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Center for Action and Contemplation
Franciscan Contemplation and Action
Franciscan Contemplation and Action

Living the Gospel without Gloss

Monday, June 13, 2022

Anniversary of Father Richard’s Ordination

Father Richard writes about how a radical change in lifestyle is at the heart of Franciscan spirituality and the gospel of Jesus:

Since Jesus himself was humble and poor, Francis made the pure and simple imitation of Jesus his life’s agenda. In fact, he often did it in an almost absurdly literal way. He was a fundamentalist—not about doctrinal Scriptures—but about lifestyle Scriptures: take nothing for your journey; eat what is set before you; work for your wages; wear no shoes. This is still revolutionary thinking for most Christians, although it is the very “marrow of the Gospel,” to use Francis’s own phrase. [1] He knew that humans tend to live themselves into new ways of thinking more than think themselves into new ways of living. (This is one of the CAC’s Core Principles.)

“When we are weak, we are strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10) might have been the motto of the early Franciscans. In chapter nine of his First Rule, Francis wrote, “They must rejoice when they live among people considered of little value. . . .” [2] Biblically, they reflected the primitive and practical Christianity found in the Letter of James and the heart-based mysticism of the Eastern Church. While most male Franciscans eventually became clericalized and proper churchmen, we did not begin that way.

The more radical forms of Christianity have never thrived for long, starting with Pentecost itself and the first “sharing of all things in common” (Acts 2:44–45): the desert fathers and mothers, the early Celtic monastics, and faith communities on through history, down to the Catholic Workers and the Sant’Egidio Community in our own time. Unless such groups become strongly institutionalized—even juridical—they tend to be short-lived or very small, but always wonderful experiments that challenge the rest of us. They are always like a new room with a new view, offering the rest of us an essential viewpoint that we have lost.

The early Franciscan friars and the Poor Clares wanted to be Gospel practitioners instead of merely “inspectors” or “museum curators” as Pope Francis calls some clergy. Both Francis and Clare offered their Rules as a forma vitae, or “form of life,” to use their own words. They saw orthopraxy (“correct practice”) as a necessary parallel, and maybe even precedent, to mere verbal orthodoxy (“correct teaching”) and not an optional add-on or a possible implication. History has shown that a rather large percentage of Christians never get to the practical implications of their beliefs! “Why aren’t you doing what you say you believe?” the prophet invariably asks.

The Franciscan school found a way to be both very traditional and very revolutionary at the same time by emphasizing practice over theory. At the heart of their orthopraxy was the practice of paying attention to different things (nature, people on the margins, humility, itinerancy, mendicancy, mission) instead of shoring up the home base. They tried to live the Gospels “without gloss,” as Francis put it. [3]

[1] Thomas of Celano, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, 2nd book, chap. 158, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder (New York: New City Press, 2000), 380.

[2] Francis of Assisi, The Earlier Rule, chap. 9, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, The Saint (New York: New City Press, 1999), 70.

[3] Francis of Assisi, The Testament, 39, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, The Saint, 127.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2014), 84–87.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Daily Meditation 2022 Series (detail), 2022, photographs, Colorado. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This year we invited a few photographers, including Carrie, to share their vision with us in an artistic exploration for the Daily Meditations. The inspiration questions we asked each artist to create from were: How do you as an artist connect to and engage with (S)spirit and/or tradition(s)? How can we translate deeper truths through a lens? and How can we show our inherent connectedness (of humans, nature, other creatures, etc.) through imagery? This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: What intersects most with my contemplative practice – [is] to venture into my backyard for contemplative walks and photography of what I find there. I’m often stunned. Finding the beauty in the every day and right under my nose seems like the greatest spiritual invitation. —Carrie Grace Littauer

Story from Our Community:

I appreciate the Franciscan insight into oneness and interconnectedness. I love the night. As darkness shadows, distance seems to disappear. Everything is here, where I am encompassed by sound and touch. In night’s solitude, I reach out to the open sky and beyond to the unknown. I celebrate that I am one with All and All is one with me.
—Theresa G.

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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