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Franciscan Way: Part One

Franciscan Way: Part One

Summary: Sunday, September 29—Friday, October 4, 2019

Much of Francis of Assisi’s genius was that he was ready for absolute “newness” from God, and therefore could also trust fresh and new attitudes in himself. (Sunday)

In his “Testament,” Francis said, “No one showed me what I ought to do,” and then, at the very end of his life, he said, “I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours!” (Monday)

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. (Tuesday)

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 neither to the earth nor to those who fed and clothed him. —John Quigley (Wednesday)

The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. (Thursday)

“My son,” the bishop said to Francis, “have confidence in the Lord and act courageously. God will be your help and will abundantly provide you with whatever is necessary.” —Mirabai Starr (Friday)

 

Practice: Lectio Divina

Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of ecology, animals, non-violence, and peacemaking—because he understood that the entire circle of life has a Great Lover at the center of it all. In Francis’ world, the sun, moon, animals, plants, and elements are all shown reverence and even personal subjectivity as “brother” and “sister.” He refused to exclude anything. He went to the edge, to the bottom; he kissed the leper, he loved the poor, he wore patches on the outside of his habit so everybody would know that’s what he was like on the inside. He didn’t hide from his shadow. He wasn’t an intellectual; he didn’t begin with universal philosophies and ideas and abstractions. For Francis, there was one world and it was all sacred.

Today I invite you to practice “sacred reading” (lectio divina) using the prayer often attributed to Francis of Assisi. Lectio divina is a contemplative way to read short passages of sacred text and discover meanings running deeper than the literal layer. There are many variations of sacred reading; all are an invitation to take a “long, loving look” at some aspect of life, with scripture, poetry, music, or nature.

With the first reading of the Peace Prayer, listen with your heart’s ear for a phrase or word that stands out for you.

During the second reading, reflect on what touches you, perhaps speaking that response aloud or writing in a journal.

After reading the passage a third time, respond with a prayer or expression of what you have experienced and ask yourself what this passage calls you to do or be.

Finally, after a fourth reading, rest in silence.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.  

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Reference:
Adapted from “Richard Rohr on Praying like Saint Francis,” Franciscan Media, https://www.franciscanmedia.org/richard-rohr-on-praying-like-saint-francis/.

For Further Study:
St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources, ed. Marion Habig (Franciscan Media: 2008)

Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014)

Mirabai Starr, St. Francis of Assisi: Brother of Creation (Sounds True: 2007, 2013)

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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Franciscan Way: Part One

Naked Before God
Friday, October 4, 2019
Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Mirabai Starr is a friend, fellow New Mexican, and a respected author known for her work translating many mystics. Her words provide insight to a pivotal experience of St. Francis’ life.

After Christ spoke to Francis from the [crucifix in the] ruins of San Damiano, directing him to rebuild his church, Francis reached for the most immediate source of funds available: his father’s fabrics. Francis entered Pietro Bernardone’s warehouse when his father was away on business and helped himself to two bolts of expensive cloth.

Francis rode to a nearby village, where he sold both the fabric and his horse. Pocketing his purse of gold, he set off on foot for the crumbled church of San Damiano, where he offered the money to the priest. . . .

But Bernardone’s wrath was infamous, and the priest had no interest in incurring it. He refused the money.

When Francis’s father returned to Assisi and discovered what his errant son had done now, he predictably exploded. He had endured Francis’s outrageous disregard for his hard-earned wealth long enough.

In Francis’s youth, the boy had squandered entire fortunes on entertaining himself and his friends. His father had spent a huge sum to bail him out when Francis was captured as a prisoner of war. He had allowed Francis to do nothing for two years as he recovered from an illness contracted during his incarceration. And now this: stealing from his own father to pursue some crazy new whim.

Bernardone found his estranged son . . . begging in the streets of Assisi for stones to rebuild the church of San Damiano. . . .

When he was summoned before Bishop Guido, Francis went willingly, considering the bishop to be a representative of God. Guido, known for his violent temper, was surprisingly tender with [Francis]. . . . He tried to reason with him, explaining that he had “scandalized” his father and that God wouldn’t want him to use ill-gotten gains to do his work.

“My son,” said the bishop, “have confidence in the Lord and act courageously. . . . [God] will be your help and will abundantly provide you with whatever is necessary.”

These words penetrated Francis’s heart. Moved by a surge of faith, Francis stripped off his clothes in front of the entire assembly and handed them to his father, along with the purse of gold the priest at San Damiano had refused.

“Listen everyone,” Francis called out to the crowd that had gathered to observe the trial. “From now on, I can say with complete freedom, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven.’ Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father.”

Stunned, the bishop wrapped his own cloak around Francis’s naked shoulders. His father left the cathedral defeated. This is not the way Bernardone hoped things would work out. What he really wanted was to have his son back. But Francis, released into the service of humanity, was lost to him forever.

Reference:
Adapted from Mirabai Starr, St. Francis of Assisi: Brother of Creation (Sounds True: 2007, 2013), 83-85.

