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Franciscan Way: Part Two

Franciscan Way: Part Two

Summary: Sunday, October 6—Friday, October 11, 2019

This is the miracle of love: to discover that all creation is one, flung out into space by a God who is a Father, and that if you present yourself as [God] does, unarmed and peaceably, creation will recognize and meet you with a smile. —Carlo Carretto (Sunday)

If we haven’t been able to kiss many lepers, if we haven’t been able to tame many wolves, it’s probably because we haven’t made friends with our leper and wolf within. (Monday)

Francis and Clare of Assisi both found their inner and outer freedom by structurally living on the edge of the inside of both church and society. (Tuesday)

Francis was fully at home in this created world. He saw all things in the visible world as endless dynamic and operative symbols of the Real, a theater and training ground for a heaven that is already available to us in small doses in this life. What you choose now, you shall have later seems to be the realization of the saints. Not an idyllic hope for a later heaven but a living experience right now. (Wednesday)

With great wisdom, Francis was able to distinguish between institutional evil and the individual who is victimized by it. (Thursday)

Intercession visualizes an alternative future to the one created by the momentum of current forces. Eight centuries after Francis we are called, as he was, to pray and act for a new future of peace. —Louie Vitale, OFM (Friday)

 

Practice: Lectio Divina in Nature

Step out onto the Planet.
Draw a circle a hundred feet round.

Inside the circle are
300 things nobody understands, and, maybe
nobody’s ever really seen

How many can you find?

—Lew Welch [1]

We are created to read the book of creation so that we may know the Author of Life. —Ilia Delio, OSF [2]

Lectio divina (Latin for sacred reading) is a contemplative way of reading and praying with Scripture. Rather than trying to rationally understand a static text, this practice helps us be present to the Living Word of God and allow it to change us. In lectio divina, God teaches us to listen for and seek God’s presence in silence. Although the Bible is most often used, many people practice lectio divina with nature. Franciscans believe that the first act of divine revelation is Creation itself, so it makes sense to “read” or observe God’s presence in Brother Sun and Sister Moon, in animals and plants.

As with other forms of lectio divina, the practice is divided into four steps. Find a place where you are surrounded by the beauty of nature and where you feel safe to be quiet and alone for 20 or more minutes.

1. Lectio/Read

In silence, be attentive to your surroundings, opening to the mystery of these beings’ existence and prayerfully asking them to address you. Simply asking is creating a space in which a response can happen. If you like, use a journal to write down any impressions that arise.

2. Meditatio/Meditate

Ponder what you are observing, being attentive to whatever is in front of you as though you could be in dialogue with it. For example, as you look around, if you see a flower, gaze at it and also consider what it would feel like for the flower to look back at you. What it would be like to be in mutual relationship with all of Creation?

3. Oratio/Pray

Oratio is an opportunity to enter into dialogue with God, offering gratitude as well as lifting up your hopes, fears, and pains. In oratio, you are invited to surrender all of these things and allow God to transform you and the world through this encounter.

4. Contemplatio/Contemplate

Contemplatio is simply abiding in the presence of God. Rest joyfully in Mystery after lifting up your prayers and problems to God, confident that your needs are known.

References:
[1] Lew Welch, Ring of Bone: Collected Poems of Lew Welch, ed. Donald Allen (City Lights Books: 2012), 87. Originally published in Hermit Poems, 1964. Used with permission. Listen to Welch reading the poem aloud.

[2] Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution (Orbis Books: 2008), 62.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CD, MP3 download; and

Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 32-33.

