The Franciscan Genius: Integration of the Negative
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Franciscan mysticism is especially poised and prepared to lead people not only to inner experience, but to the possibility of daily and regular experience in the depth and beauty of the ordinary. Franciscan spirituality can do this precisely because it incorporates the seeming negative and moves our life to its hard edges, thus making things like failure, tragedy, and suffering the quickest doorways to the encounter of God. All can now enter if they are honest about their “poverty,” which is a central theme for Francis.
Poverty for Francis is not just a life of simplicity, humility, restraint, or even lack. Poverty is the freedom to recognize that myself—by itself—is powerless and ineffective. This is not a low self-image but a very liberating and utterly honest self-image. In his Gospel, John puts it quite honestly when he says that a branch that does not abide in a Higher Power “is withered and useless” (John 15:6). The transformed self, living in union, no longer lives in shame or denial of its weakness, but even lives with rejoicing because it does not need to pretend that it is any more than it actually is—which is now, ironically, more than enough!
Paul understood this kind of joy. God revealed to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” This gave Paul the courage to write, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
There is nothing that God cannot and will not use to bring us to divine union—even sin. That is the full glory, effectiveness, and universality of the Gospel in its simple and clear splendor. In short, Francis democratizes the whole spiritual journey, and lets us know that it is available outside of monasteries, celibacy, moral heroics, or any false asceticism. This has not always been obvious in most Christian (or non-Christian) spirituality. Surely, this is why G.K. Chesterton called Francis “the world’s one quite sincere democrat.” The Gospel sense of “poverty of spirit” (Matthew5:3) is the first necessary Beatitude because it allows us to join the whole human race in a willing and honest way. All pedestals are henceforth unnecessary.
Gateway to Silence:
We must bear patiently not being good . . . and not being thought good. —Francis of Assisi
Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. 14-15, 71