Simple living in littleness and openness further takes shape by identifying with Christ and following his example in such a way that we reduce material needs, curb a thirst for possessions and the domineering power that comes from ownership, and use all God’s gifts in a spirit of generosity, justice, and moderation. Gospel poverty for Secular Franciscans, then, consists in acquiring possessions justly, keeping needs to a minimum, and using what we have as custodians for the generous benefit of others. In this way we achieve the wealth of the kingdom and do not get enslaved by the wealth of the world according to the charter for happiness given in the beatitudes.
Everything I do, reading, study, writing, etc., simply must be done in such a way that it is prayer and preparation for prayer. That means first of all not doing it to satisfy my voracious appetite to know, to enjoy, to achieve things, to get tangible results and taste the immediate reward of my own efforts because, if that is what leads me, everything turns to ashes as soon as I touch it.
The term Penance in Franciscanism is equivalent to the biblical meaning of metanoia, understood as an intimate conversion of the heart to God, as a vital altitude, a continuous state of being. It is not a question of doing penance but of being penitent.
We know that St. Francis read and meditated upon the Word of God until it was integrated into his very being. In body and soul, St. Francis was altered by the Gospel. His identity changed as he became conformed to the likeness of Christ. St. Francis went beyond imitation. He became one with the beloved. Francis proved that the Gospel could be lived. It was a process for him. It continues to be a process for us. It is what our Rule calls ongoing conversion. If we wish to be changed in the process, we must become one with the Lord.
Scripture tells us that those who are wise say little but communicate much. Those who talk too much often relay little. We experience this phenomenon in a new way through the Internet. This medium can be a great blessing. But it is sometimes used for messaging and emailing too much while communicating very little. The Internet makes the wisdom of the ages available with the click of a mouse or the tapping of touch pad. But with all this knowledge available, few actually learn wisdom. With all these words, we don’t communicate.
They do all the good they can. They receive what their neighbor may do for them with joy and gratitude, but in great freedom, because their support is in God alone. They are untroubled by their own weaknesses, nor do they blame others for not always meeting their expectations. Reliance on God alone protects them from all disappointment. It gives them great interior freedom, which they place entirely at the service of God and their fellow men, responding to love with love.
At the core of Franciscan spirituality is this striving to enter into the divine heart to feel the pathos of suffering love that God feels for the world. Francis’s striving to identify with the crucified Christ was not meant to be a spiritual absorption into suffering for its own sake and should not be construed as a masochistic sanctification of pain. Rather, Francis sought to know God by abiding with God in the passion. Francis embodied and illuminated the words of St. Paul, who wrote: “In my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24). Francis believed that if we claim to be the body of Christ, we are called to participate in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are called to die and be raised again in new life, not just at the end of our life but in each moment of our discipleship journey. Francis accompanies us in following Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of active love on behalf of the crucified of the world.
In light of the stigmatized Francis, Bonaventure suggests that consummation of the world can take place only when the human person is in union with Christ and, specifically, Christ Crucified, who is the perfection of divine love in the world. This means a constant spiritual program of conforming one’s life to the Crucified, imitating Christ in word and deed, entering into the events of his life and allowing this experience to open one up to the presence of God hidden in Christ.