Praying With Francis of Assisi
By Joseph M. Stoutzenberger and John D. Bohrer.
Saint Mary’s Press, Christian Brothers Publication, Minnesota, 1989
The Spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi
To truly understand Francis and the Franciscan movement one must understand how Francis lived and his commitment to God:
Francis followed the Gospels. He saw them as a “guidebook for living a full and wise life, a divine influence that leads people into passionate involvement in the world, and a treasure chest that contains the words of present and eternal joy.” (Praying with Francis of Assisi, pg 24) The Gospel was his rule, it was the way to God and served as an example of how to live life in spirit and deed. Francis wants us to become the ‘living gospel’ – living, sharing, offering the Good News to those around us. Give to the poor and you’ll have treasure in heaven. He asked his followers to take nothing on their journey.
Franciscan spirituality always gives thanks and praise to God, for His blessings, grace filled moments, His mercy and His love. Joy, knowing that God’s unconditional love for us runs deep and is constant in our suffering and pain. “’Know God’s love for you and live the Gospels. Above all, may Jesus give you peace.’” (pg 25)
He lived in radical poverty, despising money. He saw that money separates people from one another. He counseled his followers to avoid touching money and to treat coins as if they were pebbles on the ground. He did not call anything his own.
The heart of Franciscan spirituality is poverty. To be poor is to be deprived, to live in a state of need and dependence. Francis wants us to be insecure, vulnerable, not knowing one day from the next regarding paying your bills or your where your next meal is coming from, including your job and housing. He tells us that poverty can be a virtue as it leads us to recognize that God alone can fill us and supply our desire. We should not only give to the poor, but we should receive from the poor and learn from them. We should strive to give more than what we can spare. Francis believed that our world can be changed.
A Kinship With All People
Francis believed in a kinship with all people and asked God for ‘no privilege’ except that of having none. It implies power and powerlessness, have and have-nots, nobility and commoners. He rejected hierarchy among his followers believing in God as supreme and we are all brothers and sisters. Accept who you are, accept nature, know that God chooses all of us despite our sins to perform His wonderful works. He lived his message he never became a priest and his Little Brothers were without a Father Superior.
Franciscan spirituality calls one to be a ‘child of God’ – be dependent on God giving Him your complete surrender.
“Francis challenges us to let our little child out in to the sunlight. He challenges us to unchain ourselves from the need to control, to rationalize, or to think we can take all the world’s problems on our shoulders. He knew that we stand in relation to God as babies stand in relation to their mothers and fathers: completely dependent, thoroughly in awe and crying to be nourished.” (Praying with St. Francis of Assisi, pg 67)
Oneness With Nature
We should live harmoniously with nature. Francis felt that all of God’s creatures be cherished, protected and nurtured, appreciating the ‘value’ of all things. When we celebrate nature, we are celebrating God’s creation, and when we do this we are celebrating Our Creator. We are not to be above nature or apart from it, we are to care for it.
Embrace your enemy-It was clear in Francis’ attitude that we should ‘love our enemy’. This was clear toward his treatment of Muslims. At the time, Muslims were “wicked profaners of the Holy Places and were enemies of Christ” (Praying with Francis of Assisi, Stoutzenberg and Bohrer, pg 21) But, to Francis they were brothers and sisters who shared the same creator. Francis encouraged his brothers to live among them by simple, Christian virtues.
Acceptance of Suffering
Francis embraced pain and suffering with the same fervor as all dimensions of life. He believed that his own suffering allowed him to enter the sufferings of others and of Jesus. It is in suffering that one finds true joy.
Francis recognized the destructible connection of accumulation of goods with violence and injustice. He witnessed how war encourages people to fight over power and possessions. Francis found The Crusades, wars during this time between Christians and Muslims, to be unholy and was disgusted to see Christian soldiers involved. He walked through enemy territory to the tent of the Sultan al-Kamil, explained the true teachings of Jesus using humble, peace-seeking methods, whereby the Sultan listened intently. This was a breakthrough in communication with Islam. Up until this time, there was only chaos, battle and death.
“Francis and his followers confessed that God is sole owner of the earth and all its goods. They believed that sharing goods– especially with poor and needy people-represents a necessary prerequisite to peacemaking.” (Praying with Francis of Assisi, pg 23)
If we have possessions, then we need arms for their defense. Possessions are the source of quarrels, lawsuits, and wars—they are obstacles to the love of God and one’s neighbor. Peace is rooted in Franciscan spirituality encouraging good will and mutual love to all. Francis heals as he offers hope and comfort to those who are wounded and have lost their way. Seeking peace is brave. It asks you to face your struggle without revenge, greed or anger. Francis knew the power of words, so he taught his companions to say “The Lord give you peace”. Franciscan spirituality asks that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. There were no bounds to his love, it was an all-inclusive respect—treating others as you would like to be treated.
Joy and Companionship
Francis and his companions radiated joy. It was the joy of the Beautitudes, the little ones, the lowly, the suffering, the persecuted ones. It was the joy of those who Jesus claimed would inherit the earth and of passionate involvement. He was never alone, always with his companions, even to pray, he was always close to his brothers. Francis honoured all people and valued all who stood before him as we are all relatives, brothers and sisters. We must show compassion to all creatures, human and non-human life. All life is a recognition of God’s presence in everything, no one is superior, everyone and everything is special—all deserve courtesy. We should not look for status, just enjoy the simple things (Holy Simplicity) by spending time with family and friends, enjoy the beauty of nature and the joy of realizing God’s love for us. Living simply “means that we live close enough to the limits of our resources that we can rely on God’s love for us and appreciate the unadorned wonders of Creation.” (Praying with Francis of Assisi, pg 56) Let’s be thankful for humble beauty. Sort out what is luxury, necessary or unnecessary. We live in a world where we are constantly pressured to believe that we don’t have enough stuff, discouraged to share what we do have or to help those around us and are constantly encouraged to acquire more possessions. Francis challenges us by asking us to enjoy life, rather than own it.