For Further Study:
Carlo Carretto, I, Francis (Orbis Books: 1982)

Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, ed. Regis J. Armstrong and others (New City Press: 1999-2001), 3 volumes: The Saint; The Founder; The Prophet

The Lady: Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, rev. ed. and trans. Regis J. Armstrong (New City Press: 2005)

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

Richard Rohr, In the Footsteps of Francis: Awakening to Creation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), CDMP3 download

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

Augustine Thompson, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (Cornell University Press: 2012)

Louie Vitale, Love Is What Matters: Writings on Peace and Nonviolence (Pace e Bene Press: 2015)

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson
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Franciscan Way: Part Two

Making Peace Like St. Francis
Friday, October 11, 2019

My Franciscan brother Fr. Louie Vitale, who has been a peace activist for almost 40 years, tells how St. Francis was working for peace even at the end of his life. At the time, Bishop Guido of Assisi excommunicated the mayor of Assisi on the pope’s orders because the mayor supported another war with Perugia. In response, the mayor proclaimed that no one could sell to or buy anything from the bishop or have legal dealings with him. This story illustrates the practical power of nonviolent, restorative justice. Vitale writes:

This was not just a misunderstanding or an argument between the bishop and the mayor. There was serious structural violence involving the nobility, the new merchant class, the city and the Church. . . . Theologian and biblical scholar Walter Wink would name this as an example of the “Domination System” and its efforts to control society. In the case of thirteenth-century Assisi, this struggle turned on the question of who would be in control—the powerful factions in the city or the people allied with the pope?

In Wink’s terminology, these institutions are “powers” which enforce domination and preclude peaceful resolution. “What people in the Bible experienced and called ‘Principalities and Powers’ was in fact real,” Wink writes. “They were discerning the actual spirituality at the center of the political, economic and cultural institutions of their day. . . . I use the expression ‘the Domination System’ to indicate what happens when an entire network of Powers becomes integrated around idolatrous values [like greed and superiority].” [1] . . .

Wink writes: “The Powers are good. The Powers are fallen. The Powers must be redeemed.” [2] While recognizing the demonic in each of the institutions involved, Francis also acknowledged the source of their creation and sought to restore them to the God-given purpose for which they were created. . . . Wink sees the Gospel as the alternative power to the Domination System. Francis brought this Gospel alternative to new life. . . .

[Knowing that] both the mayor and the bishop held Francis in the highest esteem, Francis used a subtle nonviolent approach. He added another verse on peace to his Canticle of the Creatures. He sent one of his brothers to invite the mayor to go to the bishop’s palace, and another to prepare the bishop. Francis did not go but remained in prayer. The brothers sang the canticle with its message of peace to the mayor and the bishop, which included the new verse:

Happy those who endure in peace,
By you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Both were moved to great repentance and mutual embrace. “In this moment, a centuries-old struggle for power ended,” historian Arnaldo Fortini [himself a former mayor of Assisi] wrote, crediting this intervention with bringing true peace into being.

Walter Wink stresses that a key dimension of nonviolent action is prayer. . . . Intercession visualizes an alternative future to the one created by the momentum of current forces. . . . Eight centuries after Francis we are called, as he was, to pray and act for a new future of peace.

References:
[1] Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Augsburg Fortress: 1992), 6, 9.

[2] Ibid., 10.

Adapted from Louie Vitale, Love Is What Matters: Writings on Peace and Nonviolence (Pace e Bene Press: 2015), 41-42, 43.

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson
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Franciscan Way: Part Two

Francis and the Sultan
Thursday, October 10, 2019

The connection that Francis of Assisi made with “the enemy” in his lifetime may be his most powerful statement to the world about putting together the inner life with the outer, and all of the resulting social, political, and ethnic implications. He also offers an invitation to—and an example for—the kind of interfaith dialogue that provides a much-needed “crossing of borders” so that we can understand people who are different from us. Francis’ kind of border crossing is urgently needed in our own time, when many of the same divisive issues are at still at play between Christians and Muslims and so many other religious, political, national, and racial groups.

Francis made several attempts to visit the troops fighting in the Holy Land, and in September 1219 he met with Sultan Malik al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt. [1] At the time, in thirteenth-century Europe, there was almost no actual knowledge of Islamic culture or religion, but rather only stereotypes of “the enemy.” The vast majority of voices in the Western Church—popes at their lead—had been swept up in the fervor of the anti-Islamist Crusades which began in 1095. (There were nine Crusades; Francis intervened in the fifth.) Popes repeatedly used promises of eternal life and offered indulgences and total forgiveness of sin for those who would fight these “holy wars” that were then backed up by kings and official Crusade preachers. Hardly anyone objected or recognized that this was a major abuse of power and of the Gospel.

