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The Franciscan Way
The Franciscan Way

The Humility of God 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. —Philippians 2:5–8 

Franciscan sister Ilia Delio considers how Francis mirrored God’s humility:  

I think Francis of Assisi grasped something of the mystery of God and, in a particular way, the mystery of God’s humility…. Francis did not study theology. He did not try to figure out what God is through reason. He simply spent long hours in prayer, often in caves, mountains or places of solitude, places where he could distance himself from the busy everyday world. Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of Francis, wrote: “Where the knowledge of teachers is outside, the passion of the lover entered.” [1] What Thomas perceived is that love, not knowledge, allowed Francis to enter into the great mystery we call “God.” As he entered into this mystery he discovered two principle features of God—the overflowing goodness of God and the humility of God…. Francis came to know the God of humble love by meditating on and imitating the poor and humble Christ. [2]  

Theologian Bruce Epperly shares how Francis modeled God’s humility revealed in Jesus:  

Francis patterned his life … after the gospel simplicity and humility of Jesus, whose self-emptying and letting go of power and prestige was at the heart of his divinity. Divine power is found in downward mobility and identification with human suffering, not in weaponry, status, or comfort. God’s love for the world is expressed in solidarity with the least….  

Jesus embodied a radically different lifestyle than that of the heads of church and state. In Francis’s time, some church leaders dressed in the finest clothing, lived in comfortable homes, and managed vast fortunes despite the poverty of most worshippers. In contrast, Francis discovered that the glory of God is found in identification with the salt of the earth, the most vulnerable people, the poor, disabled, and leprous. The incarnation of Christ means that Christ is one of us, not lording it over like presidents and prelates, but living among the poor and dispossessed. A poor Christ reveals what Abraham Joshua Heschel describes as “the divine pathos,” [3] God’s intimate experience of the world’s pain and suffering. God feels our pain and rejoices in our celebration. Foolish by the world’s standards, Francis, Clare, and their followers sought the way of holy poverty or spiritual simplicity that breaks down walls and builds bridges with all God’s creatures. Better than none, equal to all in need of God’s grace, and depending on God’s gifts for life itself, Francis and Clare found God in the least of these. They served Christ by letting go of power in order to become siblings of all creation. [4]  

Reference:

[1] Thomas of Celano, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder (New York: New York City Press, 2000), 314.  

[2] Ilia Delio, The Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 17.  

[3] “Divine pathos” is a key topic of Heschel’s book The Prophets (New York: Harper and Row, 1962). 

[4] Bruce G. Epperly, Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2021), 79, 80. 

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:  

Recently, I was sitting in my car looking up at the blue sky and watching the clouds float by. Something shifted within me, and for the first time I saw in my heart that all is one. I saw that all of creation is formed—in different amounts and combinations—by the same elements. I was reminded of St. Francis and I understood. Thanks be to God. —Jennifer R. 

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