Did you know that it was during St Francis’ life, spurred by the growth of the merchant class, that money first became widely used in Italy? In the midst of this growth of commerce, the friars developed a deep understanding of how economics affects people and communities. Coupling their observations and theology, the Franciscan developed an economic vision that prioritized relationships. They believe that buying and selling shouldn’t be about self-interest or maximizing profits, but about maximizing relationships, strengthening community ties, building mutual trust, expressing generosity, creating reasonable profits and focusing on the common good.
Sounds nice – but how would it play out in real life?
Well, one example might be the way writer Firoozeh Dumas’ dad sold his car. She writes that he, an Iranian immigrant, loved all things American, especially big cars. When it came time to sell his cherished Chrysler Lebaron, he asked her, his 13-year-old daughter and advisor on all things American, to write the ad. Here is how she tells the story.
“When it came time to decide on a price, my father wanted $1,000. I suggested that if he wanted $1,000, he should ask for $1,200. My father, with his tendency to agree with all my ideas, good or bad, consented. A parade of potential buyers started coming to our condo. I made sure to always be there, standing next to my father. My perfect Valley Girl English put people at ease, mitigating my father’s thick Persian accent.
One evening, a man showed up with his two daughters, who were around 8 years old. After looking under the hood, he decided to buy the car and told us that he would return the next day. We waited with great anticipation. As promised, he showed up the following evening, again with his daughters. After exchanging pleasantries, he removed a wad of cash from his pockets and counted twelve $100 bills.
My father took the bills, thanked the man but didn’t put the money in his pocket. He kept staring at the wad of cash. After a moment, he peeled off two of the bills and gave them back. “This is for your beautiful daughters. Please take them to Disneyland and buy them whatever they want.”
The man looked confused, almost annoyed, like he was being pranked. “Please,” my father repeated, pushing the money into the man’s palm. “You must take your daughters to Disneyland.” The girls started to squeal. The man paused for a moment, then hugged my father vigorously. As he drove away in his new used LeBaron, the sisters waved furiously at us.
That evening, my father could not have been happier.”
This is not a perfect example of Franciscan commerce, but it is a pretty good one. The dad wants a fair price, nothing more. He is not clinging to “the money” as a possession he deserves. He sees it as a gift that he can share to increase the joy of others. His act of generosity fostered trust and moved all the individuals involved into a deeper sense of connectedness, relationship and gratitude.
- Can you recall a similar story in your life, or ministry?
- Are you attracted to the Franciscan view of economics? If yes, why? If no, why? (To find out more, read A Free and Fraternal Economy by Fr. Martin Carbajo, one of our Franciscan Theology School professors.)
- If your ministry adopted the Franciscan view that our financial exchanges should be driven by generosity and a desire to build relationships, community and trust, (in addition to reasonable profits), how might your approach to vendor negotiations, investments, severance, pricing, and consuming goods, change?