True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.
This is remarkable, almost reckless love. This is a love so all in all, so unconditional, that it is willing not just to be vulnerable, but by human standards almost foolish in its boundless, unconditional reality. What better way can we recapture our understanding of the true meaning of love than with this example?
There’s a reason the Church calls St. Francis the vir Catholicus, the exemplary Catholic man. Francis understood that gratitude is the beginning of joy, and that joy in this world is the aroma of heaven in the next. He reveled in the debt he owed to God for the beauty of creation, for his friends and brothers, and for every gift and suffering that came his way. He treasured his dependence on the love of others, and returned their love with his own. He gave away all that he had in order to gain the deepest kind of freedom – the freedom to pursue God, to share God with others, and to experience life without encumbrance or fear.
The Secular Franciscan Order is truly secular, for it has a specialized style of evangelization: to transform the world from within with the life and teachings of Jesus, and to do so by means of change of heart, worship, simple things, community, service, justice, peace, ecology, and Christian attitudes toward work. For Secular Franciscans the workaday world is the arena of salvation and the alter for the consecration of creation.
~ Benet A. Fonck, OFM, Called to Proclaim Christ
The key to Francis was a kind of holy radicalism. He liked to say that “the saints lived lives of heroic virtue, [but] we are satisfied to talk about them.” Francis himself never felt satisfied with pious words. He wanted to act on the things he believed. He called his brothers to live the Gospel with simplicity and honesty. And that’s why he used the words sine glossa – “without gloss” — in his Testament. He saw that the Gospel wasn’t complicated, but it was demanding and difficult. The theologians and Church lawyers of his day had written commentaries called glosses. And these glosses were very good at either explaining away the hard parts of the Gospel, or diminishing our need to follow Christ’s demands. Francis wanted none of that. He wanted to experience discipleship at its root.
That’s why the Lord’s Prayer bids me die, and why I must pray for it. That need springs from the first garden with the old Adam, the old Eve, asserting their wills against the strictures of a will they would not recognize. It is the will of the old unwashed self that must be put to death daily in baptism.
The proclamation of the Word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Spirit who opens people’s hearts so that they can believe in Christ and “confess him” cf. 1 Cor 12:3; of those who draw near to him through faith Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” Jn 6:44.
From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God’s gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from “life according to the flesh” to “life according to the Spirit” cf. Rom 8:3-13. Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.
As Christian women and men, we recognize a future that is not limited to our present condition. While we should work to alleviate suffering in the world and in our own lives, its eradication is impossible. In light of the Gospel and Francis’s instruction, we recall that God remains with us and works through us in ways we do not completely understand. It is by trusting in the Lord that we are able to bear all in peace.
If there is a word which does complete justice to Franciscan theology and spirituality, it is ‘Christocentric,’ and they have this as their distinguishing feature, because the faith and holiness of St. Francis were totally centered on Christ. In Jesus Christ the revelation is made to us of what the world, as a whole and in all its parts, means to God.
The life of the Poverello (St. Francis) may seem more cheerful and more peaceful than that of some of the other saints. But truth is he was the saint of excesses: excess in sacrifice, excess in love: and it was by reason of his excesses that he held to the happy medium, because his disregard for moderation worked both ways, just as a scale insures better equilibrium the longer it is on both sides.
Francis is the saint of excesses and yet he is the saint with a smile, because he always fused the two. For him, penance was love, and sorrow ‘perfect joy.’ Using this standard, folly was wisdom and excess supreme moderation.