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St. Francis: A “Prime Attractor” for Interfaith Dialogue

Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Introduction to Francis of Assisi

A “Prime Attractor”
Sunday, May 17, 2015

As we move chronologically through my wisdom lineage, the next teacher and tradition that has most impacted my faith is Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan Way (particularly as shaped by Clare, Bonaventure, and John Duns Scotus). As a Franciscan priest, this forms a large portion of my spirituality, my worldview, and my teaching. So I hope you’ll be patient with me as I spend the next six weeks exploring the wonderful treasures of Francis and other early Franciscans. This might seem like a lot, but you will see I am just covering major Christian themes from a Franciscan angle. In these weeks, I hope you will come to love this simple, joyful spirituality as much as I do!

One day, Brother Masseo approached Brother Francis and asked him with complete sincerity, “Why after you? Why after you? Why does the whole world come running after you, Francis?” We are still asking that question eight centuries later. Francis is what some call a “prime attractor”—one who moves history and humanity forward just by being who he is.

Francis of Assisi (who died in 1226) has a longer bibliography in the Library of Congress than any person in history—at least that’s what a librarian there told me. He is taken seriously by all world religions. When Pope John Paul II wanted to gather the leaders of all the world religions to have a respectful interfaith dialogue in the 1980s, the only city in the world that they could agree to meet in was Assisi, because the memory of St. Francis does not carry any negative baggage, even to other religions.

As you probably know, I live in New Mexico, where the first Franciscan arrived in 1598, beginning a long and checkered history here. I am afraid the Order had lost much of Francis’ luster by then, because, like the Church itself, we had aligned ourselves with power, war, and empire (in our case, the Spanish Empire) for protection. Strange, since this is precisely what Francis refused to do in order to keep his structural, Gospel, and personal freedom. But at least we still accompanied the poor and the immigrants and had not lost Francis’ sense of adventure into ever-new worlds.

The world of Francis is a much larger world where sun, moon, animals, plants, and elements are all shown reverence and even personal subjectivity as “brother” and “sister.” He is the patron saint of ecology, animals, and peacemaking—because he understood that the entire circle of life has a Great Lover at the center of it all. He is the only Christian man ever known to attempt three trips to dialogue with the “enemy” during the tragic Crusades against Muslims in the Holy Land, telling the Christians they were wrong for being there! He is truly a universal man, addressing the same issues that are still urgent and important in our own time.

Gateway to Silence:
I must do what is mine to do.

Adapted from Richard Rohr’s foreword to Mirabai Starr’s book, Saint Francis of Assisi: Brother of Creation, pp. vii-ix; and
The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis, disc 1 (CD)

Image credit: Scenes from the Life of Francis of Assisi: 5. Confirmation of the Rule (fresco detail), 1325, Giotto di Bondone, Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.
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