An Invitation to Cosmic Community

October 5th, 2020 by JDVaughn Leave a reply »

St. Francis:
A Message for Our Times

An Invitation to Cosmic Community
Monday, October 5, 2020

Author and editor Robert Ellsberg reflects on Francis’ legacy from a modern perspective:

Jesus left no formal religious rule for his followers. The closest he came was his proclamation of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers. . . . Francis took to heart [Jesus’] spiritual vision [proclaimed in the Beatitudes] and translated it into a way of life. . . . For many men and women since the time of Francis, his particular example has offered a distinctive key to the Gospel—or, as Pope Francis might say, “a new way of seeing and interpreting reality.” [This is what the CAC is about as well.]  Among the central features of this key: the vision of a Church that is “poor and for the poor” [what we call “the bias from the bottom”]; a resolve to take seriously Jesus’s example of self-emptying love; the way of mercy and compassion [as Francis lived by solidarity with and service to lepers]; above all, a determination to proclaim the Gospel not only with words but with one’s life. . . . [1]

In a recent homily given in Assisi itself, Father Michael Perry, the Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor (the name Francis gave us), shared his vision of Francis’ message and legacy for our time:

Brothers and sisters, the call to repentance, conversion, to open our minds, hearts, and lives to a new way of living together on this planet is more urgent now than in any other moment in human history. [As Pope Francis teaches,] conversion requires that we hear “Both the cry of the earth and the cry of the Poor.” [2] But is this not also what Francis of Assisi intended when he prayed that all people, and I would add, all of the created universe, might be admitted to paradise, might come to an experience of what St. Matthew calls the “Beatific way of life,” (Matthew 5:1–11) defined by living in just and right relationship with one another and with all of creation? . . .

In the Canticle [of the Creatures] Francis celebrates God’s loving presence in all of creation. He looks to nature for guidance on how we are to model our relationships with God, one another, and with the natural world. . . . This one [community], this common home, has been created by God and given the vocation to love, serve, and honor the Creator by loving, serving and honoring one another. Humans and the creaturely world have as their vocation the duty to support and complete one another, not to compete against and destroy one another. We are co-responsible with and for one another, especially for the poor and excluded. We are co-responsible for the life of the natural environment, showing gratitude and respecting nature’s proper limits, not pushing the planet to the brink of ecological disaster. [3]

St. Francis:
A Message for Our Times

An Unexpected Francis
Sunday,  October 4, 2020

During the election, I was seated next to [Brazilian] Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend, a good friend! . . . When the votes reached two thirds . . . he said: “Don’t forget the poor.”. . . Right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. . . . For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; . . . He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. Oh! How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor! —Pope Francis

I’d like to dedicate this week of meditations, which begins with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), to my spiritual father’s life and legacy. Although many people are familiar with Francis’ story, I believe his well-grounded, revolutionary values of nonviolence, simplicity, and care for creation become more important with each passing year. Happily, we have a spiritual leader in Pope Francis who understands the power and the urgency of Francis’ message. Author and editor Robert Ellsberg describes the ways Pope Francis embodies the message of his namesake:

The first Jesuit elected pope, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, became the first to assume the name of Francis. . . .  That no previous pope had ventured to take that name is unsurprising. Among the many associations conjured by the name of Francis, one of the most obvious was his utter rejection of the trappings of status, power, and importance. He called his followers the Lesser Brothers. He esteemed Lady Poverty as his spouse. He called it “perfect joy” when he was reviled or treated with contempt. . . .

Yet, as soon became clear, Pope Francis aspired to live up to the challenge posed by his name. This was reflected immediately in his choice to dispense with fancy garments and the custom-made red shoes and, more notably, in his decision to forgo the Apostolic Palace in favor of a modest room in the Vatican guesthouse. But beyond these gestures of humility, the remembrance of St. Francis implied an agenda and a program for renewal. Francis, after all, was the saint who set out to rebuild and reform the Church by evoking the example and spirit of the Poor Man, Jesus. He spurned violence and power. He reached out to members of other religions. He treated women with dignity and respect. He cherished the earth and all its creatures. He pointed to a new form of human and cosmic community, marked by love. And he did all this with such a spirit of joy and freedom as to make him a source of wonder and attraction to many of his contemporaries. . . .

Nearly eight hundred years later, St. Francis undoubtedly remains the world’s most popular saint—honored in every land, even by the secular-minded and people of other faiths. This reflects, in part, his winsome qualities and the romantic gestures that sometimes encourage sentimentality [what I call “bird bath Franciscanism”—RR]. But beneath all that, St. Francis stands as one who made the way of Jesus credible and concrete, both for those called to formal religious life and for men and women living in the ordinary world.


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