While Clare and her religious sisters were still subject to the confines of the monastic cloister, Francis and his religious brothers moved beyond the walls of a monastery, rectory, or cathedral house—the typical locations of male religious life up to that time. Francis saw Jesus’ personal model and his instructions in the Gospel as an example for an itinerant lifestyle that involved popular preaching, daily work, communal prayer, and encounter with women and men of all backgrounds and in all locations. It was both freeing and risky.
Bonaventure highlights the idea that the one who dwells in Christ dwells in the other, because the fullness of who we are in Christ can only be found in the other. The difference of the other, therefore, was not an obstacle for Francis in his search for God but rather a celebration of God. For he found his own identity in God and he found God in the fragile, wounded flesh of his brothers and sisters. It is prayer, according to Bonaventure, that impelled Francis to see the world with new vision, a contemplative vision that penetrated the depths of reality. The world became Francis’ cloister because he found it to be permeated with the goodness of God.
Francis never sought to retreat from or enter into a cloister apart from the world. Instead, the Franciscans were always to be deeply involved in the life and activity of the world, meeting all sorts of people where they were and living among and for them. This refusal to flee the quotidian world was a radical departure from most of the religious-community traditions of the day.
I think we need to create a culture of emptiness more than Francis did, as modern life is so filled with busyness, so cluttered with unfiltered information tirelessly generated by the media and the internet, so over-stimulated by a dizzying array of electronic gadgets, so pressured by the allure of nonstop advertising, and so driven by productiveness, we are almost incapable of stillness and can’t tolerate silence. It was in stillness and silence that Francis forged his inner cloister of emptiness and flamed his desire for God.
~ Gerry Straub, A Culture of Emptiness.
This approach to ministry is one that places relationship and community above one’s personal faith journey and conversion. In fact, one’s own conversion, if indicative of a Franciscan hue, should lead toward humanity and away from only one’s self. It is for precisely this reason that Francis insisted that the friars were to remain mendicants and not monks, to live as if the whole world were a cloister and not be limited to the four walls of private religious life.
~Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith by Daniel Horan OFM