I wanted to begin this thread a long time ago, but was afraid that no one would want to read it. I finally decided that unless you open the door, you’ll never know if anyone wants to enter. What I would like to do in this thread is share the history of our Franciscan family and the spirituality of our Holy Father Francis. I believe that the world needs his spirituality today more than ever before. We need someone to teach us how to embrace the gospel and to embrace suffering, life, death, joy, sorrow and each other.
If we look at the threads in the Liturgy and Traditional Catholic sub-forums we often find so many good people who would like to reach through their computer screens and rattle each other in the name of reverent liturgy. I have often thought that such frustration, regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on (OF or EF) is actually contrary to what our faith teaches. The more I think about it, the more I pray about it. I can’t seem to get away from thinking and praying.
It was our Holy Father Francis who first brought me into this space. Many people do not realize that Francis of Assisi lived during a time that was worse than our own. The Church and State were both antagonistic toward each other and vying for power and glory or were teamed up for all the wrong reasons. Liturgy was everything but reverent. While the rubrics were followed, the poor were not welcome among the wealthy and powerful. To this day we see remnants of such discrimination in many of Europe’s great churches where the benches only go half-way back and the rest is open space. This open space was used by the poor and the military. They remained in the back because they were dirty and they smelled, while the wealthy and powerful sat comfortably in the front of the naïve. Where is the reverence to the Lord of Life and the Saviour who died for ALL? Francis realized that reverence went beyond rubrics. Rubrics had to be consistent with the Gospel. In the Gospel Jesus sits down to meals with prostitutes, tax collectors, non believers, the poor, the wealthy, the oppressed and the oppressor. Francis wanted to embrace life as lived by Christ, not by the times that surrounded him.
However, in his infinite wisdom, God inspired Francis to remain within the Church and close to the Church. He dictated a way of life to Francis. Then directed him to get it approved by the very Church that was in crisis and that tolerated an irreverent celebration of the liturgy where distinctions were made between God’s sons and daughters. The Lord taught Francis that the Church was for sinful people. It is God’s Divine Hospital. He, Francis, would have to live with it and change it from within. But the change had to come from within Francis himself. The Church would not change, unless its people changed. The Church would not love more and more equitably, unless its members learned to love. The Church would not obey, unless its members practiced the same obedience that Christ practiced on the cross, silent, without murmuring, without questions.
Not only that, but our Holy Father Francis also learned the importance of building slowly. You cannot construct a well built house if you rush through it. Francis began by rebuilding the Chapel of San Damiano. Eventually, he would rebuild the Church with over one million sons and daughters, friars, nuns, sisters, married persons, single consecrated lay persons and religious congregations. After Jesus Christ, no man in history has a following as large as Francis of Assisi, from all walks of life and involved in all aspects of life from contemplative prayer to fork-lift mechanics. Some are celibate and others are married with children, but all are Franciscans. All have vowed to live the Gospel according to the example set by Francis of Assisi.
What was this example? As he put it, “To live the Gospel ‘sine glose’,” without glossing over it, without softening it. Francis took the Gospel at its word. Jesus was the Incarnate Son of God. He had given his life for humanity. He was Love incarnate. But Francis cried that “Love is not loved.” So he traded places with Christ on the cross. He agreed to give up whatever Christ asked him to give up. He agreed to receive whatever Christ gave him. His life became one of receiving what God gives and surrendering what God takes.
Too often we take this as a way of life that is alright for religious, but not for the layman or woman in the pews. But Francis was not a religious or a priest. He was a layman in the pews. His religious community came into existence long after his covenant with God. He made his Covenant with the Lord in 1209 and his community was not erected until 1221. Until then they were a fraternity of 11 lay men and one secular priest. In 1221 when the Holy Father approved their way of life, they remained a lay community to this day. Even though they have priests among their ranks, they are still a fraternity of married men and women, clerics and nuns, religious sisters and secular clergy, and consecrated lay people in private vows, all organized into three Orders.
The embrace of the cross in total detachment is not a call to religious and priests. It was a call that Christ made to all Catholics who could respond. Since all of us need a teacher, Christ himself appointed Francis as master. St. Bonaventure always referred to his relationship with St. Francis, whom he never met, as the relationship between the Master and the Disciple, with Bonaventure being the disciple. This is a most curious relationship. Bonaventure was a Cardinal, a scholar and a noble man. He surrendered all of it to be like the Master. He gave it all up to be a man of total obedience to the Church and totally poor.
When Sister Mary Teresa asked for permission to lave her order to go into the streets of Calcutta she heard the voice of the Christ. He commanded her to found an Indian Society of lay women, not a religious order of nuns. They were to live according to the spirit of the man from Assisi. Today there are more than 4,000 Missionaries of Charity in more than 25 countries all because Mother Teresa responded.
There are more than one million Secular Franciscans who are ministering and working like Francis, Clare and Mother Teresa. Some of them have children and spouses. Some are secular deacons and priests. But all have one thing in common. They want to imitate Christ the same way that Francis did, to perfection.
Fraternally in St. Francis,