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The Marrow of the Gospel

An Introduction to Francis of Assisi

The Marrow of the Gospel
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Many people who are not officially Franciscans are followers of Francis and have rediscovered again and again what can only be called radical simplification. I think of people like Thérèse of Lisieux, Charles de Foucald, Dorothy Day, Vincent de Paul, Seraphim of Sarov, thousands of Catholic and Protestant missionaries, Mother Teresa, and, most recently, Pope Francis. The way of Francis of Assisi cannot be contained inside of formal Franciscanism simply because it is nothing more than the Gospel itself—in a very distilled and honest form.

Francis says it this way: “The Rule and the life of the Friars Minor is simply to live the Gospel.” In fact, the first Rule that he wrote in 1221 is simply a stringing together of a whole bunch of quotes from the New Testament. He sent it off to Rome, and the Pope looked at it and said in effect, “This is no Rule of Life. This is just the Gospel.”

I can just hear Francis saying, “Yes, that’s the point. It is just the Gospel. We don’t need any other Rule except the Gospel.” In his “Testament,” he says Franciscanism is nothing other than “the marrow of the Gospel.” He said our life is simply to live the Gospel, to get to the core of what Jesus taught. Honestly, the core of the Gospel is so simple that it’s hard to live. It’s so clear that the mind almost insists on making it complicated, doctrinal, and abstract—so we can argue about it. Even Francis had to add some niceties to his Rule to make it more acceptable to the Roman system before it could be approved in 1223. He added politically correct things such as, “Be sure you are nice to the priests and always respect the bishop.” And wouldn’t you know it, this little ragtag group of Italian laymen were officially approved by the Church, when many others who were doing the same thing (like the Waldensians and the Poor Men of Lyons) were not. Humility goes a long way when you are trying to reform something.

Francis had a sincerity and joy about him, which made him easy to trust and even like, if we are to believe the responses of the Sultan in Egypt (who had nothing to gain), Pope Innocent III in Rome (who had achieved the height of Papal and temporal power), and the local Bishop in Assisi (who had the most to lose perhaps). Apparently, it was pretty hard to dislike this guy!

Gateway to Silence:
I must do what is mine to do.

Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, p. xvi;
Franciscan Mysticism: I Am That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (CD, MP3 download) 

Image credit: Scenes from the Life of Francis of Assisi: 5. Confirmation of the Rule (fresco detail), 1325, Giotto di Bondone, Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.

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