From a Franciscan Perspective – Blessed Frederic Ozanam and Care for the Poor

“1) Secular Franciscans should always act as a leaven in the environment in which they live through the witness of their fraternal love and clear Christian motivations.

2) In the spirit of minority, they should opt for relationships which give preference to the poor and to those on the fringe of society, whether these be individuals or categories of persons or an entire people;  they should collaborate in overcoming the exclusion of others and those forms of poverty that are the fruit of inefficiency and injustice.”  (Article 19, General Constitutions, Secular Franciscan Order)

Gravure d'Antoine Maurin dit "Maurin l'aîné" (1793-1860) à partir d'un dessin de Louis Janmot (1814-1892)

Blessed Frederic Ozanam

On August 4th, the Catholic Church remembers and celebrates the life of Blessed Frederic Ozanam.  Born in France in 1813, he originally wanted to become a writer, but his father insisted that he become a lawyer.  In 1831, he went to the University of Sorbonne, in Paris, to study law.  While there, he noticed that the Catholic Church was being attacked by the intellectuals in Paris.  A devoted Catholic, he and some friends started a debate club, where they could discuss issues of faith with agnostics and atheists.  At one of these debates, Ozanam was challenged to prove his faith with actions, and not just talk.  Taking up the challenge, Frederic and a friend began visiting the poor in the slums of Paris, and providing whatever assistance they could.  Their approach was novel, instead of just giving money to some religious or church organizations; they went out and personally met the poor in their homes.  Other laypersons were attracted to work Ozanam was doing, and together they formed the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.  Frederic did earn a law degree, but would eventually also earn a doctorate in literature.  He married in 1841, and he and his wife had a daughter.  He continued his work with the Society.  Continuously suffering from poor health, he died in 1853.  Some time before his death, he supposedly joined the Third Order of Saint Francis; today known as the Secular Franciscan Order.  The Saint Vincent de Paul Society has grown into a worldwide organization, with local conferences based in most parishes.  They continue their work of personally visiting and providing assistance to the poor in their local communities.

There have been some negative comments about Pope Francis’ focus on the poor.  Some feel that he is neglecting the middle class, who are also suffering from a decrease in wages, the threat of foreclosure on their homes, and a loss of a sense of security that their parents had.  As an out of work member of the middle class, with shrinking resources; I understand the feeling of anxiety, uncertainty and fear people are experiencing.  I am experiencing that to.  But Jesus, through his Gospel, has told us that we are called to take up our crosses daily, and follow him.  And to follow Jesus means to proclaim the Good News to the poor, to heal the sick, to care for the widow and orphans, feed the hungry and to set free the imprisoned.  Even with our own anxieties and sufferings, we are still called to encounter the poor among us, and offer help.  We can accomplish this through God’s grace, and being open to the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Through Jesus Christ, God is with us, in good times and the difficult times.  Let us be open to that Presence, and open to sharing that gift with others.

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