18 February 2019

The Richest Man in Assisi


This past Sunday's Gospel reading from St. Luke's version of the Beatitudes got me thinking about the title of this blog:

The Richest Man in Assisi. 

You see, this title was inspired by the title of a parable that teaches on how to become wealthy, namely:

The Richest Man in Babylon

Going back in time a couple decades, I went through high school just as the Internet was becoming "a thing." Besides chatting with a few friends on ICQ and learning how to download mp3 files pre-black-market-Napster, my primary interest was learning the ropes of stock investing. I joined a local investment club, read books like "One Up on Wall Street," and actually spent time learning about corporate financials. 

I could write all day regurgitating the wise sayings I picked up from great investors. On some level, I appreciated the wisdom and virtue required to find good companies and remain a steady shareholder through panics and recessions. 

But in reality, I was a hypocrite. I bought mediocre companies hoping for a comeback success (that rarely works out). I toyed with an obscure technological device company that was one military contract from shooting to the moon (turned out more like Apollo 13). 

Somewhere along the way, I read George S. Clason's "The Richest Man in Babylon." It's something of a parable for capitalism, teaching the reader how to wisely manage their money. As noted above, while the principles made perfect sense in my head, my heart preferred spending and chasing after quick buck. 

A bit later along the way, my Christian faith deepened, leading to Catholicism and meeting St. Francis of Assisi, who loved Lady Poverty — a total contrast to my Finance degree and penchant for stock picking. Part of what attracted me to St. Francis was how he started out on his way to becoming the "Richest Man in Babylon" — growing up a cloth merchant's son in the twilight of our modern global economy. Francis stood a good chance of becoming  the richest man in Assisi (if not more) taking on the family business. 

So this blog started as a grappling with between two sides of myself:

- One side of me that sincerely enjoys the challenging process and discipline required to be a good steward and investor of material savings. 

- Another side that admires and longs to imitate in some way St. Francis' raw, daring, and "foolish" passion. 

Both sides were hypocrites in their own way. Both enjoyed reading and thinking about philosophical ideals. Both looked good repeating and even applying said philosophy in current situations. Both failed. 

Yet as I heard in Sunday's homily, Jesus taught about rich and poor based on spiritual possessions. Regardless of your net worth (or position in the hierarchical Church), a person who acquiesces to a culture that's contrary to the Gospel is rich. 

Meanwhile, parishioners of the world — refugees making our way toward the Parousia of Christ — must learn to become stewards of whatever possessions we have as nothing really belongs to us.

In the midst of this tension we could be like those few Jewish exiles whose faithfulness to the Covenant allowed them to carry Babylon's blessing (and a portion of her wealth) back to Jerusalem to rebuild God's Temple, which they saw falling into ruin. 

02 April 2012

Different Take on "A Mended and Broken Heart"


Don't judge a book by it's cover -- that includes the inside flaps. Having finished Murray's "A Mended and Broken Heart," my opinion is differently changed from the original impression I gave back in November.

This one is a different perspective than most biographies of St. Francis you'll find. It's easy to catch on to her skepticism at first glance. However, unlike those who suggest the Francis-and-Clare romantic connection simply to make them more "human," i.e. finding fault for its own sake, Murray sees an opportunity for sanctity. And to be clear, even the author doesn't expect her case to be convincing based on the evidence because the evidence is quite sparse. One really needs to think between the lines and -- perhaps more importantly -- consider the lesson she is drawing for all of us trying to find God while pulled by contradictory desires.

The orthodox party line maintains that Francis and Clare shared no romantic bond. My understanding is the primary reason is their age difference: Francis was approaching 30 when Clare was just growing into womanhood. Considering the times, I doubt such an age difference was unusual. I think the unspoken reason is that orthodox Catholics instinctively protect the pedestals upon which we place our saints -- even when no sin is suggested.

And this is an important point, for Murray consistently insists upon their fidelity to Christian moral law, that is after Francis abandoned his old ways. More interesting, though, is how Francis seeking to fulfill his human yearning for love in Clare was not a distraction from his vocation, but paved the path towards taking Lady Poverty as his bride. It's not like Francis was setting out to found a religious order. He had no idea how he would shape the world 800 years after his death. He knew his need for a sensual, romantic love: His arms embraced a leper and his hands repaired a dilapidated church. And in the midst of those confusing times, I find it quite believable (and to his credit) that he considered marrying Clare. How can a man cannot forgo marriage if he isn't prepared to marry?

Speaking of rebuilding that church, we are all quite fond of how Francis initially misunderstood what Christ really meant: the rebuilding of a spiritual Church falling into ruins. Yet we don't doubt that the process of rebuilding a physical church did not serve some redemptive purpose. How much more could an initial misunderstanding about who he should love exclusively -- Clare or Lady Poverty -- bear fruit in ways unseen?

It is also noteworthy that Clare never married.

Speculation thought it is, I find some compelling reasons to consider how "what might have been" shaped what became. This biography dove more into Francis' struggles later in life that I had never heard about before. I couldn't help but think about Theology of the Body while reading this book. Certainly there is some truth to the notion that in seeking Divine Love the consideration of married love can prepare a person for celibate love. In our fallen nature, they strike us as incompatible opposites. In the heavenly marriage, they are soul mates.

Thus, I think Christopher West's recently published, "At the Heart of the Gospel" might make the perfect follow-up read to "A Mended and Broken Heart."

