Imitating Jesus Is More Important than Worshiping Jesus
Friday, August 28, 2015
For Saint Francis, if Jesus himself was humble and poor, then the pure and simple imitation of Jesus became his life’s agenda. In fact, he often did it in an almost slavishly literal way. Francis was a fundamentalist not about doctrinal Scriptures, but about lifestyle Scriptures. For example, “Take nothing for your journey,” “Eat what is set before you,” “Work for your wages,” “Wear no shoes.” This is still revolutionary thinking for most Christians, although for Francis it was the very “marrow of the Gospel,” to use his own phrase.
“When we are weak, we are strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10) might have been the motto of the early Franciscans. In chapter nine of his First Rule, Francis wrote, “They should be glad to live among social outcasts.” Biblically, they reflected the primitive and practical Christianity found in the Letter of James and the heart-based mysticism of the Eastern Church. Most male Franciscans eventually became clericalized and proper churchmen, but we did not begin that way.
The more radical forms of Christianity have never thrived for very long, starting with Pentecost itself and the first “sharing of all things in common” (Acts 2:44-45), the desert fathers and mothers, and the early Celtic monastics; continuing through groups like the Waldensians, the Beguines and Beghards, the Bruderhof, the Amish, and many others; down to the Catholic workers and the Sant’Egidio Community in our own time. In the Franciscan emphasis on orthopraxy (simplicity, nonviolence, living among the poor, love of creation) and in our thought (a nonviolent atonement theory, univocity of all being, freedom of conscience, contemplative prayer), we Franciscans found ourselves indeed brothers in the minority class and “poor daughters” of Clare on the invisible edge of the Church, which is exactly where Francis wanted us to be and surely how Clare and Francis radically lived.
It is only in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries that we find this alternative orthodoxy again being rediscovered, honored, and recognized as perhaps the more important shape of and witness to orthodoxy itself. As Pope Paul VI said, “The world will no longer believe teachers unless they are first of all witnesses.”
Gateway to Silence:
“Every change of mind is first of all a change of heart.” —The 14th Dalai Lama
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 84-86, 99-100.