because there is no other way out, does not evidence any love for God or love for that virtue.
O my God, what can I do from love when I cannot awaken it within myself, when I am so taken up with earthly things? Nourish me, O Lord, with the bread of your love, quench my thirst with the tears of contrition and sorrow and I will not earn for anything else. At this moment I cannot even bring myself to make a resolution.