Franciscan Way: Part Two

October 7th, 2019 by Dave Leave a reply »

Francis and the Lepers
Monday, October 7, 2019

The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way: for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord . . . led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and then I left the world. —Francis of Assisi [1]

When Francis said, he “left the world,” he was not talking about creation, which he loved. He was talking about the “rotten, decadent system” as Dorothy Day called it. [2] He was giving up on the usual payoffs, constraints, and rewards of business-as-usual and was choosing to live in the largest Kingdom of all. To pray and actually mean “Thy Kingdom come,” we must also be able to say “my kingdoms go.” Francis and Clare’s first citizenship was always, and in every case, elsewhere (Philippians 3:20), which ironically allowed them to live in this world with joy and freedom.

Augustine Thompson, a Dominican friar, writes:

This encounter with lepers, not the act of stripping off his clothing before the bishop, would always be for Francis the core of his religious conversion. . . . Wherever the leprosarium was, Francis lodged there with the residents and earned his keep caring for them. . . . It was a dramatic personal reorientation that brought forth spiritual fruit. As Francis showed mercy to these outcasts, he came to experience God’s own gift of mercy to himself. As he cleaned the lepers’ bodies, dressed their wounds, and treated them as human beings, not as refuse to be fled from in horror, his perceptions changed. What before was ugly and repulsive now caused him delight and joy, not only spiritually, but also viscerally and physically.

Francis’s aesthetic sense, so central to his personality, had been transformed, even inverted. The startled veteran sensed himself, by God’s grace and no power of his own, remade into a different man. Just as suddenly, the sins which had been tormenting him seemed to melt away, and Francis experienced a kind of spiritual rebirth and healing. Not long after this encounter, later accounts tell us, perhaps in allegory, that Francis was walking down a road and met one of these same lepers. He embraced the man in his arms and kissed him. Francis’s spiritual nightmare was over; he had found peace. [3]

Deep within each of us live a leper and a wolf. These stories did happen historically with Francis, but first they operate in the soul. We must first encounter and embrace the leper and wolf inside. If we haven’t been able to kiss many lepers, if we haven’t been able to tame many wolves, it’s probably because we haven’t made friends with our leper and wolf within. Name your poor leper within. Nurse and tend her wounds. Name your inner wolf; tame him by gentle forgiveness.

Francis and the Wolf
Sunday, October 6, 2019

Carlo Carretto (1910–1988) was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of contemplatives based on the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi and founded by Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916). Carretto’s life, like that of Francis, was a combination of action and contemplation. In his book, I, Francis, Carretto speaks in Francis’ voice, combining biography with what Francis might say to us today.

Carretto describes Francis’ experience with a hungry old wolf who had been terrifying the people of Gubbio and preying on their livestock. Francis went out to meet the wolf armed only with love. The townspeople were sure the wolf would eat Francis. But Francis simply considered the needs of both the wolf and the community. He discerned that the wolf was too old to hunt wild animals and just needed to eat, while the people needed safety for themselves and their animals. Francis proposed that the wolf be given food each day, and the wolf agreed to leave their sheep and chickens alone. Carretto writes in Francis’ voice:

No, brothers [and sisters], I was not afraid [to meet with the wolf].

Not since I had experienced the fact that my God is the wolf’s God too.

What is extraordinary in the incident of the wolf of Gubbio is not that the wolf grew tame, but that the people of Gubbio grew tame, and that they ran to meet the cold and hungry wolf not with pruning knives and hatchets but with bread and hot porridge.

This is the miracle of love: to discover that all creation is one, flung out into space by a God who is a Father, and that if you present yourself as [God] does, unarmed and peaceably, creation will recognize and meet you with a smile.

This is the principle of nonviolence, and I want to recommend it to you with all the enthusiasm I can command. . . .

If human beings go to war, it is because they fear someone.

Remove the fear, and you re-establish trust, and will have peace.

Nonviolence means destroying fear.

This is why I, Francis, tell you this once again: Learn to conquer fear, as I did that morning when I went out to meet the wolf with a smile.

By conquering myself, I conquered the wolf. By taming my evil instincts, I tamed those of the wolf. By making an effort to trust the wolf, I found that the wolf trusted me.

My courage had established peace. 

You can deduce the rest by yourselves.

Just think what would happen if one day you became nonviolent, and took the huge sums of money you spend on defending yourselves against fear and used them to help the people of whom you are now afraid. . . .

You will know peace then.

Is that too much to hope?

Perhaps someone is listening to me!

To whoever it is, I, Francis say: Be brave!