15 November 2011

A Mended and Broken Heart

Biographies have always been a favorite genre of mine. Learning about a person's childhood, their joys and sorrows, what motivated them and the crosses they bore through life always interested me. Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and Iacocca are some of my favorites. I have G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis of Assisi and Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox along with Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain on my reading list -- they've been there a while :) I will say, Chesteron being one of my favorite writers, I'm looking forward to reading both of those since Sts. Francis and Dominic demonstrate contrasting paths to holiness.

Of course, the challenge to a biographer writing on someone like St. Francis is bringing something new to the table. That's why I almost didn't bother buying this book, A Mended and Broken Heart: The Life and Love of Francis of Assisi by Wendy Morgan, especially since the inside-cover description makes the book sound slanted against orthodoxy. For instance, there's reference to St. Francis' "complex theology," the repression of certain details of his life by the Church, and his rushed canonization two years after his death (calling to mind the relatively quick canonizations of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Paull II). Yet it also offered a quote I'd never heard before: "Don't be too quick to canonize me. I am perfectly capable of fathering a child." And from there, proceeds to mention the "crucial but completely neglected role that Clare of Assisi played in Francis' life and theology, both before and after his conversion." Maybe Francis had a little thing for Clare, eh?

I could see that.

At any rate, I firmly believe we must die to become saints. Francis-the-sinner glorifies God all the more in becoming Francis-the-saint, and since I have a certain penchant for film noir and the dark side of humanity, I look forward to learning about Francis from a perspective that intentionally sheds more light on his weaknesses. Our sins show the way to holiness in that they reveal (in a disordered way) truth about ourselves that we can easily miss simply because we only see the sin and never look deeper into what it is we are fundamentally attracted to and how the seed of goodness within can be nurtured from depravity and death into goodness and life.

I won't be able to start this one right away. I'm finishing The Princess and the Goblin and just started Brew Like a Monk while in the middle of Screwtape Letters, The Call of the Wild and White Fang, and In Business As in Life, You Don't Get What You Deserve, You Get What You Negotiate. Needless to say, my interests are varied... and I should get some Amazon credit for all these links!

04 July 2011

The Prodigal Son

Two years, three months, and eight days since my last blog post. Yet every once in a while someone still happens across this place and leaves a comment. Every time I received one those e-mails, part of me missed this little outlet for semi-anonymous self-reflection and sharing, and figured eventually the time would be right to return. Like the Prodigal Son, I've done my share of wallowing in the mud and drinking from cisterns that do not satisfy one's inner thirst. And like him and St. Francis, I finally came around to embracing my Father in a new and refreshing way.

While I never left the Church, at times serving Mass was nothing more than a chore to keep my body occupied while my mind questioned the existence of God. Much of the time God so graciously gave me was given over to withdrawing into a paralyzing inner isolation, asking all the big life questions, intimidated to look inside my soul... not seeing much there and vainly grabbing onto any experience that distract me from the real work at hand... like walking into a mess that you have no idea how to begin cleaning... so you procrastinate with meaningless tasks... until you finally do one small thing to make it right that leads to doing another bigger thing...

Thankfully that mess is (mostly) cleaned up... I've done a healthy bit of introspection recently, especially when I noticed that the past five years were blurring together. Plus, watching the current Terrence Malick film, "Tree of Life," spurred me into facing some demons once again, which hasn't been fun, but it is necessary if they'll ever be put to rest.

I reckon that's about all for now... after seeing "Tree of Life" again, it'll definitely be post-worthy material.

26 March 2009

Pickin' My Belly Button Lent... 2009!

This title is absolute genius, in my humble opinion, which is why I'm recycling it from 2006. Following the last post on New Year's resolutions, it seems appropriate to check how those resolutions are going. Well, over halfway through Lent, I honestly forgot what those old resolutions, as my mind's been occupied with keeping my Lenten commitments. Checkin' the files... apparently I'm supposed to fast from meat for breakfast and lunch... sounds like something a woman would make me do.

Granted, for Lent I am fasting from meat completely (except Sunday's, of course, in order to celebrate the Resurrection... and in the Catholic world we begin celebrating the Resurrection around 5pm on Saturday). I also begin participating in the e5men.org bread-and-water fast on Ash Wednesday and I'm doing that every Wednesday of Lent. Well, yesterday wasn't a good day, so I decided to fast today... and right now I'm drinking "liquid bread" in the form of a Dundee Honey Brown lager, but it was a long day at work... I'll keep the fast until lunch tomorrow to compensate a bit (which the web site says is permissible, so I'm still playin' by the rules).

Anyway, if you came here expecting some brilliant commentary or insight into Lent... I think I'm about tapped dry for now. I just wanted to check in and felt like writing a quick blog post, so next year maybe I can come back here and at least recall what was on my mind. I can say this has been a relatively fruitful Lent so far. Like most people who aren't dead, I've got my set of struggles and attachments that make for a frustrating experience of life at times, and I often fall into these moods of pessimism and despair. But I have to say, while sometimes I thought Matthew Kelly's "Rediscovering Catholicism" was a bit too cheesy or pep rally-esque, he says a lot of good things and he helped me appreciate the role of discipline in life. When I start to despair, I've noticed it's always at times when I'm least disciplined. And during the times when I push myself into more discipline, I end up happier, even if my circumstances haven't changed. Ergo, my outlook on life and faith are largely a product of my daily habits.

So, here's to getting back into that early-to-bed, early-to-rise schedule...