A New Way of Thinking

Franciscan Way: Part One

A New Way of Thinking
Thursday, October 3, 2019

God gave St. Francis to history in a pivotal period when Western civilization began to move into rationality, functionality, consumerism, and perpetual war. Francis was himself a soldier, and his father was a tradesman in cloth. Francis came from the very world he was then able to critique, but he offered a positive critique of these very systems at the beginning of their now eight centuries of world dominance. Rather than fighting the systems directly and in so doing becoming a mirror image of them, Francis just did things differently. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better (one of the Center’s core principles). [1]

As Adolf Holl put it, Francis emerged precisely when we started “putting clocks into church towers.” [2] When Christian leaders started counting, Francis stopped counting. He moved from the common economy of merit to the scary and wondrous economy of grace, where God does not do any counting, but only gives unreservedly.

As Europe began to centralize and organize everything at high levels of control and fashion, Francis, like a divine trickster, said, “Who cares!” When Roman Catholicism under Pope Innocent III reached the height of papal and worldly power, he said in effect, “There is another way that is much better!” Exactly when we began a style of production and consumption that would eventually ravage planet earth, he decided to love the earth and live simply and barefoot upon it. Francis of Assisi is a Prime Attractor to what we really want, what we definitely need, and who we finally are. And, apparently, he did it all with a “perfect joy” that comes from letting go of the ego!

We are only afraid of death as long as we do not know who we are, but once we know ourselves objectively to be a child of God, we are already home and our inheritance is given to us ahead of time. Then we can begin living and enjoying instead of climbing, proving, or defending. Our false self, as all religions say in one way or another, must “die before we die.” Only then can we sincerely say with Francis, “Welcome, Sister Death” which he said on this day in 1226. Those who face this first death of dying to self lose nothing that is real. And so, “the second death can do them no harm,” as Francis says in his “Canticle of the Creatures.” [3] Death itself will only “keep opening, and opening, and opening,” which is what resurrection means. [4]

All of this creates a very different form and shape to our spiritual life. It is no longer elitist, separatist, or competitive, but changes our deepest imagination in the direction of simplicity. Our worldview will not normally change until we place ourselves, or are placed, in new and different lifestyle situations. Another of the Center’s core principles is: You do not think yourself into a new way of living, you live yourself into a new way of thinking. Francis and Clare displaced themselves into different worlds where their hearts could imagine very different things and they had to pay attention to something other than comfort or convenience.

References:
[1] See “The Eight Core Principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation,” https://cac.org/about-cac/missionvision/.

[2] Adolf Holl, The Last Christian (Doubleday: 1980), 1.

[3] Francis wrote this song praising God through all creation during the last year of his life; the full text of the Canticle can be found at https://www.franciscantradition.org/francis-of-assisi-early-documents/the-saint/writings-of-francis/the-canticle-of-the-creatures/129-fa-ed-1-page-113.

[4] Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), xxi.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 200-202.

Image credit: Scenes from the life of Saint Francis: 2. Renunciation of Worldly Goods (detail), Giotto di Bondone, 1325, Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: “My son,” the bishop said to Francis of Assisi, “have confidence in the Lord and act courageously. God will be your help and will abundantly provide you with whatever is necessary.”

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