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Taking a Step Towards Simplicity

St. Francis: A Message of Our Times

Taking a Step Towards Simplicity
Wednesday, October 7, 2020

As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that greater peace is in your hearts. . . . For we have been called to heal wounds, to bind up the broken, and to call home any who have lost their way. —Francis of Assisi

I am convinced that the world and the Church need the message of St. Francis today!  The true Gospel always leaves us both fragile and vulnerable, or as Jesus said, “as sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). Yet this is exactly what the world wants and expects from Franciscans, and for what Jesus freed us, so we cannot lose heart. I find that people today are quite ready to hear Franciscans give messages of simplicity, nonviolence, humility, love of animals and “enemies,” and care of the earth. In fact, they are deeply disappointed when we are merely priests in brown robes who reflect current cultural values, upward mobility, and church more than Gospel.

I was once told that two Christian groups carry the least negative baggage in Western civilization: Franciscans and Quakers! It seems to me that if Franciscans go back to the simplicity of our contemplative and peace-making foundations, we might again look like the Catholic version of the Quakers and the Amish, who often initially resembled us. The world expects and longs for a truly unique, positive, and inviting message from the followers of St. Francis. True Franciscan evangelization is not preaching at or to people, but just making the truth beautiful, attractive, and also challenging.

Truth be told, both Jesus and Francis were revolutionary and radical. Those are not bad words. Radical comes from radix, which means the root. Both Jesus and Francis were prophets; and like the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and John the Baptist, they struck at the roots of evil (Matthew 3:10). These are the very systems of the world that have lost their way, robbing us of the “straight path and open highway” (Matthew 3:3) to God.

Francis and Clare were not so much prophets by what they said as in the radical, system-critiquing way that they lived their lives. The “dirty rotten system” that Dorothy Day critiqued is the very one that Francis and Clare avoided. When Francis said, “I left the world, [1] after being among lepers, he was saying that he was giving up on the usual payoffs, constraints, and rewards of business-as-usual and was choosing to live in the largest Kingdom of all. To pray and actually mean “Thy Kingdom come,” we must also be able to say “my kingdoms go.”

References:
[1] Francis of Assisi, The Testament. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, The Saint, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J. Wayne Hellmann, William J. Short (New City Press: 1999), 124.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 33, 36, 58, 59-60; and

Spiral of Violence: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), CD, MP3 download.

Epigraph: Francis to the first friars, Legend of the Three Companions, chapter 14, part 58 (paraphrased). See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder (New City Press: 2000), 102.

Image credit: Early Autumn (detail), Qian Xuan, 13th century, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, presenting to ourselves the whole material world as a mirror through which we may pass over to God, the supreme Artisan. —Bonaventure
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