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Faith >

‘Go and sell everything that you own .

WHEN my uncle Gerald was a little lad of about seven or eight, he was dead keen on marbles. He loved playing marbles in the street. He and his pals would take their marbles out and roll them along the pavement — more interesting than on grass — or indoors, because of the unexpected obstacles.

And one day, the obstacles included a rather large puddle. It was right in the way, and he didn’t want to roll his marbles through the water; so what did he do? He took his trousers off and used them to mop up the puddle so he could play through. Obvious!

It wasn’t all that obvious to his mother, but then she was a rather conventional woman who thought clean pants were more important than a game of marbles. It’s all a question of priorities, really.

I remembered that episode when I first heard the story of Francis. He was a young man who realised that his family’s wealth had been accumulated by his father’s business deals. His father was a merchant who traded in cloth. But to manufacture those brilliant cloths, many poor people were paid a pittance and were contaminated by the chemicals and the dyes.

Francis decided he didn’t want to inherit wealth that came from such a trade. He decided he’d work for the poor, and, when his father objected, Francis took off all his rich clothes and stood there naked just as God made him. He quit the family home in Assisi and went off to live a life of complete poverty, loving God and serving the poor. It’s all a question of priorities.

The problem with fine clothes is that they get to matter too much; they get in the way of the person underneath. My uncle Gerald decided that mopping up a puddle was more important than looking smart. Francis of Assisi decided that fine clothes were an abuse of the poor.

We become so intent on designer labels, special T-shirts, special trainers that we forget other values. Do we really need so many clothes? Do they have to cost so much? We can all laugh when we read about Imelda Marcos and her cupboards full of thousands of shoes — bizarre! But don’t we have more than we need? We can all gasp at the amount of money Princess Diana spent on her dresses, and then remember that, after using them to strengthen her public image, she sold them to raise money for her charities. Would we be able to part with our possessions like that?

The rich young man in the Gospel (Matthew 19.16-22) was a decent young fellow. He did a lot of good; he wasn’t a tear-away. And he vaguely thought he’d like to use his life for good causes. But to do that properly, he had to give up the high life, and he couldn’t bring himself to give up his possessions. He went away sad because he realised that the fulfilment he longed for could only be his if he wasn’t tied to his possessions. His possessions owned him.

There’s nothing wrong in owning things, until they own us and control our lives. When we become obsessed with what we want to own, we are prisoners of our possessions. We get to the point when we value clothes, fashion, cars, mountain bikes, foreign trips, stereos more than we value people. And at that point we cease to be Christians.

People matter. Possessions don’t matter clothes don’t matter. That’s the whole point about possessions. If we use them for the benefit of others, there’s no harm in them. But when we begin to think more about our clothes, our cars, than we think about people, we’re lost.

The young man in the Gospel couldn’t bear the thought of losing his wealth, and went off to a sad and lonely life, rich in possessions, but impoverished in love.

St Francis gave up every single thing he had and found fulfilment in loving everyone as his brothers and sisters. It’s all a matter of priorities.

This is an extract taken from The Lord Be With You by Cormac Rigby, published by Family Publications, Oxford (phone 0845 0500 879; £6.95, 1-871217-42-3; cased £10.95, 1-871217-43-1; audiobook £7.95).

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