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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Franciscan Way: Part One

A New Way of Thinking
Thursday, October 3, 2019

God gave St. Francis to history in a pivotal period when Western civilization began to move into rationality, functionality, consumerism, and perpetual war. Francis was himself a soldier, and his father was a tradesman in cloth. Francis came from the very world he was then able to critique, but he offered a positive critique of these very systems at the beginning of their now eight centuries of world dominance. Rather than fighting the systems directly and in so doing becoming a mirror image of them, Francis just did things differently. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better (one of the Center’s core principles). [1]

As Adolf Holl put it, Francis emerged precisely when we started “putting clocks into church towers.” [2] When Christian leaders started counting, Francis stopped counting. He moved from the common economy of merit to the scary and wondrous economy of grace, where God does not do any counting, but only gives unreservedly.

As Europe began to centralize and organize everything at high levels of control and fashion, Francis, like a divine trickster, said, “Who cares!” When Roman Catholicism under Pope Innocent III reached the height of papal and worldly power, he said in effect, “There is another way that is much better!” Exactly when we began a style of production and consumption that would eventually ravage planet earth, he decided to love the earth and live simply and barefoot upon it. Francis of Assisi is a Prime Attractor to what we really want, what we definitely need, and who we finally are. And, apparently, he did it all with a “perfect joy” that comes from letting go of the ego!

We are only afraid of death as long as we do not know who we are, but once we know ourselves objectively to be a child of God, we are already home and our inheritance is given to us ahead of time. Then we can begin living and enjoying instead of climbing, proving, or defending. Our false self, as all religions say in one way or another, must “die before we die.” Only then can we sincerely say with Francis, “Welcome, Sister Death” which he said on this day in 1226. Those who face this first death of dying to self lose nothing that is real. And so, “the second death can do them no harm,” as Francis says in his “Canticle of the Creatures.” [3] Death itself will only “keep opening, and opening, and opening,” which is what resurrection means. [4]

All of this creates a very different form and shape to our spiritual life. It is no longer elitist, separatist, or competitive, but changes our deepest imagination in the direction of simplicity. Our worldview will not normally change until we place ourselves, or are placed, in new and different lifestyle situations. Another of the Center’s core principles is: You do not think yourself into a new way of living, you live yourself into a new way of thinking. Francis and Clare displaced themselves into different worlds where their hearts could imagine very different things and they had to pay attention to something other than comfort or convenience.

References:
[1] See “The Eight Core Principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation,” https://cac.org/about-cac/missionvision/.

[2] Adolf Holl, The Last Christian (Doubleday: 1980), 1.

[3] Francis wrote this song praising God through all creation during the last year of his life; the full text of the Canticle can be found at https://www.franciscantradition.org/francis-of-assisi-early-documents/the-saint/writings-of-francis/the-canticle-of-the-creatures/129-fa-ed-1-page-113.

[4] Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), xxi.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 200-202.

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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Franciscan Way: Part One

To Live Lightly
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Today, we will continue with my Franciscan brother and long-time friend John Quigley’s summary of Franciscanism. I’ve added my thoughts in italics within brackets.

[Francis] 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 neither to the earth nor to those who fed and clothed him.

[Jesus never told us to separate ourselves from the world. That’s why Francis would not be a monk. The friars were a totally new religious movement. Francis wanted us to live in the middle of the cities right with the people and not to separate ourselves. That’s because he didn’t hate the world. He said you have to find a way interiorly to love and have compassion for the world, which may mean going apart for a time for the purpose of prayer and contemplation.]

There are many lively legends about Francis and Clare [which soon took philosophical and theological weight through luminaries like Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus]. These seminal stories and the insights that arise from them have given emphasis 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 in an Incarnate God. The suffering and death of Jesus confirms for us how deep and committed is God’s love in the Incarnation.

[The Franciscan view is that Creation is the first Incarnation. The Christ Mystery was the blueprint of reality from the very start (John 1:1). Francis saw all of creation, including all humans, as part of the one family of God. That’s why he called them Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Duns Scotus gave this a theological explanation by saying, in essence, that God’s first “idea” was to pour out divine, infinite love into finite, visible forms. The Big Bang is the scientific name for that first idea, “Christ” is Christianity’s theological name, and it is all about Love flowing outward in all directions.]

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. [Duns Scotus called this haecceity, from the Latin “haec” or “this.”] 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, he tells us. [You have probably heard the axiom that summarizes part of our Franciscan Rule: “Preach the Gospel at all times; and when absolutely necessary, use words.” Francis was all about orthopraxy, or living the Gospel, rather than orthodoxy, or merely verbal beliefs.] 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 experience of ourselves as human beings. [“Who are you, God? And who am I?” [1] was Francis’ unending prayer. Some have said it is the perfect prayer because it is both humble and honest. Franciscans believe we all participate in God’s Being. Duns Scotus called this the univocity of being. Our being is not just analogous to God’s being, but we may speak of our two supposedly different beings “with one voice.”] Finally, everything, every Scripture, every law, every action, history itself is to be interpreted in light of the primacy of Love and Christ over all [the cosmic or universal Christ].

References:
[1] “The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions,” IX.37. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3 (New City Press: 2001), 455.

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

Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 177, 185.

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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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.] 

