The Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi
Father Richard Rohr writes of the cosmic scope of Franciscan mysticism:
I use the word mysticism in a very traditional and classic sense. It is not pointing to something esoteric and unavailable, though it does point to something that is only available to those who go beyond the surface and exterior, those who experience the inner grace and connectivity of all things. As Jesus, Paul, and Franciscan theologian Bonaventure (1221–1274) each said in their own way, mysticism is often foolishness to the educated and obvious to the simple.
I emphasize connectivity because that unteachable gift is what I always see in true mystics. Mystics know and enjoy the connected core of reality that is hidden to those who do not desire it or search for it. All mystics know is that they are inside of an immense and wonderful secret, which seems to be hidden from or denied by (but not denied to!) most of the rest of us. Mystics look out from different eyes that see the grace in all things and the deep connection between all things.
While Franciscan mysticism overlaps with aspects of non-Christian mysticism—such as nature mysticism (panentheism), Jewish mysticism (God as “One” and thus all inclusive), Islamic Sufi mysticism (ecstasy and joy), Hindu mysticism (unitive consciousness and asceticism), and Buddhism (nonviolence and simplicity)—Franciscan mysticism has a unique place in the world through its Christocentric lens. Franciscan mysticism is about an intuition of Jesus as the Incarnate and Universal Christ. Francis discovered and so powerfully loved this mystery in Jesus that he eventually became a living image of Christ.
It was the unique person of Jesus that Francis and Clare fell in love with, precisely in his incarnate and humble state, identifying with the excluded and little ones, whom Jesus calls “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). The bias toward the edge and the bottom has always been at the heart of Franciscan mysticism, explaining its perennial identification with poverty and suffering.
The cosmic vision, personalized in Jesus, was an intuition that Francis and many of his followers lived and experienced, but most of them did not formulate it in theological words or academic concepts as much as in lifestyles. Usually they picked it up by osmosis, through the gospel and the Franciscan lineage. Followers of Francis and Clare bore “fruit that remained” and they invariably believed in original blessing much more than original sin.
Franciscan mysticism is therefore not really about Francis, but about a universal notion of the Christ and therefore of all reality. Francis pushes all of our seeing to the absolute edge by always including those whom other systems might too easily exclude—lepers, non-Christians, poor people, hated outsiders. When it loses that “edgy” position, it might be mini-mysticism, or even church mysticism, but it is never Franciscan mysticism. Francis knew that only love is big enough to handle and hold truth. Truth which is not loving, joyful, and inclusive is never the Great Truth.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Franciscan Mysticism: A Cosmic Vision,” Radical Grace 25, no. 1, Franciscan Mysticism (Winter 2012): 12, 13, 20.
Note: The Transitus of St. Francis of Assisi commemorates the death of Francis and his “passing over” to eternal life.
Explore Further. . .
- Read the Poor People’s Campaign co-founder Liz Theoharis on solidarity and a “movement of the rejected.”
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
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.
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.