The Primacy of Love

Franciscan Spirituality: Week 2

The Primacy of Love
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I like how my long-time friend and fellow Franciscan, John Quigley, summarizes Franciscan spirituality. He writes:

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, but at the time when the Christian church was waging a Holy Crusade against its enemies, the Saracens, Francis’ 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 . . . [identify] with the minores, the lower class within his society, and he passionately pointed to the Incarnation as the living proof of God’s love. He frequently cried out in exasperation with the world “Love is not loved!”

The experiences of God’s love revealed to Francis our fragile and temporary place within creation. He knew that we share this earth, our loves and work with all of God’s creatures, our brothers and sisters. Unlike the monastic life, which strove to domesticate nature and to bring it under control, Francis expected to live lightly on the earth, a burden to neither the earth nor to those who fed and clothed him.

There are many lively legends about Francis and Clare, which soon took philosophical and theological weight through luminaries like Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, who together serve as the guide and canon for the Franciscan tradition. These seminal stories and the insights that arise from them have given impetus to specific themes in Franciscan philosophy and theology. They include the idea that Jesus did not assume flesh to correct Adam and Eve’s sin; rather, Jesus would have taken flesh whether we had sinned or not. Love by its very nature wants to be one with its beloved, so our salvation has been announced and realized by an Incarnate God. The suffering and death of Jesus confirms for us how deep and committed is God’s love in the Incarnation. [Jesus affirms what Creation already shouted! Nature itself is the first Bible. —RR]

Each individual existence—person, plant, stone, amoeba—is absolutely precious. Each has a certain unique “thisness,” which cannot be completely shared or described by another. Each creature of God must attain the full measure of its own uniqueness, its “thisness” before the full expression of God’s love can be realized in creation.

Simplicity is another Franciscan theme and sign of God’s love. We should multiply words, explanations, and actions only when necessary, [Francis] tells us. Others may say that we come to understand God by analogies. The Franciscan perspective is that we can have a direct effect and univocal understanding of God by reflecting and understanding our experiences as human beings. Finally, everything, every scripture, every law, every action, history itself is to be interpreted in the light of the primacy of Love and Christ over all [the Cosmic and Universal Christ].

Gateway to Silence:
Help me do what is mine to do.

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

Image credit: Saint Francis Mourned by Saint Clare (detail), Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), The Legend of St. Francis, Basilica di San Francesco, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy.
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