As he approached his own earthly end, Francis, recalling the love of God made manifest in the gift of creation, looked forward with hope to his share in the resurrection of Christ. There was no longer a need to avoid or exploit death, because death was his sister, closer to him than the fear of the unknown. With arms extended, Francis did not cower from his destiny in fear and anxiety but embraced his sister bodily death with his whole heart and left this world in peace.
Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, instilled a spirit that sought to seek peace through understanding and acceptance, rather than combating for tranquility through aggression and war; justice in mercy and forgiveness rather than retribution in violent reprisal, availability to all rather than opinionated distance from those who do not share the same ideas and values. St. Francis even suffered in silence when the opinions of others had eventually changed the simplicity and brotherhood he had instituted when men began to seek to follow the Gospel Way. As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi we have a responsibility to follow the example of our Seraphic Father. Paul, the Apostle, and Matthew, the Evangelist, offer us insights upon which to reflect that we might be elements of reform in our society and be true Advocates of Peace and Proclaimers of God’s Love and Life in the Family of Humanity and in our own families, communities … the Church.
“One cannot imagine St. Francis of Assisi speaking of rights,” observed the French intellectual and mystic Simone Weil. Rights alone leach the fun out of everything. Rights alone — rights as an organizing principle, rights as a god — have led to a culture where the crowning glory of womanhood, the ability to give birth, is being reduced to a business transaction between two people who need never even touch.
To be both utterly clear-eyed and profoundly childlike is a paradox that can only be lived out by those with creative imaginations fired by a wildcard sense of joy.
St. Francis of Assisi was one such person. Writing of the pope’s namesake frolicking with his monks in freshly-fallen snow, G.K. Chesterton observed: “A man will not roll in the snow for a stream of tendency by which all things fulfill the law of their being. He will not go without food in the name of something, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness. He will do things like this, or pretty nearly like this, under quite a different impulse. He will do these things when he is in love.”
~ Heather King, “In Rome: The Synod on the Family”
[St.] Francis was enough of a realist to know that this view from the bottom would never become fashionable. Yet his commitment to littleness led him to name his brothers “minors” so that they would never fall back again in to the worldview of the “majors” (the great, the nobility). He knew that there was power in being a somebody, but that there was truth in being a nobody. He always opted for the truth, and from the example of Jesus crucified knew that the Lord would create power out of that.
Francis’ reading of the gospel is of utmost relevance today. His focus and emphasis is the same as ]esus’. His life was an enacted parable, an audio-visual aid to gospel freedom. It gives us the perspective by which to see as Jesus did: the view from the bottom. He insists by every facet of his life that we can only see rightly from a dis-established position. He wanted to be poor first of all simply because Jesus was poor. But he also knew that the biblical promises were made to the poor, that the gospel could be preached only to the poor because they alone had the freedom to hear it without distorting it for their own purposes. He wanted to have nothing to protect except the love which made all else useless. “Love is not loved! Love is not loved!” he used to sigh.
No room! The Creator of the universe finds no room in His own creation! The God of all creation is refused a welcome by those from Whom they received life! Almighty God is born in a hovel for animals, Whose throne is a manger and Whose adoring court are a humble couple and poor shepherds from the hillside who were tending sheep! What mystery of love! Here is a total emptying! How can we question that God understands our human condition? The ecstatic praise that St. Francis of Assisi once said when he reflected upon the Mystery of the Incarnation: O sublime humility, O humble sublimity! is the awe-filled acknowledgment and prayer we offer before the greatness of such emptying of Himself! It all began with Mary’s “Yes” to the Father’s request for her availability to allow God to be born in human history.
This intimacy of prayer—breathing with the Spirit of God—was at the heart of the life of Francis of Assisi. He advised his followers to have, above all things (supra omnia) the Spirit of the Lord and his holy manner of working, to pray always and to have a pure heart.
But, I cannot help but wonder whether we might find Francis on Facebook had he been born in our lifetime and not nearly a millennium ago. If he did not personally join Facebook or use Twitter or build a profile on LinkedIn, then I imagine that those friars who might find themselves compelled to reach out to others and preach the Gospel online might ask for his blessing. In return, Francis might give his approval as he did to St. Anthony of Padua when the friar asked if he could teach the other friars theology – something that seemed contrary to Francis’s original “game plan” of Gospel living. Francis’s response might read something like this: “I am pleased that you want to be present on Facebook and through other social media providing that, as is contained in the Rule, you ‘do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion’ during this activity.” And with that, a new age of mission and ministry would have begun.
Jesus Christ is the center and inspiration of our lives as Franciscans. He is the way, the truth, and the life. In him we live and move and have our being. He clarifies our thinking with his teaching. He directs our actions with his value system. He moves our hearts with the power of his presence in our lives.
Therefore, to observe the gospel means that we live Jesus, that we make his life and teachings and values our own, just as Francis of Assisi did.
I beg you, Lord, let the glowing and honey-sweet force of your love draw my mind away from all things that are under heaven, that I may die for love of the love of you who thought it a worthy thing to die for love of the love of me.