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Franciscan Mysticism
Franciscan Mysticism

A Humble Mystery

Sunday, October 2, 2022

This week’s meditations explore Franciscan mysticism. Sister Ilia Delio identifies the spirituality of Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) as rooted in God’s love and humility:

Did you ever have one of those days where the whole idea of God was just too much to think about? As if trying to “get a handle” on God was like trying to kiss the moon? If the mystics are right (and usually they are because they see things much differently than we do) then you were probably closer that day to God than any other day in your life. How is this possible, you ask? How can God be close to you (or you to God) when God seems so far away or not at all? . . . This is my answer to you: God is a mystery of humble love. It is a mystery that you cannot reason or try to figure out. You must simply live in the mystery. . . .

I think Francis of Assisi grasped something of the mystery of God and, in a particular way, the mystery of God’s humility. Although he was simple and not well educated, he had an insight into God that I can only say was profound. Francis did not study theology. . . . He simply spent long hours in prayer, often in caves, mountains or places of solitude, places where he could distance himself from the busy everyday world. Thomas of Celano [c. 1185–1260], the first biographer of Francis, wrote: “Where the knowledge of teachers is outside, the passion of the lover entered.” [1] What Thomas perceived is that love, not knowledge, allowed Francis to enter into the great mystery we call “God.” As he entered into this mystery he discovered two principle features of God—the overflowing goodness of God and the humility of God. . . . How did a man as simple as Francis arrive at this mystery of God? The answer is Jesus Christ. Francis came to know the God of humble love by meditating on and imitating the poor and humble Christ. 

Recognizing God’s loving humility, Francis mirrored the same:

As his life deepened in God, [Francis] made a constant effort to spend himself in love by giving himself to the other. He became bent over in love for every person, every creature, including tiny earthworms which he would pick up so that they would not be crushed underfoot. By following the poor and humble Christ, Francis was formed into a “brother minor.” His followers said that he became “another Christ” because, like Christ, he was humble in love. Following the footprints of Jesus, Francis found the God of humble love not among the popular and the proud, the arrogant and the rich or those who “stand out” in society but among the ordinary, the forgotten, the poor and sick and the marginalized. The God of Francis, Celano wrote, was a God “who delights to be / with the simple and those rejected by the world.” [2]


[1] Thomas of Celano, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, 2nd book, chap. 68, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder (New York: New City Press, 2000), 314.

[2] Thomas of Celano, The Life of Saint Francis, 1st book, chap. 12, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, The Saint (New York: New City Press, 1999), 210.

Ilia Delio, The Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 15, 17, 19–20.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Belinda Rain, Water Drops on Grass (detail), 1972, photograph, California, public domain. Belinda Rain, Nevada, Lake Tahoe California (detail), 1972, photograph, California, public domain. Belinda Rain, Forest (detail), 1972, photograph, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: We look for Spirit in every stone and blade of grass, in everything. We are part of something so much larger, so much grander. God’s grace abounds.

Story from Our Community:

The meditations on St. Francis have been so meaningful to me. I feel animals are my brothers and sisters. Fourteen years ago I switched to a plant-based diet for health reasons. I could not have predicted then that letting go of my old diet would put me on a spiritual journey and make space for so much love and abundance. My reverence for all animals has deepened. Is my dog more deserving of love than a cow, chicken, or pig? All creation is sacred and I feel connected to it. My diet is abundant with beautiful plants. My life is abundant. My heart is full of love. —Sally P.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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