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The Soft Prophecy of Francis

St. Francis: A Message of Our Times

The Soft Prophecy of Francis
Friday, October 9, 2020

At its core, Franciscan prophecy is “soft prophecy”—which is often the hardest of all! It is a way of life that is counter to the ways of the world. I personally have found that few of us can offer “hard prophecy”—direct and challenging words—from a truly clean heart and humble spirit. “Hard prophecy” often has more to do with our own self-image as strong, smart, zealous, or committed than with actual service or caring for others. The present culture of angry partisan politics that exists on both the Left and the Right is far more effective at making us feel morally superior than it is at changing anyone’s mind. We should first seek to “clean the inside of our own dish,” as Matthew puts it (23:26), before we try to clean other people’s dishes, but that is less visible or heroic and, therefore, less common.

The Franciscan teaching of soft prophecy became a primary reason why we founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1987. The teaching and seeking of the nondual mind through solid contemplative practice seems to be the only effective way to integrate the inner with the outer journey. The result is summed up in one of our eight core principles: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” [1] This approach guards against the most common criticisms of religion in general and social-justice work in particular, which, frankly, has tended to produce many negative, oppositional, and judgmental people. It has given Christianity a very bad name in much of the world, and seldom looks or feels like love. Integral Theory calls such people on the Left “mean greens”!

Soft prophecy, a change in lifestyle, moves all religion from any kind of elitism to the most egalitarian worldview of all. The broadest and biggest viewpoint possible is the harmony of goodness itself, where goodness is its own inherent reward. This is always beautiful in people and yet also demands a basic change in attitude. For some reason, “doing charity” to get a reward later became much more common among Christians. Such service and “good works,” however, are often not so beautiful or healing for those who receive it.

We lost our unique and prophetic way when we turned Brother Francis into “Saint Francis.” It was no longer considered “foolish” to say that we followed either Jesus or Francis and were living on the “edge of the inside.” In fact, it became fashionable, tame, sweet, and safe to do so. A truly prophetic lifestyle is never fashionable or safe.

That is why we must move to the laboratory where all such radical change can occur—inside of our very mind, heart, and the cells of our body. I call it the laboratory of contemplative practice, which rewires our inner life and actually confirms in the soul a kind of “emotional sobriety.” [2] It gives us an inner sense of divine union so we can do the needed works of justice with peace, enduring passion, and insofar as possible, personal invisibility.

References:
[1] Richard Rohr, “Eight Core Principles,” Radical Grace, vol. 25, no. 4 (Fall 2012), 44–45. No longer in print. See https://cac.org/about-cac/missionvision/

[2] Richard Rohr, Emotional Sobriety: Rewiring Our Programs for “Happiness” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, DVD, MP3 download.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 41-43.

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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