Christian social action is first of all action that discovers religion in politics, religion in work, religion in social programs for better wages, Social Security, etc., not at all to “win the worker for the Church,” but because God became man, because every man is potentially Christ, because Christ is our brother, and because we have no right to let our brother live in want, or in degradation, or in any form of squalor whether physical or spiritual. In a word, if we really understood the meaning of Christianity in social life we would see it as part of the redemptive work of Christ, liberating man from misery, squalor, subhuman living conditions, economic or political slavery, ignorance, alienation.
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.
In the end we are faced with the awesome paradox of Christian faith that defies human definitions of power. In Jesus’s apparent absolute powerlessness on the cross, indeed the complete self-abnegation of Jesus on the cross, God has radically overturned all human notions of power. Out of weakness comes strength; out of powerlessness comes power; out of death comes resurrection, life. This is part of the radical witness that Jesus, Paul, and Francis place before us: God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness stronger than human strength.
Jesus teaches the way of poverty, and he lived it. He says clearly that we must renounce all of our possessions. But he goes further and says that we must even renounce our relationships and our very selves as well. Why? Probably because we have done these things so poorly in the past, and these unhealthy patterns have become so ingrained that only complete renunciation will allow us to break free. Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of poverty. It was there that he gave up not only possessions and relationships but also his very life. He not only taught the way of the cross, the way of poverty, but he actually became that way.
As long as we remain sheep, we overcome. Even though we may be surrounded by a thousand wolves, we overcome and are victorious. But as soon as we are wolves, we are beaten: for then we lose the support from the Shepherd who feeds not wolves, but only sheep.
In 1969 the Assisi Congress gathered to focus on the revision of the Secular Franciscan Rule. The work of the committees was presented as motions. Motion 9 essentially guided the process for Chapter II of the Rule of 1978. Motion 9 lists seventeen essential elements of Secular Franciscan Spirituality.
- To live the gospel according to the spirit of St. Francis
- To be converted continually (metanoia)
- To live as sisters and brothers of all people and of all creation
- To live in communion with Christ
- To follow the poor and crucified Christ
- To share in the life and mission of the Church
- To share in the love of the Father
- To be instruments of peace
- To have a life of prayer that is personal, communal and liturgical
- To live in joy
- To have a spirituality of a secular nature
- To be pilgrims on the way toward the Father
- To participate in the apostolate of the laity
- To be at the service of the less fortunate
- To be loyal to the church in an attitude of dialogue and collaboration with her ministers
- To be open to the action of the Holy Spirit
- To live in simplicity, humility and minority*
It would take a lifetime to understand all the implications and layers of meaning contained in these essential elements and another lifetime to incorporate them into the core of our being. We must be content to continue in the process of ongoing conversion until the day when we see the Lord face to face.
* De Illis Qui Faciunt Penitentiam, The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order: Origins, Development, Interpretation, Robert M. Stewart, OFM, p. 250
I have come to think that care of the soul requires a high degree of resistance to the culture around us, simply because that culture is dedicated to values that have no concern for the soul. To preserve our precious hearts, we may have to live economically against the grain, perhaps so as not to be forced into soul maiming work just to place bread on the table or put our children through college. We may not want to be plugged into electronic media and have our thoughts laundered daily with biased news, superficial commentary, and “lite” entertainment. We may not want to contribute to disastrous pollution of nature or participate in the current value empty philosophy of education. This comtemptus mundi is not a misanthropic, superior rejection of life’s pleasures but, rather, a compassionate attempt to find more grounded pleasure and communal fulfillment in deep appreciation for life relieved of ambition and control.
All of us experience firsthand the sad effects of this blind submission to pure consumerism: in the first place a crass materialism, and at the same time a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns – unless one is shielded from the flood of publicity and the ceaseless and tempting offers of products – that the more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.
Those who habitual seek to avoid all pain and experience only what is pleasant and comfortable, will sooner or later find themselves carrying far heavier crosses than those who try to consent to sufferings it would be unrealistic to try to eliminate.