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Center for Action and Contemplation
Everything Belongs
Everything Belongs

Nothing is Excluded

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Following the examples of Jesus and Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), Richard encourages us to inclusive compassion: 

Francis, like Jesus, refused to exclude things from the garden of grace; there is no exclusionary instinct in either of them—except toward exclusion itself! Francis had a genius for not eliminating the negative, but instead using it, learning from it, and thus incorporating it. He goes to the edge and the bottom of society, he kisses the leper, he loves the poor. He doesn’t hide from his shadow self but advertises it. So much of our religion has taught us to deny or hide our shadow, which forces us into a fatal split from foundational reality.  

Just as we grow by ultimately accepting and forgiving our own failures, conscious people, like Jesus and Pope Francis, are able to say about others, “Who am I to judge?” (Luke 12:14). That’s quite the opposite of religion as exclusion! In my fourteen years as a jail chaplain, I met people who had done things that are wrong, sinful, immoral, or “bad”; yet when I drew close to a particular life, I found that the human heart is most often either sincere, mistaken, or afraid. From that place, they sought apparent good but not the true good. It made them do some stupid things; they’re suffering for that now because evil is its own punishment. But when we draw close to it, the human heart has a kind of tenderness, sweetness, and littleness, even in its fragility and fear. As Scottish minister John Watson (1850–1907) stated, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” [1] Remember, sisters and brothers, Jesus is really saying that we are punished by our sins rather than for our sins. None of us know the wounds that every human being carries or why they do the things they do. Human sin, failure, and imperfection are to be wept over and pitied, not something to be abhorred. [2] 

Franciscan spirituality puts a big exclamation point behind Jesus’ words, “The last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16; Luke 13:30) and Paul’s words, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Upside-downness is at the heart of our message, always prompting us to look more deeply and broadly at things. This opens our eyes to recognize God’s self-giving at the far edges where most of us cannot or will not see God, such as in other religions, in any we define as outsiders or sinners, and even to the farthest edge of our seeing, toward those who fight us and oppose us—our so-called enemies.  

We must grow up to our full stature to find the full stature of God (Ephesians 4:13). Small souls are incapable of knowing a great God, and great souls are never satisfied with a small or stingy God. Once we become fully conscious ourselves, all things will be beautiful. [3] 


[1] See W. Robertson Nicoll, ‘Ian Maclaren’: Life of the Rev. John Watson (Toronto: Westminster, 1908), 125. Note: Watson used “Ian Maclaren” as a pen name. 

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I Am That Which I Am Seeking (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2012). Available as MP3 download.  

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 11, 12. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Field Study 2, oil pastel on canvas. Izzy Spitz, Everything at Once, digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Wings, digital oil pastel. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Everything belongs: our messes and dreams, our hues of green and yellow, our curves and lines. 

Story from Our Community:  

I loved Brian McClaren’s story about the two nuns and their faith. My brother always says I am a “Supermarket Catholic” who picks and chooses what I believe in and if I belong to a club I should follow its rules. I tell him I hold all things in tension, life has many paradoxes and that God gave me a brain to try and figure things out. I stay and try to bring change where possible. I can now tell him I stay being a Catholic defiantly, while being as compliant as I am able to be with authenticity. —Elspeth O. 

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