Francis left his own culture at “great cost” to himself to go to the Sultan, to enter the world of another—and one who was considered a public enemy of his world and religion. Francis seems to have tried three times, but only succeeded in getting to his goal on the third try. On this attempt, he went to Egypt primarily to tell the Christian troops that they were wrong in what they were doing.

Francis’ humility and respect for the other, and thus for Islam, gained him what seems to have been an extended time, maybe as much as three weeks, with al-Kamil. The Sultan sent him away with protection and a gift (a horn that was used for the Muslim call to prayer), which suggests they had given and received mutual regard and respect. This horn can still be seen in Assisi.

With great wisdom, Francis was able to distinguish between institutional evil and the individual who is victimized by it. He still felt compassion for the individual Christian soldiers, although he objected to the war itself. He realized the folly and yet the sincerity of their patriotism, which led them, however, to be un-patriotic to the much larger Kingdom of God where Francis placed his first and final loyalty.

References:
[1] Three studies—all very accessible—succeed in bringing this unparalleled historical event out of the shadows of pious hagiography into the realm of very real social, political, and spiritual importance: Kathleen Warren, In the Footsteps of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking (Sisters of St. Francis: 2013); Paul Moses, The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (Doubleday: 2009); George Dardess and Marvin L. Krier, In the Spirit of St. Francis and the Sultan: Catholics and Muslims Working Together for the Common Good (Orbis Books: 2011).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 153-154, 155-156, 157-158.

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson
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Franciscan Way: Part Two

Patron Saint of Ecology
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

One of the things Francis of Assisi is best known for is his love of nature. Pope John Paul II named him the Patron Saint of Ecology in 1979. Pope Francis entitled his encyclical about caring for our common home Laudato Si meaning “praise be to you,” a phrase which Francis used repeatedly in his Canticle of the Creatures.

St. Bonaventure (1221–1274), an early Franciscan mystic, taught that, “As a human being, Christ has something in common with all creatures. With the stone he shares existence; with plants he shares life; with animals he shares sensation; and with the angels he shares intelligence.” [1] In saying this, Bonaventure was trying to give theological weight to the deep experience Francis, who, as far as we know, was the first recorded Christian to call animals and elements and even the forces of nature by familial names, much as indigenous people have done for centuries: “Sister, Mother Earth,” “Brother Wind,” “Sister Water,” and “Brother Fire.”

Francis was fully at home in this created world. He saw all things in the visible world as endless dynamic and operative symbols of the Real, a theater and training ground for a heaven that is already available to us in small doses in this life. What you choose now, you shall have later seems to be the realization of the saints. Not an idyllic hope for a later heaven but a living experience right now.

We cannot jump over this world, or its woundedness, and still try to love God. We must love God through, in, with, and even because of this world. This is the message Christianity was supposed to initiate, proclaim, and encourage, and what Jesus modeled. We were made to love and trust this world, “to cultivate it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15), but for some sad reason we preferred to emphasize the statement that comes in the previous chapter, which seems to say that we should “dominate” the earth (Genesis 1:28). I wonder if this is not another shape of our original sin. God “empties” Godself into creation, and then we humans spend most of history creating systems to control and subdue that creation for our own purposes and profit, reversing the divine pattern.

In the spirit of St. Francis, read aloud this prayer of repentance, intention, and longing by one of his contemporary followers, Mirabai Starr:

Dear God,
You created the world
to serve our needs
and to lead us to you. 

Through our own unconsciousness
we have lost the beautiful relationship
we once had with the rest of creation. 

Help us to see
that by restoring our relationship with you
we will also renew our connection
with all your creation. 

Give us the grace to see
all animals as gifts from you
and to treat them with respect,
for they are your creation. 

We pray for all animals
who are suffering
as a result of our neglect. 

