A Spirituality of the Beatitudes

Franciscan Spirituality: Week 3

A Spirituality of the Beatitudes
Thursday, June 22, 2017

In the Franciscan reading of the Gospel, there is no reason to be religious or to “serve” God except “to love greatly the One who has loved us greatly,” as Saint Francis said. [1] Religion is not about heroic will power or winning or being right. This has been a counterfeit for holiness in much of Christian history. True growth in holiness is a growth in willingness to love and be loved and a surrendering of willfulness, even holy willfulness (which is still “all about me”).

Franciscan spirituality proceeds from the counterintuitive spirituality of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). [2] Read them and see how Francis exemplifies each one so well. While the Ten Commandments are about creating social order (a good thing), the eight Beatitudes of Jesus are all about incorporating what seems like disorder, a very different level of consciousness. With the Beatitudes, there is no social or ego payoff for the false self. Obeying the Commandments can appeal to our egotistic consciousness and our need to be “right” or better than others.

Obedience to the Ten Commandments does give us the necessary impulse control and containment we need to get started, which is foundational to the first half of life. “I have kept all these from my youth,” the rich young man says, before he then refuses to go further (Mark 10:22). The Beatitudes, however, reveal a world of pure grace and abundance, or what Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory would call the second tier of consciousness and what I call second-half-of-life spirituality. Francis doesn’t call it anything; he just lives it on his path of love. Mature and mystical Christianity is “made to order” to send you through your entire life journey and not just offer you containment.

I hope you can now see more clearly how Francis of Assisi cannot be written off as a mere soft and sweet figure. His actual life and practice show how he deliberately undercut the entire “honor/shame system” on which so much of culture, violence, false self-esteem, and even many of the ministrations of church depends. Doing anything and everything solely for God is certainly the most purifying plan for happiness I can imagine. It changes the entire nature of human interaction and eliminates most conflict.

Gateway to Silence:
I am that which I am seeking.

Reference:
[1] Bonaventure, The Major Legend of Saint Francis, chapter 9. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000), 596.
[2] See Cynthia Bourgeault’s meditations earlier this year on the Beatitudes, beginning with April 16, 2017, https://cac.org/be-receptive-or-be-open-2017-04-16/.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 104-105, 115.

Image credit: La Franceschina (detail), c. 1474, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy. artist unknown.
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