References:
[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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Franciscan Way: Part One

One World
Monday, September 30, 2019

I hope to show what Francis of Assisi clearly changed and did differently and what flowed from his unique wholeness. We will see that Francis was at once very traditional and entirely new in the ways of holiness—a paradox. He stood barefoot on the earth and yet touched the heavens. He was grounded in the Church and yet instinctively moved toward the cosmos. He lived happily inside the visible and yet both suffered and rejoiced in what others thought was invisible. Francis was at home in two worlds at the same time, and thus he revealed it was all one world.

Like all saints, he delighted in both his Absolute Littleness and his Absolute Connection in the very same moment. Of course, they totally depend on one another. Francis and Clare died into the life that they loved instead of living in fear of any death that could end their life. They were both so very eager to love, and they somehow knew that dying to the old and unneeded was an essential part of living this love at any depth. Most of us do not seem to know that—and resist all change.

Yet Francis’ holiness, like all holiness, was unique and never a copy or mere imitation. In his “Testament,” he said, “No one showed me what I ought to do,” [1] and then, at the very end of his life, he said, “I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours!” [2] What permission, freedom, and space he thus gave to his followers! Bonaventure (1217–1274) echoed that understanding of unique and intimate vocation when he taught, “We are each loved by God in a particular and incomparable way, as in the case of a bride and bridegroom.” [3] Francis and Clare knew that the love God has for each soul is unique and made to order, which is why any “saved” person always feels beloved, chosen, and even “God’s favorite” like so many in the Bible. Divine intimacy is precisely particular and made to order—and thus “intimate.”

Jesus himself, Paul (Jesus’ iconoclastic interpreter), and both Francis and Clare made room for the new by a full willingness to let go of the old. This is quite a rare pattern in the history of formal religion, which is too often a love affair with small and comfortable traditions. Each of these game-changing people had the courage and the clarity to sort out what was perennial wisdom from what was unreal, passing, merely cultural, or even destructive, which is how Jesus described the way “a disciple of the reign of God” behaves. He said that such disciples are “householders who bring out from their household things both old and new” (Matthew 13:52). John the Baptist described Jesus as a “winnowing fan” within religion itself—that separates the grain from the chaff (Matthew 3:12)—instead of just presuming that religion is all “grain” and the outsiders are all “chaff.”

References:
[1] Francis of Assisi, “The Testament,” line 14. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (New City Press: 1999), 125.

[2] Francis of Assisi, quoted by Thomas of Celano, “The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul,” chapter 162. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2 (New City Press: 2000), 386.

[3] Bonaventure, “Breviloquium,” V.1.5. See Works of St. Bonaventure: Breviloquium, trans. Dominic V. Monti (Franciscan Institute Publications: 2005), 172.

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

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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Franciscan Way: Part One

Discovering Anew
Sunday, September 29, 2019

St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) was a master of making room for the new and letting go of that which was tired or empty. His first biographer described Francis as always hopeful, always new, always beginning again. [1] Much of Francis’ genius was that he was ready for absolute “newness” from God, and therefore, could also trust fresh and new attitudes in himself. His God was not tired, and so he was never tired. His God was not old, so Francis remained forever young.

In these two weeks of Daily Meditations, I want to share with you one of the most attractive, appealing, and accessible of all frames and doorways to the divine. It is called the Franciscan way after the man who first exemplified it, Francesco di Bernardone, born in Assisi, Italy.

There are always new vocabularies, fresh symbols, new frames and styles, but Francis must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. I would call this mystical insight “the mystery of incarnation,” or the essential union of the material and the spiritual worlds, or simply “Christ.” [2]

Our outer world and its inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness—and holiness. The result is deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty. What was personified in the body of Jesus was a manifestation of this one universal truth: Matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew. Perhaps this is exactly what Jesus means when he says, “I am the gate” (John 10:7). Francis and his female companion, Clare (1194–1253), carried this mystery to its full and lovely conclusion. Or, more rightly, they were fully carried by the mystery. They somehow knew that the beyond was not really beyond, but in the depths of here.

One way to understand Francis and Clare is by reading their lives from what has emerged through their imitators and followers—those who discovered and rediscovered what can only be called radical simplification. Here I am thinking of people like Thérèse of Lisieux, Charles de Foucauld, Dorothy Day, Seraphim of Sarov, Nicholas von der Flüe, Mother Teresa, and, most recently, Pope Francis—to name a few Christian examples. The way of Francis of Assisi cannot be contained inside of formal Franciscanism simply because it is nothing more than the Gospel itself—in very distilled and honest form.

References:
[1] Thomas of Celano, “First Life of St. Francis,” book 2, VI.103. See St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources, ed. Marion Habig (Franciscan Media: 2008), 318.

[2] Immediately after I wrote this paragraph, I opened to this telling passage, which I took as confirmation of this “one spiritual truth” in Francis: “Often, without moving his lips, he would meditate within himself. He drew external things within himself, and they would lift his spirit to even higher things.” Thomas of Celano, “Second Life of St. Francis,” book 2, LXI.95, St. Francis of Assisi: Omnibus of Sources, 440.

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

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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