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When You Say Yes to Love, You also Say Yes to Suffering

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Franciscan Path of Descent

When You Say Yes to Love, You also Say Yes to Suffering
Wednesday, June 10, 2015

One of my fellow Franciscans, Murray Bodo, wrote a wonderful and poetic book about the life of Francis entitled Francis: The Journey and the Dream. This excerpt from his book captures how letting go, or kenosis (self-emptying), made space within and without, allowing Francis to be filled with divine love that then flowed out in joyful service to the world [1]:

“The demands of Jesus were hard, but to Francis they were love-requests and the harder they seemed, the more elated he was that Jesus should ask him. It was a privilege far surpassing any gift that earthly lovers gave one another. . . .

“He knew Jesus loved him because He made such terrible demands of him, the most difficult of which were the invitations all through the Gospels to leave everyone and everything for His sake. But the more Francis renounced, the more he possessed, pressed down and flowing over. It seemed that Jesus wanted Francis to give up everything so that He could have the joy of returning it as a gift to Francis. That way Jesus could keep handing back what Francis had first given Him, and there would be an eternal effort to outdo one another in selflessness. They understood each other and were becoming one flesh in a manner that man and woman could never duplicate. And that was love as Francis had hoped it would be.

“[The] paradox in Francis’ life was that his exclusive love for Jesus was at the same time inclusive of all humanity. Again what he had renounced had come rushing down in waterfalls of new capacities for love and giving. And the pool of self was constantly refilled with the fresh and clean water of love that flowed out of Francis in countless streams of attention, affection, and service of others. The living waters of Jesus had become his own, and he thereby became a reservoir of unselfish love for all creatures.”

It is no accident that Francis of Assisi is the first documented person to ever carry the physical wounds of Jesus in his hands, feet, and side, which he did for the last two years of his life. These wounds are called the stigmata or the “marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). They surely demonstrate Francis’ complete psycho-somatic identification with Jesus, both crucified and resurrected. Both Jesus and Francis believed, lived, and taught that we dare not define love apart from suffering. Without suffering, “love” is mere sentimentality and not nearly enough to save the world—or anybody.

Gateway to Silence:
Make me a channel of your peace.

[1] Murray Bodo, Francis: The Journey and the Dream (Franciscan Media: 2011, 40th anniversary edition), 46-47.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis (Sounds True), disc 6 (CD).

Image Credit: Stigmatization of St. Francis (detail), 1297-1300, Giotto do Bondone, fresco, Upper Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy.
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