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Center for Action and Contemplation

Imagining an Economy of Life

Reflecting on St. Francis Vision of Equitable Economic Community
January 30th, 2024
Imagining an Economy of Life

How do we continue to walk toward St. Francis’ vision of community? Elizabeth Garlow reflects how small steps towards transformation can positively affect our communities, inviting us all to think differently about how we engage with our fellow humans, economies, and the natural world. 

One crisp fall morning in 2022, I remember breathing in the mountain air rising above Assisi as I walked across the grounds of the ancient Franciscan site Eremo delle Carceri. It was an extraordinary place to hold the first meeting of the Economy of Francesco, a gathering of over a thousand people that felt called to reflect on Pope Francis’ invitation to “give a soul to the economy of tomorrow.” Our goal was to weave together the bold idealism of young changemakers with the wisdom of elders from global social and solidarity economy movements. As citizens of our modern world, we all bore witness to the crises of our time and felt a collective longing to transform the structures and systems shaping our lives.   

Illustration of a light red cup on a darker red background

“St. Francis and his followers’ radical love and commitment to a life of simplicity and care for those living in poverty laid the groundwork for economic systems transformation.” — Elizabeth Garlow  

Over 800 years ago in Assisi, St. Francis played the “holy fool,” mocking a society that enabled material wealth to accumulate in the hands of few while impoverishing and marginalizing many. Over time, St. Francis and his followers’ radical love and commitment to a life of simplicity and care for those living in poverty laid the groundwork for economic systems transformation.  

In the 1400s, Franciscan friars went beyond almsgiving and opened the first Montes Pietatis, or “benevolent lending institutions,” to provide low interest loans to those in need. This was a radical alternative to what was once a common practice of charging excessive interest rates. This very pragmatic change ushered in a series of economic policies that guarded those in need against exploitation. 

“The early Franciscan movement teaches us that giving our resources to those in need is not enough. We must also engage in transforming unjust structures and systems.” — Elizabeth Garlow 

Today, Pope Francis invites us to critique the worldview that animates our current economy and the culture it upholds, particularly the “mentality of maximum gain at minimal cost, disguised in terms of reasonableness, progress and illusory promises.” (Laudate Deum 31)    

But how do we shift this culture? Like the early Franciscans, we need to be rooted in communities that prophetically imagine alternatives. This longing for a contemplative community that embraces a different understanding of the economy, has guided my efforts to co-create the “Francesco Collaborative,” a community of people that draw on the Franciscan lineage and the Catholic social tradition to shape a new approach to finance and investing. Collectively, we recognize the ways our culture’s dominant narratives around money and finance have constrained our imaginations. Like the early Franciscans, we long to restore finance to a vocation of inclusion. 

“We seek to hold each other in loving accountability. Little by little, as we transform ourselves, we will shift our economic culture that is crying out for renewal.” — Elizabeth Garlow

Through “Livable Future Investing” workshops, our community engages in the journey of challenging the inherited assumptions that guide how we steward our financial resources. We reckon with the injustices perpetuated by the attitude of “business as usual” and seek to repair those injustices by aligning our resources with the funds and projects that are building an economy of life. Together, we reflect on our important as protagonists of transformation.  

Reflect with Us 

What sensory details does this poem evoke for you? Where in time and place does it transport you? Share your reflection with us. 

Elizabeth Garlow is a graduate of Kalamazoo College and holds an MPA from Princeton University. In 2019, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Dominical School of Philosophy and Theology for her work with the Economy of Communion and Economy of Francesco initiatives to build a new moral economy. 

We Conspire is a series from the Center for Action and Contemplation featuring wisdom and stories from the growing Christian contemplative movement. Sign up for the monthly email series and receive a free invitation to practice each month. 

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