The Poor Man of Assisi

Figure 1 Francis

Fresco in the Sacro Speco (‘sacred cave’) of St. Benedict in Subiaco, possibly the oldest and most faithful image of Francis.

Pace e bene! Peace and all that is good! These words of Saint Francis (1182-1226) go beyond divisions, faiths and institutions, right to the core of our shared humanity. Today in Assisi, people are gathering to celebrate his feast day. Having chosen a life radically dedicated to transcendent values, Francis often appears in Assagioli’s writings. Assagioli would have naturally been familiar with Francis, who (along with St. Catherine of Siena) is one of the patron saints of Italy. In fact, upon meeting Assagioli, Frank Vanderlip described him as a modern day St. Francis:

“There seemed to me to burn in this man the pure flame of a love of justice and humanity… He seemed to have a calm and serene understanding of the causes of the troubles of the world and a sensible apprehension of where materialism is leading the world. He expressed such a cheerful hopefulness that a better road is at hand if the world will but take it.”[1]

Can Money and Spirituality Mix?

Many people familiar with the life of St. Francis may like to think of him as a peace-loving eccentric who preached to the birds and wrote poems to Brother Sun and Sister Moon. But Francis was really a frightening radical! If he were alive today, I believe he would make us all feel quite uncomfortable.

Renunciation_of_Wordly_Goods

Francis renounces all worldly possessions, as painted by Giotto.

At the age of 25, Francis renounced a vast inherited wealth from his father by symbolically stripping naked in front of Bishop Guido and a great crowd in Assisi, forever devoting himself to ‘Lady Poverty.’ The painter Giotto depicts this scene complete with small boys throwing stones at the naked Francis.

Francis’ initial followers were not permitted to own any possessions. They lived in straw huts and preached and begged in the streets. In fact, Assagioli often referred to Francis as the “Poor Man of Assisi,” and he specifically mentions the saint in his article “Money and the Spiritual Life.”[2]

Figure 4. Francis from Archives

A hand drawn depiction of Francis with (left to right) Brother Masseo, Saint Clair, and Francis preaching to the birds. This is from Assagioli’s Archives, ID# 14609.

Assagioli states that living as Francis did is infeasible in our present age, pointing out that just decades after Francis’ death, the Franciscan Communities realized that “it was almost impossible to do without money and some form of buildings and land … Franciscans now use every means the modern world provides.”[3]

Assagioli continues by assuring us:

“If this is what the sons of Saint Francis do, how can any more be expected of us … caught up in the very fabric of economic, family, and social life?”

He then explains that spiritual transformation does not come from outside ourselves (where money might dominate), but from within.[4] However, Assagioli is then quick to qualify this statement by noting his intention is not:

“… to criticize or distract from the sublime act of Saint Francis, which was indeed heroic and had an incalculable positive effect as an example to others, providing us with a practical lesson in detachment … Our intention was only to show that this way cannot provide us with a generally applicable solution to our everyday lives.”[5]

In other words, money is a necessity for living our lives, but it is our attitude and actions towards money that determine its true worth. What matters most is how detached (or how identified) we are with the money and all that it can buy.

Assagioli’s Test with Money

007922 FIJ An Incident and a Test

Assagioli’s note from Freedom in Jail.

In his prison diary Freedom in Jail, we see firsthand Assagioli’s personal and spiritual struggle with money.[6] He writes about how he went through a psychological test and experience when he was told that the money his wife had deposited to pay for his extra privileges in jail was running out. This meant that he would have to leave his private “special” cell and move into a cell with others and eat the normal prison fare. He wrote that:

“A kind of physical instinctual panic surged which tended to create an emotional preoccupation. I fought it through clear reasoning: the food which I would get was quite sufficient… I roused myself a sense of shame for my selfish preoccupation. I realized the human value of sharing the experience with others of this “poverty.”

As soon as Assagioli had arrived at a deeper acceptance of his financial dilemma and was spiritually ready to share a cell with others, his was notified that his money had arrived, and that things would go on as before. He candidly writes:

“When the news was given to me, I distinctly registered two opposite inner reactions at the same time: an instinctual sense of relief and a feeling of disappointment for being deprived of the new experience and of the opportunity of helping my fellowmen.”

Personally, I have often found this to be the case whenever I spiritually feel conflicted and confused over the deeper meaning and use of money (usually around not having enough!). Whenever I finally manage to transmute my fears into a deeper awareness, the money finally arrives … and this always seems to happen at the very last minute!

Reflect on your attitude towards money

You might take some time to reflect on your own attitude towards money. How identified are you with it? Do you gain recognition and acknowledge from you ownership of money and your possessions? Are you generous with what you own? How do you spiritually deal with any conflicts or confusion you experience over money (or the lack of it). Like Assagioli, have you ever experienced “physical instinctual panic” when you face a financial challenge? Are you able to use your skillful will to detach from money and consequently find a higher solution to that challenge?

Final Words

Assagioli through his vision of psychosynthesis and St. Francis though his devotion to God have both called us to establish peace in every aspect of our lives. To celebrate this day joyfully, I end with a quote from Saint Francis written in Assagioli’s beautiful hand (in Italian) :[7]

Figure 7.Francis quote 2 from ArchivesLighthearted Joy

What else are the servants of
God if not his minstrels
destined to raise up
the heart of the people
and to bring them
to the Joy of the Spirit.

S. Francesco

To read Catherine’s entire article, click:  “Assagioli’s Reflections on the Poor Man of Assisi”.

[1] Frank Vanderlip, What Next In Europe?, New York, 1922, pp. 152-154.

[2] Roberto Assagioli, Transpersonal Development, The Dimension Beyond Psychosynthesis, The Aquarian Press, London, 1993, pp. 213-233.

[3] Ibid., p. 217.

[4] Ibid., p. 218.

[5] Ibid., Footnote on pp 220-221.

[6] Roberto Assagioli, Freedom in Jail. Edited by Catherine Ann Lombard. Istituto di Psicosintesi, Florence, Italy. 2016, pp. 25-27, 35-36.

[7] Roberto Assagioli, N.D. ID #8405. Retrieved November 11, 2016 from archivioassagioli.org. This translation is mine. The original Italian text is: “Letizia – Che altro sono i servi di Dio se non i giullari di Lui, destinati a rialzare il cuore degli uomini e portarli alla gioia dello spirito? S. Francesco.”

 

2 thoughts on “The Poor Man of Assisi

  1. Louise Foy

    Thank you for sharing this. This very experience happened to me as I was told I would not receive the expected fanancial assistance to complete the research element of my training. With difficulty I resolved to the fact and set myself alternative goals for the year. At the final hour, in the evening before the course began, an email sat waiting for me, stating the much needed part funding was granted. I was filled with joy and gratitude at being given the opportunity to embark on a year of research, a zeal I most definitely would not have experienced without detaching from such an expectation. Smiling at the continued insights and contributions of Roberto Assagioli. With the Light-hearted joy!

    Reply
    1. Catherine Ann Lombard Post author

      Thank you for sharing this inspiring story. Yes, this seems to happen especially when we are experiencing a time of particular spiritual growth. I’m so glad you were able to do your research!

      Reply

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