“…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Today is St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day. So much could be said of this extraordinary saint whose life echoes in eternity. But today I am thinking particularly about how he sought out poverty on this earth. He came from a wealthy family, but in his early 20s he gave up his inheritance and embraced a life of poverty and prayer.
Choosing poverty may be one of the most counter-cultural things a person could do in the 21st century, particularly in America. Giving up material possessions and joining a religious order in the service of God would seem crazy to a lot of people. Even the people who think it noble and admire others for doing so, may secretly cringe at the thought of living with very few material possessions.
But we need to pray for more and more of these vocations, because those who live these lives of detachment are the ones who are pointing the rest of us to the kingdom of heaven. Most of us, in our daily consumption of material goods, are cemented in the kingdom of earth. We are fearful of losing the comforts of life or having to deprive ourselves of little luxuries, and so we become attached to here — this world. We need societies full of religious vocations, those who have embraced lives of poverty, to keep the rest of us focused on living with a healthy detachment on this side of eternity.
Today is the feast day of St. Bartholomew. He was one of the 12 Apostles (also know as Nathanael), of whom Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47). In response to Jesus’ parting command to his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel,” Bartholomew took the good news of Christ to India and greater Armenia. He died a gruesome martyr’s death in Armenia, but planted seeds of faith that would grow into a rich legacy and heritage one day. Armenia became the first Christian nation in 301 A.D.
I’m half Armenian; my dad is full. His father was born in America, but his mother came over from Armenia when she was a young girl. When I became Catholic three years ago, I had a newfound love for my Armenian heritage, founded squarely in the country’s historic Catholic faith. My sister and dad got to visit Armenia for 10 days a couple of years ago, and the pictures of some of these old church ruins and still standing chapels are symbols of the legacy that these missionary Apostles left behind. Reflecting on St. Bartholomew’s sacrifice today was sobering for me; suddenly the centuries of time that separates the apostles’ lives from mine seems to have shrunk. This man gave his physical life to bring spiritual life to a country full of my ancestors. His love of Jesus and faith in the Gospel were unshakable.
Sometimes we take for granted the faith that we have received, the faith that has been passed down to us. We in America and much of the western world today live in an age and culture where many view the practice of Christianity as an optional Sunday activity, like brunch or golf. But we don’t realize what we are relegating to the margins of our life and culture. We are throwing away something precious, something that men and women like Bartholomew died preserving. Even though I’m a practicing Catholic, and my faith is precious to me, I know I am constantly in danger of taking it for granted. But today, Bartholomew’s face and story make that less likely to happen. Today, I send thankful prayers to heaven to St. Bartholomew, and I ask for his intercession in return. Pray for us, St. Bartholomew, that the words Christ spoke of you will be true of us too.