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The Franciscan Way
The Franciscan Way

The Call to Change Sides

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The essence of the prophetic task is to articulate a vision of the common good that has the power to capture the imagination of the people as a goal worthy of struggle and sacrifice. —St. Francis and the Foolishness of God 

The book St. Francis and the Foolishness of God describes Francis of Assisi’s prophetic call to “change sides” and embrace relationship with those on the margins, as Jesus did.  

For Francis, the order of things was turned upside down, just as it had been for the apostles…. Jesus, whom they followed and called friend, embraced, mingled with, touched, loved, cured, and broke bread with the outcasts, the marginal, the unclean of his day…. In a social structure shaped by exclusion of the leprous, the ritually unclean, the “non-chosen,” the women, the possessed, tax collectors, sinners—Jesus embraced them all, both individually and as social groups. In fact, Jesus’s very identity was as one who proclaimed the good news to the poor, who announced the inbreaking of the reign of God, and who lived the announcement by being at the side of the poor himself.  

In Francis’s new upside-down order, his encounter with the leper was indeed an encounter with this Jesus in a person who was marginalized…. As Francis embraced a vivid example of human misery, he tasted great joy; the sweetness he experienced revealed God’s presence pervading his meeting with the outcast.  

The witness of St. Francis and Jesus inspires us to a solidarity that mourns with people in poverty:  

Encountering the impoverished, walking for a while in the world of the marginalized, and being with the have-nots of our world is a necessary aspect of the discipleship journey. Our vision thereafter is shaped by this encounter. We realize, and never forget, the privileged perspective of impoverished people who see reality with a clarity of vision that we may never achieve. Our souls are touched by the encounter as well, and sorrow over the pain and injustice of impoverishment and marginalization fills the crevices of our being…. 

Deep mourning over the social conditions that make people poor may be the first step we non-poor can take to internalize the beatitudes: “Blessed are you who are now weeping; you shall laugh” [Luke 6:21]. Mourning implies a terrible sense of loss, of regret, an acknowledgment of the real, and a feeling of pain in the face of that reality. Weeping and mourning emerge from our affective side and are profoundly healthy emotions for those of us who are more privileged, who will never fully share the lot of those who are impoverished by the system that creates our wealth, but who at least can weep over the tragedy of human suffering. Emotions help describe us as whole people and, if joined with righteous indignation at the injustices that cause marginalization, can lead us toward a relinquishment of the power and privilege that maintain injustice, and toward a solidarity with those who are poor in their claim on justice.  


Marie Dennis, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Joseph Nangle, and Stuart Taylor, St. Francis and the Foolishness of God, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993, 2015), 5–6, 6–7. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Chemistry of Self 3 (detail), digital oil pastels. Izzy Spitz, momentary peace (detail), digital oil pastels. Taylor Wilson, Transfiguration (detail), cyanotype. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Amidst our life complexities, we stop, we breath, we look for the pockets of peace. 

Story from Our Community:  

I first came across St. Francis when I was 8 years old attending Catholic school in Taipei, Taiwan. While my relationship with religion shifted over time, my belief in Spirit remained constant. I trained as a Buddhist, a Jungist, and now most recently, a novitiate in the Third Order of St Francis. I live in rural New South Wales, Australia, where recently, we have endured drought, fires, and floods. In the silence of the land after bushfires, I reflect on the universality of the contemplative message. Fr. Richard doesn’t tell me new things exactly, but he explains the truth in a way I am able to truly hear. Thank you. —Virginia H. 

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