800 years later and 1.7 million Franciscans still going strong. Pope Benedict speaks to the Franciscan family.
***Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Franciscan Family,
I welcome you with great joy at this happy and historical event which has gathered you: the eighth centenary of the approval of the “Protorule” of St. Francis by Pope Innocent III.
In the past few days you have been meeting in Assisi for what you have chosen to call the “Chapter of Mats”, to recall your origins. And at the end of this extraordinary experience you have come together to see the “Lord Pope”, as your Seraphic Founder would have said. I greet you all with affection: the Friars Minor of the Three Obediences, led by their respective Minister General, the members of the Third Order, with their Minister General; the Franciscan women religious and the members of the Franciscan Secular Institutes; and, knowing that they are present in spirit, the Poor Clares who constitute the “Second Order”.
What can I say to you, dear friends? As Pastor of the whole Church I want to thank him for the precious gift that you yourselves are for the Christian people in its entirety. The tiny stream that flowed from Mount Subasio has become a great river that has made a remarkable contribution to spreading the Gospel throughout the world. Everything began with the conversion of Francis who, after the example of Jesus, “emptied himself” (cf. Phil 2: 7), and, by espousing Our Lady Poverty, became a witness and herald of the Father who is in Heaven. Certain words that the Apostle Paul applies to himself and which I like to recall in this Pauline Year may be appropriately applied to the Poverello: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2: 20). And further, “Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6: 17).
These texts from the Letter to the Galatians apply literally to the figure of St. Francis. Francis follows perfectly in Paul’s footsteps and one can truly say with him: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil 1: 21). He experienced the power of divine grace and he is as it were dead and risen.
And here we come to the point that certainly lies at the heart of our meeting. I shall sum it up like this: the Gospel as a rule of life. “The Rule and the Life of the brothers and sisters is this, that is, to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ”. This is what Francis wrote at the beginning of his Regula bullata (Rb I, 1: FF, 75).
Thus the Poverello became a living Gospel, capable of attracting to Christ men and women of every epoch, especially young people who prefer radicalism to half measures. Bishop Guido of Assisi and, later, Pope Innocent III recognized the evangelical authenticity of the proposal of Francis and his companions and they were able to encourage their commitment, also in view of the good of the universal Church.
Here a reflection springs spontaneously to mind: Francis might also not have gone to the Pope. Many religious groups and movements were forming at that time and some of them were opposed to the Church as an institution or at least did not seek her approval. A polemical attitude to the hierarchy would undoubtedly have gained Francis many followers. Instead, he immediately thought of putting his journey and that of his companions in the hands of the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter. This act reveals his authentic ecclesial spirit. From the very first he had conceived of the little “we”, which had begun with his first friars, as being within the great “we” of the Church, one and universal. And the Pope recognized and appreciated this. Indeed, the Pope for his part might not have given his approval to Francis’ life project either. On the contrary, the Roman Pontiff was able to discern in it the initiative of the Holy Spirit and accepted, blessed and encouraged the nascent community of “friars minor”.
Dear brothers and sisters, eight centuries have passed and you have desired to renew the gesture of your Founder. All of you are children and heirs of those origins.
From that “good seed” which was Francis, conformed in his turn to the “grain of wheat” which is the Lord Jesus, who died and was raised to bear much fruit (cf. Jn 12: 24). The Saints propose anew the fruitfulness of Christ. Like Francis and Clare of Assisi, you too strive to follow this same logic always: to lose your life in the cause of Jesus and the Gospel, in order to save it and make it abundantly fruitful. While you praise and thank the Lord who has called you to belong to such a large and beautiful “family”, continue to be attentive to what the Spirit says to it today, to each of its components, so that you may continue to proclaim the Kingdom of God fervently, treading in the footsteps of the Seraphic Father.
May every brother and every sister always preserve a contemplative, simple and joyful heart: always set out anew from Christ, just as Francis set out from the gaze of the Crucifix of San Damiano and from the meeting with the leper, in order to see Christ’s Face in the suffering brethren and bring his peace to all. May you be witnesses of God’s “beauty”, which Francis was able to praise while contemplating the marvels of Creation, and which made him exclaim to the Most High “You are beauty!” (Lodi di Dio altissimo, 4,6: FF, 261).
Dear friends, the last word I wish to leave you with is the same word that the Risen Jesus consigned to his disciples: “Go!” (cf. Mt 28: 19; Mk 16: 15). Go, and continue to “repair the house” of the Lord Jesus Christ, his Church.
Pope Benedict XVI***
For the entire article and pics go to www.cardinalseansblog.com
Br. JR, OSF (Order of St. Francis)