Summary: Week Forty

September 29 – October 4, 2019

Much of Francis of Assisi’s genius was that he was ready for absolute “newness” from God, and therefore could also trust fresh and new attitudes in himself. (Sunday)

In his “Testament,” Francis said, “No one showed me what I ought to do,” and then, at the very end of his life, he said, “I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours!” (Monday)

If God became a human being, then it’s good to be a human being! The problem is already solved. That Jesus was born into a poor family shows God’s love for the poor. (Tuesday)

Unlike the monastic life, which strove to domesticate nature and to bring it under control, Francis expected to live lightly on the earth, a burden neither to the earth nor to those who fed and clothed him. —John Quigley (Wednesday)

The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. (Thursday)

“My son,” the bishop said to Francis, “have confidence in the Lord and act courageously. God will be your help and will abundantly provide you with whatever is necessary.” —Mirabai Starr (Friday)

Practice: Lectio Divina

Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of ecology, animals, non-violence, and peacemaking—because he understood that the entire circle of life has a Great Lover at the center of it all. In Francis’ world, the sun, moon, animals, plants, and elements are all shown reverence and even personal subjectivity as “brother” and “sister.” He refused to exclude anything. He went to the edge, to the bottom; he kissed the leper, he loved the poor, he wore patches on the outside of his habit so everybody would know that’s what he was like on the inside. He didn’t hide from his shadow. He wasn’t an intellectual; he didn’t begin with universal philosophies and ideas and abstractions. For Francis, there was one world and it was all sacred.

Today I invite you to practice “sacred reading” (lectio divina) using the prayer often attributed to Francis of Assisi. Lectio divina is a contemplative way to read short passages of sacred text and discover meanings running deeper than the literal layer. There are many variations of sacred reading; all are an invitation to take a “long, loving look” at some aspect of life, with scripture, poetry, music, or nature.

With the first reading of the Peace Prayer, listen with your heart’s ear for a phrase or word that stands out for you.

During the second reading, reflect on what touches you, perhaps speaking that response aloud or writing in a journal.

After reading the passage a third time, respond with a prayer or expression of what you have experienced and ask yourself what this passage calls you to do or be.

Finally, after a fourth reading, rest in silence.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Naked Before God

Friday, October 4, 2019
Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Mirabai Starr is a friend, fellow New Mexican, and a respected author known for her work translating many mystics. Her words provide insight to a pivotal experience of St. Francis’ life.

After Christ spoke to Francis from the [crucifix in the] ruins of San Damiano, directing him to rebuild his church, Francis reached for the most immediate source of funds available: his father’s fabrics. Francis entered Pietro Bernardone’s warehouse when his father was away on business and helped himself to two bolts of expensive cloth.

Francis rode to a nearby village, where he sold both the fabric and his horse. Pocketing his purse of gold, he set off on foot for the crumbled church of San Damiano, where he offered the money to the priest. . . .

But Bernardone’s wrath was infamous, and the priest had no interest in incurring it. He refused the money.

When Francis’s father returned to Assisi and discovered what his errant son had done now, he predictably exploded. He had endured Francis’s outrageous disregard for his hard-earned wealth long enough.

In Francis’s youth, the boy had squandered entire fortunes on entertaining himself and his friends. His father had spent a huge sum to bail him out when Francis was captured as a prisoner of war. He had allowed Francis to do nothing for two years as he recovered from an illness contracted during his incarceration. And now this: stealing from his own father to pursue some crazy new whim.

Bernardone found his estranged son . . . begging in the streets of Assisi for stones to rebuild the church of San Damiano. . . .

When he was summoned before Bishop Guido, Francis went willingly, considering the bishop to be a representative of God. Guido, known for his violent temper, was surprisingly tender with [Francis]. . . . He tried to reason with him, explaining that he had “scandalized” his father and that God wouldn’t want him to use ill-gotten gains to do his work.

“My son,” said the bishop, “have confidence in the Lord and act courageously. . . . [God] will be your help and will abundantly provide you with whatever is necessary.”

These words penetrated Francis’s heart. Moved by a surge of faith, Francis stripped off his clothes in front of the entire assembly and handed them to his father, along with the purse of gold the priest at San Damiano had refused.

“Listen everyone,” Francis called out to the crowd that had gathered to observe the trial. “From now on, I can say with complete freedom, ‘Our Father who art in Heaven.’ Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father.”

Stunned, the bishop wrapped his own cloak around Francis’s naked shoulders. His father left the cathedral defeated. This is not the way Bernardone hoped things would work out. What he really wanted was to have his son back. But Francis, released into the service of humanity, was lost to him forever.


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