Letting Go as a Way of Life

The Franciscan Path of Descent

Letting Go as a Way of Life
Sunday, June 7, 2015

Jesus himself exemplified and also taught us the path of descent, which Christians have often called “the way of the cross.” The path downward is much more trustworthy than any path upward, which only tends to feed the ego. Like few other Christians, it was Francis of Assisi who profoundly understood that.

Authentic spirituality is always on some level or in some way about letting go. Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Once we see truly what is trapping us and keeping us from freedom we should see the need to let it go. But in a consumer society most of us have had no training in that direction. Rather, more is supposed to be better. True liberation is letting go of our false self, letting go of our cultural biases, and letting go of our fear of loss and death. Freedom is letting go of wanting more and better things, and it is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others. It is even letting go of our need to know and our need to be right—which we only discover with maturity. We become free as we let go of our three primary energy centers: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem. [1]

Francis sought freedom in all three parts of life. Our good friend here in New Mexico, Fr. John Dear, puts it very well [2]:

“Francis embodies the Gospel journey from violence to non-violence, wealth to poverty, power to powerlessness, selfishness to selfless service, pride to humility, indifference to love, cruelty to compassion, vengeance to forgiveness, revenge to reconciliation, war to peace, killing enemies to loving enemies. More than any other Christian, he epitomizes discipleship to Jesus. . . .

“Francis’ logic points the way toward personal, social, and global justice, and peace. If each one of us practiced Gospel simplicity, voluntary poverty, and downward mobility, like Francis, we would share the world’s resources with one another, have nothing to fear from others, and live in peace with everyone.”

We always knew that following Jesus was “a narrow gate,” as he himself put it (Matthew 7:13-14). But for some diversionary reason we thought the narrow path had to do with private asceticism (usually in regard to the body), instead of simple-living, altruism, non-violence, and peacemaking. These virtues would have created a very different society and civilization, but to this day many Christians feel much more guilt and shame about their private sexual body than about our social body. Much of Christian history has placed the emphasis on making sexuality the entire issue instead of just one issue. This seems to me a massive misplacement of attention. Because of it, the world often rejects any attempt at teaching sexual morality. When you pay too much attention to one issue, you invariably pay no attention to another. Francis was “moralistic” about the right things.

Gateway to Silence:
Make me a channel of your peace.

References:
[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis (Sounds True), CD. This simple tri-part distinction has been affirmed by many psychologists in many different ways, and is also used by Fr. Thomas Keating in his understanding of the entrapment of the human person.

[2] John Dear, You Will Be My Witnesses: Saints, Prophets and Martyrs (Orbis Books, 2006).

Image Credit: Stigmatization of St. Francis (detail), 1297-1300, Giotto do Bondone, fresco, Upper Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy.
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