A Franciscan Lesson on Greed
Red Robin (Erithacus rubecula) birds close up in a forest

A Franciscan Lesson on Greed

It is always good and profitable to recall the wisdom of our forefathers. Our parents’ generation and older had sayings, pearls of wisdom, that helped us to do the right thing, to make the right decisions in life.

Let me share with you some of these sayings that were taught to me growing up in Ireland, concerning the subject of greed. In those long gone days people were not as well-off financially as they are to-day. Children were constantly warned against being greedy, and instead encouraged to share with one another. The greedy child was pointed out as a bad example: ‘The more he has, the more he wants.’ The correct path was pointed out to us: ‘Share and share alike.’

In the growing materialistic society of to-day, let us look to the simplicity and good example of the Poor Man of Assisi. Thomas of Celano gives us this account [2 Celano 18] from the life of St. Francis.

“One day the blessed Francis was sitting at the table with his brothers. Two little birds, one male, the other female, came up, and, solicitous about the bringing up of their newly born little ones, they took the crumbs from the table of the saint as they pleased and as they had been doing day by day. The holy man rejoiced in creatures like these and he coaxed them, as was his custom, and offered them grain solicitously.

One day the father and the mother offered their little ones to the brothers, as having been reared at their expense, and after they had given their little ones to the brothers, they did not appear in that place again.

The little birds grew tame amongst the brothers and they perched on their hands, not indeed as guests, but as belonging to that house. They avoided the sight of secular people and professed themselves as foster children only of the brothers. The saint observed this and was astonished, and he invited the brothers to rejoice.

"See," he said, "what our brothers with the red breasts do, as though they were endowed with reason. For they have said: 'Behold, brothers, we present to you our little ones who have been nourished with your crumbs. Do with them what you wish. We are going to another home.' "

They became completely tame amongst the brothers and took their food together with them. But greed broke up the peace, in that the greed of the larger bird persecuted the smaller ones. For when the bigger one had had his fill as he wished, he drove the rest away from the food.

'See,' said the saint, 'see what this greedy one is doing. Even though he is full and satisfied, he envies his hungry brothers. He will come to a bad end yet.'

The revenge followed quickly upon the words of the saint. The disturber of his brothers got up on a vessel of water to drink and immediately fell into the water and, suffocating, died. No cat was found nor any beast that would touch the bird that had been cursed by the saint. Greed in men is surely a horrible evil if it is punished in such a way in birds. The words of the saints too are to be feared if punishment follows upon them with such ease.”

Don’t you agree that in this little piece, the Poverello himself teaches us all a great lesson about the sin of greed?

 – friar Solanus Mary OFM Conv.