I’m glad that you’re enjoying the thread. Our holy Father Francis was a unique character. He certain is not the same character that we find in people’s gardens with a bunch of birds on his shoulders depositing their stuff all over the poor man. He was a man of character and courage. What I found so attractive about him and why I joined the Franciscan family was his strength of character and his charity toward all, even the most sinful and despicable people.
Francis is the epitome of mercy. While his writings and actions never deny God’s justice and man’s justice toward God, he always reminds us that when justice is satisfied, mercy far exceeds the satisfaction. In other words, God loves to love us. What Francis makes most clear to us is that we avoid sin, not only for fear of the punishment and consequences, which should be enough, but most of all because Love deserves to be loved in return.
I believe that this idea should be carried with us everywhere we go and should glow in everything we do. This is one of the concerns that I often have about some posts on these threads. There is such a strong focus on the rules and the traditions that we often forget to love as we share them. We tend to forget that truth must always be taught in charity and with patience. At times we cannot win the argument, but we can win the battle by simply being an example of humility. True humility involves knowing when it’s time to be quiet and back off. True humility recognizes when the argument is not being effective. True humility acknowledges that only God has the power to change hearts. All we can do is plant the seed and allow the Holy Spirit to water it with grace.
This is where Francis calls us to penance. Real penance involves two things. First, it must be a personal conversion. We must change the way we do things and the way that we deal with others. Our dealings with others do not have to deny our faith; but it does have to recognize the dignity of the other person, regardless of his or her beliefs.
Second, conversion involves sacrifice. You cannot convert hearts unless you love them enough to make sacrifices for them. Preaching at them, lecturing them, intimidating them is not always a charitable tool. In fact, I would say that only preaching is charitable from this list. The rest is reprehensible. Christ himself only rebuked when justice was violated, in defense of those who had no defense. So too the Franciscan must exert himself or herself in protecting those who have no defense, but spend his or her life doing penance for those who will not receive the Gospel, not badgering them. Christ does not badger. Rather he goes to the cross. Thus Franciscan spirituality and tradition is very grounded on the cross. The cross is a means of loving. Our daily crosses and those penances that we voluntarily do for those who need God’s grace, including us, are our way of conforming ourselves in mind, body and soul to the figure of Christ.
Br. JR, OSF