One World

Franciscan Way: Part One

One World
Monday, September 30, 2019

I hope to show what Francis of Assisi clearly changed and did differently and what flowed from his unique wholeness. We will see that Francis was at once very traditional and entirely new in the ways of holiness—a paradox. He stood barefoot on the earth and yet touched the heavens. He was grounded in the Church and yet instinctively moved toward the cosmos. He lived happily inside the visible and yet both suffered and rejoiced in what others thought was invisible. Francis was at home in two worlds at the same time, and thus he revealed it was all one world.

Like all saints, he delighted in both his Absolute Littleness and his Absolute Connection in the very same moment. Of course, they totally depend on one another. Francis and Clare died into the life that they loved instead of living in fear of any death that could end their life. They were both so very eager to love, and they somehow knew that dying to the old and unneeded was an essential part of living this love at any depth. Most of us do not seem to know that—and resist all change.

Yet Francis’ holiness, like all holiness, was unique and never a copy or mere imitation. In his “Testament,” he said, “No one showed me what I ought to do,” [1] and then, at the very end of his life, he said, “I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours!” [2] What permission, freedom, and space he thus gave to his followers! Bonaventure (1217–1274) echoed that understanding of unique and intimate vocation when he taught, “We are each loved by God in a particular and incomparable way, as in the case of a bride and bridegroom.” [3] Francis and Clare knew that the love God has for each soul is unique and made to order, which is why any “saved” person always feels beloved, chosen, and even “God’s favorite” like so many in the Bible. Divine intimacy is precisely particular and made to order—and thus “intimate.”

Jesus himself, Paul (Jesus’ iconoclastic interpreter), and both Francis and Clare made room for the new by a full willingness to let go of the old. This is quite a rare pattern in the history of formal religion, which is too often a love affair with small and comfortable traditions. Each of these game-changing people had the courage and the clarity to sort out what was perennial wisdom from what was unreal, passing, merely cultural, or even destructive, which is how Jesus described the way “a disciple of the reign of God” behaves. He said that such disciples are “householders who bring out from their household things both old and new” (Matthew 13:52). John the Baptist described Jesus as a “winnowing fan” within religion itself—that separates the grain from the chaff (Matthew 3:12)—instead of just presuming that religion is all “grain” and the outsiders are all “chaff.”

References:
[1] Francis of Assisi, “The Testament,” line 14. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (New City Press: 1999), 125.

[2] Francis of Assisi, quoted by Thomas of Celano, “The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul,” chapter 162. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (New City Press: 2000), 386.

[3] Bonaventure, “Breviloquium,” V.1.5. See Works of St. Bonaventure: Breviloquium, trans. Dominic V. Monti (Franciscan Institute Publications: 2005), 172.

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

Image credit: Scenes from the life of Saint Francis: 2. Renunciation of Worldly Goods (detail), Giotto di Bondone, 1325, Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: “My son,” the bishop said to Francis of Assisi, “have confidence in the Lord and act courageously. God will be your help and will abundantly provide you with whatever is necessary.”

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