May the order you originally established
be once again restored
to the whole world. . . .

Amen. [2]

References:
[1] Bonaventure, “Sermon I for the Second Sunday of Lent,” trans. Zachary Hayes, “Christ Word of God and Exemplar of Humanity,” The Cord, vol. 46, no. 1 (1996), 13.

[2] Mirabai Starr, St. Francis of Assisi: Brother of Creation (Sounds True: 2007, 2013), 35.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 112-113.

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson
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Franciscan Way: Part Two

Inner and Outer Freedom
Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Francis and Clare of Assisi were not so much prophets by what they said as by the radical, system-critiquing way that they lived their lives. They found both their inner and outer freedom by structurally living on the edge of the inside of both church and society. Too often people seek either inner or outer freedom, but seldom do they find both.

Francis and Clare’s agenda for justice was the most foundational and undercutting of all: a very simple lifestyle outside the system of production and consumption (the real meaning of the vow of poverty) plus a conscious identification with the marginalized of society (the communion of saints pushed to its outer edge). In this position we do not “do” acts of peace and justice as much as our life is itself peace and justice. We take our small and sufficient place in the great and grand scheme of God. By “living on the edge of the inside” I mean building on the solid Tradition (“from the inside”) but doing it from a new and creative stance (“on the edge”) where we cannot be coopted for purposes of security, possessions, or the illusions of power.

Francis and Clare placed themselves outside the system of not just social production and consumption, but ecclesiastical too! Francis was not a priest, nor were Franciscan men originally priests. Theirs was not a spirituality of earning or seeking worthiness, career, church status, or divine favor (which they knew they already had). They represented in their own unique way the old tradition of “holy fools” among the desert fathers and mothers and the Eastern Church, and offered that notion to the very organized and “efficient” Western Church.

For the most part, the path they offered has been ignored or not understood. Most of us prefer quid pro quo (retributive justice) to restorative justice. But those formed by the Gospels should know better. When we try to find personal and individual freedom while remaining inside structural boxes and a system of consumption, we are often unable or unwilling to critique those very structures. Whoever is paying our bills and giving us security and status determines what we can and cannot say, or even what we can or cannot think. We cannot remove the plank we are standing on. Self-serving institutions that give us our security, status, or identity are almost always considered “too big to fail” and are often beyond any honest critique. And thus corruption grows.

The way of radical Christianity is simply to stay out of such systems to begin with, so they cannot control your breadth of thinking, feeling, loving, and living out universal justice.

When Jesus and John’s Gospel used the term “the world,” they did not mean the earth, creation, or civilization, which Jesus clearly came to love and save (John 12:47). They were referring to idolatrous systems and institutions that are invariably self-referential and always passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31).

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 33-36.

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson
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Francisan Way: Part Two

Francis and the Lepers
Monday, October 7, 2019

The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord . . . led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and then I left the world. —Francis of Assisi [1]

When Francis said, he “left the world,” he was not talking about creation, which he loved. He was talking about the “rotten, decadent system” as Dorothy Day called it. [2] He was giving up on the usual payoffs, constraints, and rewards of business-as-usual and was choosing to live in the largest Kingdom of all. To pray and actually mean “Thy Kingdom come,” we must also be able to say “my kingdoms go.” Francis and Clare’s first citizenship was always, and in every case, elsewhere (Philippians 3:20), which ironically allowed them to live in this world with joy and freedom.

Augustine Thompson, a Dominican friar, writes:

This encounter with lepers, not the act of stripping off his clothing before the bishop, would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. . . . Wherever the leprosarium was, Francis lodged there with the residents and earned his keep caring for them. . . . It was a dramatic personal reorientation that brought forth spiritual fruit. As Francis showed mercy to these outcasts, he came to experience God’s own gift of mercy to himself. As he cleaned the lepers’ bodies, dressed their wounds, and treated them as human beings, not as refuse to be fled from in horror, his perceptions changed. What before was ugly and repulsive now caused him delight and joy, not only spiritually, but also viscerally and physically.

