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The Minores

Franciscan Way: Part One

The Minores
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Feast of Thérèse of Lisieux, “The Little Flower

My friend since 1962 and fellow Franciscan, Father John Quigley, OFM, has written a helpful, succinct summary of Franciscanism. We worked closely together with the New Jerusalem Community in Ohio and could practically finish each other’s sentences, and so it feels natural to freely insert my own views in brackets within his wonderful description.

For the past eight hundred years other men and women, inspired by the simple genius and freshness of Francis and Clare, have been developing and popularizing the original Franciscan revelation. This continual aggiornamento, or updating, has had a profound humanizing effect within Christianity, Western civilization, and other cultures. [Francis fell in love with the humanity and the humility of Jesus; while most of Western and even Eastern Christianity focused on proving the divinity of Jesus.]

It is not easy to put into a capsule the spirit and gifts of Franciscan thinking. Its hallmarks are simplicity, reverence, fraternity, ecumenism, ecology, interdependence, and dialogue. Its motto and salutation is “Peace and All Good!”

Francis believed that God was nonviolent, the God of Peace. This belief may be a simple presupposition for us today [although I still find far too many Christians have been raised to fear God as judgmental and punishing and seem to reflect that in their own lives], but at the time when the Christian church was waging a Holy Crusade against its enemies, the Saracens [Arab Muslims], Francis’s interpretation of the gospel life and its demands was revolutionary. Francis saw it from the viewpoint of the poor, especially from the place of the poor, naked, suffering Christ. He had deep devotion to the God who is revealed as nonviolent and poor in the stable of Bethlehem, as abandoned on the cross, and as food in the Eucharist. God’s meekness, humility, and poverty led Francis to become “perfected as his Heavenly Father was perfect.” [1] [Francis agreed with Luke’s understanding of “perfect” as meaning merciful or compassionate.] Francis identified with the “minores,” the lower class within his society. . . . [The letters OFM after our names stand for Order of Friars Minor or Ordo Fratrum Minorum, which means the Little Brothers. Like Thérèse of Lisieux centuries after him, Francis reveled in littleness.] And he passionately pointed to the Incarnation [of Jesus] as the living proof of God’s love. He frequently cried out in his pain that “Love is not loved!”

[Incarnation is absolutely foundational to the Franciscan worldview. It is said that Francis created the first live Nativity scene. Franciscans emphasize Incarnation perhaps even more than redemption. In other words, Christmas is more important than Easter. Francis said that for God to be born a human being, born in a stable among the poor, shows that we already have redemption. Christmas is already Easter because if God became a human being, then it’s good to be a human being! The problem is already solved. That Jesus was born into a poor family shows God’s love for the poor.] 

[1] Compare Matthew 5:48 with its parallel verse in Luke 6:36.

Adapted from John Quigley, “Brothers,” Richard Rohr: Illuminations of His Life and Work, eds. Andreas Ebert and Patricia C. Brockman (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1993), 5-6.

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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