Inner and Outer Freedom

Franciscan Way: Part Two

Inner and Outer Freedom
Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Francis and Clare of Assisi were not so much prophets by what they said as by the radical, system-critiquing way that they lived their lives. They found both their inner and outer freedom by structurally living on the edge of the inside of both church and society. Too often people seek either inner or outer freedom, but seldom do they find both.

Francis and Clare’s agenda for justice was the most foundational and undercutting of all: a very simple lifestyle outside the system of production and consumption (the real meaning of the vow of poverty) plus a conscious identification with the marginalized of society (the communion of saints pushed to its outer edge). In this position we do not “do” acts of peace and justice as much as our life is itself peace and justice. We take our small and sufficient place in the great and grand scheme of God. By “living on the edge of the inside” I mean building on the solid Tradition (“from the inside”) but doing it from a new and creative stance (“on the edge”) where we cannot be coopted for purposes of security, possessions, or the illusions of power.

Francis and Clare placed themselves outside the system of not just social production and consumption, but ecclesiastical too! Francis was not a priest, nor were Franciscan men originally priests. Theirs was not a spirituality of earning or seeking worthiness, career, church status, or divine favor (which they knew they already had). They represented in their own unique way the old tradition of “holy fools” among the desert fathers and mothers and the Eastern Church, and offered that notion to the very organized and “efficient” Western Church.

For the most part, the path they offered has been ignored or not understood. Most of us prefer quid pro quo (retributive justice) to restorative justice. But those formed by the Gospels should know better. When we try to find personal and individual freedom while remaining inside structural boxes and a system of consumption, we are often unable or unwilling to critique those very structures. Whoever is paying our bills and giving us security and status determines what we can and cannot say, or even what we can or cannot think. We cannot remove the plank we are standing on. Self-serving institutions that give us our security, status, or identity are almost always considered “too big to fail” and are often beyond any honest critique. And thus corruption grows.

The way of radical Christianity is simply to stay out of such systems to begin with, so they cannot control your breadth of thinking, feeling, loving, and living out universal justice.

When Jesus and John’s Gospel used the term “the world,” they did not mean the earth, creation, or civilization, which Jesus clearly came to love and save (John 12:47). They were referring to idolatrous systems and institutions that are invariably self-referential and always passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31).

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 33-36.

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson

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