Francis’s aesthetic sense, so central to his personality, had been transformed, even inverted. The startled veteran sensed himself, by God’s grace and no power of his own, remade into a different man. Just as suddenly, the sins which had been tormenting him seemed to melt away, and Francis experienced a kind of spiritual rebirth and healing. Not long after this encounter, later accounts tell us, perhaps in allegory, that Francis was walking down a road and met one of these same lepers. He embraced the man in his arms and kissed him. Francis’s spiritual nightmare was over; he had found peace. [3]

Deep within each of us live a leper and a wolf. These stories did happen historically with Francis, but first they operate in the soul. We must first encounter and embrace the leper and wolf inside. If we haven’t been able to kiss many lepers, if we haven’t been able to tame many wolves, it’s probably because we haven’t made friends with our leper and wolf within. Name your poor leper within. Nurse and tend her wounds. Name your inner wolf; tame him by gentle forgiveness.

References:
[1] Francis of Assisi, “The Testament,” lines 1-3. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1 (New City Press: 1999), 124.

[2] Dorothy Day, “On Pilgrimage,” The Catholic Worker (September 1956), https://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/articles/710.html.

[3] Augustine Thompson, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (Cornell University Press: 2012), 16-17.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 36-37; and

Richard Rohr, Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, ed. John Feister (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1995), 276. No longer available in print.

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson
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Franciscan Way: Part Two

Francis and the Wolf
Sunday, October 6, 2019

Carlo Carretto (1910–1988) was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of contemplatives based on the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi and founded by Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916). Carretto’s life, like that of Francis, was a combination of action and contemplation. In his book, I, Francis, Carretto speaks in Francis’ voice, combining biography with what Francis might say to us today.

Carretto describes Francis’ experience with a hungry old wolf who had been terrifying the people of Gubbio and preying on their livestock. Francis went out to meet the wolf armed only with love. The townspeople were sure the wolf would eat Francis. But Francis simply considered the needs of both the wolf and the community. He discerned that the wolf was too old to hunt wild animals and just needed to eat, while the people needed safety for themselves and their animals. Francis proposed that the wolf be given food each day, and the wolf agreed to leave their sheep and chickens alone. Carretto writes in Francis’ voice:

No, brothers [and sisters], I was not afraid [to meet with the wolf].

Not since I had experienced the fact that my God is the wolf’s God too.

What is extraordinary in the incident of the wolf of Gubbio is not that the wolf grew tame, but that the people of Gubbio grew tame, and that they ran to meet the cold and hungry wolf not with pruning knives and hatchets but with bread and hot porridge.

This is the miracle of love: to discover that all creation is one, flung out into space by a God who is a Father, and that if you present yourself as [God] does, unarmed and peaceably, creation will recognize and meet you with a smile.

This is the principle of nonviolence, and I want to recommend it to you with all the enthusiasm I can command. . . .

If human beings go to war, it is because they fear someone.

Remove the fear, and you re-establish trust, and will have peace.

Nonviolence means destroying fear.

This is why I, Francis, tell you this once again: Learn to conquer fear, as I did that morning when I went out to meet the wolf with a smile.

By conquering myself, I conquered the wolf. By taming my evil instincts, I tamed those of the wolf. By making an effort to trust the wolf, I found that the wolf trusted me.

My courage had established peace.

You can deduce the rest by yourselves.

Just think what would happen if one day you became nonviolent, and took the huge sums of money you spend on defending yourselves against fear and used them to help the people of whom you are now afraid. . . .

You will know peace then.

Is that too much to hope?

Perhaps someone is listening to me!

To whoever it is, I, Francis say: Be brave!

Reference:
Adapted from Carlo Carretto, I, Francis (Orbis Books: 1982), 108-109, 116.

Image credit: Leprosy in La Franceschina (detail), circa 1474, La Francheschina, a chronical of the Order by Franciscan Jacopo Oddi, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: This encounter with lepers . . . would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. —Augustine Thompson
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