Franciscans “live without owning”


Theologian brother speaks about poverty and generosity

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

CLINTON — As Brother Bill Short made a presentation in the Sisters of St. Francis chapel at the Canticle July 24, he placed several gift boxes of varying sizes on a table. First, he pretended to hoard them, making the audience laugh through his exaggerated facial expressions. Next, he threw the gift boxes over his shoulder. Finally, he passed them out to the audience.

Lindsay Steele
Sister Donna Burke, OSF, jokes with Franciscan theologian Brother Bill Short during his presentation on practicing generosity July 24 at Sisters of St. Francis chapel at the Canticle in Clinton. Sr. Burke said after the presentation, “The message was so gospel, and what we, what I, want to live.”

Though the skit brought a smile to the nearly 100 people in attendance, it also provided a demonstration on the Franciscan value of being generous — both in giving and in receiving. His presentation explored how people can hoard what they have, or be wasteful, but to live in the Franciscan tradition, one should endeavor to freely give possessions, resources and spiritual gifts to those in need.


“I hope to stimulate your Franciscan imaginations, as you do your reflection on your own core values,” he told the crowd, asking them to consider how they can express generous love and charity of the Franciscan tradition in modern-day society.

“This isn’t the 13th century. Maybe we’re working on more of a social or structural level; maybe we’re working in immigration, human rights, human trafficking.”

During his presentation, Br. Short, dean of academics at Franciscan School of Theology in Oceanside, Calif., explained to the crowd that the term “poverty” doesn’t go far enough to explain the depth of the vow Franciscans take to serve others before oneself. He said “vivere sine propio,” or living without owning, is a more accurate explanation.

“Everything belongs to God. God gives every good thing as a gift,” he said. “You can’t buy from God. Our response is gratitude. We receive, we thank and we give,” he said, later adding that when people participate in this “circle of gifts,” they are convinced they have everything they need, even if they don’t have everything they want.

He urged the crowd to live with their hands more open. “We can let go! We can have a loving focus on the needs we see in others,” he said, reminding the audience that generosity should be done with a smile, and not begrudgingly.

He said even when a recipient does not show gratitude or is wasteful — something many audience members said they have experienced — it is important to remember that there is good in everything, even if that goodness is not at first apparent. “It is good simply as is. It is good even if it is not useful to me. The person is good without using them for my ends.”

As the speech ended, he encouraged the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton in their continued application of the teachings of St. Francis.

Audience members said the speech and gift skit were informative and relatable. Sojourner Connie Beck said, “I can listen to him all day! He is down to earth. He has done so much theological exploration and yet he brings it to us in a way we can connect with.”

Sister LaVern Olberding, OSF, was particularly impressed with the gift box skit. She told Br. Short, “The visual was very powerful because, I don’t think, even as good as you are, you could have aptly described it to us without us being involved.”

Sister Mary Lou Carlson, OSF, said Br. Short reminded her that “as Franciscans, the greatest gift we’ve been given is the gift we give away.”

Support The Catholic Messenger’s mission to inform, educate and inspire the faithful of the Diocese of Davenport – and beyond! Subscribe to the print and/or e-edition, or make a one-time donation, today!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Posted on