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 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.
Like it or not, the life of this popular Christian saint [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][St. Francis] presents us with startling paradoxes. An enormously free and spontaneous person, he nevertheless adhered faithfully to the institutional church; a fully alive human being, he embraced suffering; a true lover, he chose celibacy; born into relative affluence, he practiced a literal poverty. These and so many other aspects of Francis’s life inevitably give us pause to ponder today; that is, unless we have the questionable ability to ignore these unsettling aspects of his personality and deal only with the sentimental and “popular” sides of this complex man — his joy, love for nature, and familiarity with animals. As honest persons we need to delve into the real, flesh-and-blood, historical Francis. Otherwise we risk missing something of essence underlying his more familiar traits.