To Live Lightly

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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