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Center for Action and Contemplation
Practice of the Better
Practice of the Better

The Joy of Not Counting

Sunday, July 10, 2022

For Father Richard, Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) is a shining example of someone who “practiced the better.” Instead of relying on judgment and criticism, Francis understood the power of simply living a better way:

God gave St. Francis to history in the pivotal period when Western civilization began to move into rationality, functionality, consumerism, and perpetual war. Francis was himself a soldier, and the son of a cloth merchant; he came from the culture he critiqued, and he challenged these emerging systems at the beginning of their now eight centuries of world dominance. Rather than fighting the systems directly and risk becoming their mirror image, Francis just did things differently. He is the inspiration for this core principle of the Center for Action and Contemplation: The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. [1]

As theologian Adolf Holl (1930–2020) observed, Francis was born as people started measuring time by clocks instead of church bells. [2] When Christian leaders started counting, Francis stopped counting. He moved from the common economy of merit to the wondrous economy of grace, where God does not do any counting, but only gives unreservedly.

As Europe began to centralize and organize everything at high levels of control, Francis said, like a divine trickster, “Who cares?!” When Roman Catholicism under Pope Innocent III (1160/61–1216) reached heights of papal and worldly power, Francis answered, “There is another way that is much better!” When we began a style of production and consumption that would eventually ravage planet Earth, he decided to love Mother Earth and live simply and barefoot upon her. And Francis did it all with a “perfect joy” that comes from letting go of the ego.

Francis didn’t bother questioning Church doctrines and dogmas. He just took the imitation of Christ seriously and tried to live the way that Jesus lived. In The Legend of Perugia, one of the earliest accounts about Francis, he reminds the first friars that they only know as much as they do. [3] His emphasis on action, practice, and lifestyle was foundational and revolutionary for its time and is at the root of Franciscan alternative orthodoxy. Francis and Clare fell in love with the humanity and humility of Jesus. For them, Jesus was someone actually to imitate and not just to worship as divine.

The early Franciscan friars and Poor Clares wanted to be gospel practitioners instead of merely “word police,” “inspectors,” or “museum curators” as Pope Francis calls some clergy. Both Francis and Clare offered their rules as a forma vitae, or form of life. They saw orthopraxy (correct practice) as a necessary parallel, and maybe even precedent, to verbal orthodoxy (correct teaching). History has shown that many Christians never get to the practical implications of their beliefs. “Why aren’t you doing what you say you believe?” the prophet invariably asks. As the popular paraphrase of a line from Francis’s Rule goes, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

[1] See “The Eight Core Principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation.”

[2] Adolf Holl, The Last Christian, trans. Peter Heinegg (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980), 1.

[3] The Assisi Compilation, [105], in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder (New York: New City Press, 2000), 210. This compilation of early Franciscan texts includes The Legend of Perugia.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 86–87, 200–201; and

Returning to Essentials: Teaching an Alternative Orthodoxy (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2015). Available as CD and MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Claudia Retter, Three Fish (details), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s image appears in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: We might find ourselves swimming against the current, but we’ve made a conscious decision to practice something different in response to an inner call.

Story from Our Community:

Through Richard Rohr’s meditations, the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy, the Enneagram, and the Cobb Institute’s webinars, I have started an Eco-Sister Farms project. This pairs USA farms with China farms in organic diplomacy and a move toward an ecological civilization (moving from industrial monoculture farming toward small biodiversity organic farming). This sisterhood across boundaries of nation-states is an expression of Francis “beyond the birdbath.” — Nancy M.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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