Francis of Assisi: A Period of Crisis – “Leaving the World”

St Francis of Assisi – Cimbue

“When I was in sin…. I delay a little and left the world.” (Testament of St Francis 1-2)

In the previous article about this period of Francis’ life we highlighted his experiences at the abandoned San Damiano chapel – especially his prayers before the cross – and how they seemed to lead Francis from a burdened and directionless existence to the first steps on the path of conversion. In this same time period we also have the moment when Francis chose to “leave the world.”  The order of the events in late 1205 and early 1206 are not clear and are the content of some debate within the Franciscan world.  In other words, did Francis choose to “leave the world” and then have the San Damiano experience or vice-versa?  When did his famous encounter with the leper occur with respect to these events (the topic of the next article)? Hard to say, so I will simply tell the stories as best I can. Continue reading

Admonition Twenty-One

We all have moments when we can truly be described as fiddling, foolish, unimportant, incidental, inconsequential, inconsiderable, insignificant, or in other words, frivolous. Perhaps it is the way we take a break from the serious and demanding parts of our own lives. We seek a pause in life. And so from time to time we value the people in our lives that can provide that temporary comic relief. The royal courts of England employed court jesters for just such a task, but once the jester was done, the royal court returned to its business. Jesters disappeared when the Puritan Oliver Cromwell, no frivolity in that one, banned them in 1653. Continue reading

Admonition Twenty

I mean, really… who doesn’t love a morsel of gossip? Gossip has a place in the world, right? Who doesn’t love to walk into a room, filled with laughter, have everyone catch sight of us, hear the laughter suddenly stop, and then watch the group disperse? OK, that is not so great, but how bad can gossip be?  Romans 1:29 gives us an idea of the companions of gossip: “every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite.” Gossip is next on the list. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi: A Period of Crisis – San Damiano

Francis of Assisi by Cimbue

In the previous article we had left Francis in the spring of 1205, in his early 20’s, just released from a year as a prisoner of war, suffering severe physical effects and psychological burdens, that to the modern mind, fit the description of PTSD. He returned with compromised health, face drawn and sallow, digestion impaired, and was plagued with bouts of recurring fever. When he was out of bed he was listless and kept to the house.  A biography written within two years of Francis’ death (by Thomas of Celano, 1C) records Francis’ convalescence from his imprisonment in Perugia as follows: “When he had recovered a little, he began to walk about through the house with the support of a cane… [and] one day, he went outside and began to gaze upon the surrounding countryside. But the beauty of the fields, the delight of the vineyards and whatever else was beautiful to see, could offer him no delight at all [and he] considered those who loved these things quite foolish.” (1C4) Continue reading

Admonition Nineteen

In the Earlier Rule 14 writing about mission, St. Francis says that Franciscans should go through the world subject to all people. It is one of the many ways in which Francis indicated that humility was to be a key virtue of the brothers. St. Bonaventure wrote hold that humility is “the root and guardian of all the other virtues.” (Tree of Life, 5). Each in his own way was understanding the implications of God’s creative love. Continue reading

Admonition Seventeen

Each one of us is gifted and as St Paul instructs us, all the gifts are given in order to build up the community.  Some receive gifts that play out in a very public setting before tremendous numbers of people.  Certainly Rev. Billy Graham was so gifted. Some are gifted in ways that will never bring them before the public eye or even their own local community. They are said to “toil away in anonymity.”  Anonymity? I guess it depends on who you want to watch. If you are striving to return your gifts to God, then an audience of One is quite sufficient.

Admonition Seventeen: The Humble Servant of God

1 Blessed is that servant who no more exalts himself over the good the Lord says or does through him than over what He says or does through another.

2 A person sins who wished to receive more from his neighbors than what he wished to give of himself to the Lord God.

Admonition Sixteen

An American tourist in Jerusalem met up with one of the Holy Land Custody friars.  The friar offered to show him around the monastery of which he was a part.  On their tour they came to the friar’s room; the tourist noticed no TV or radio, only one change of clothes, a towel and a blanket.  He asked, “How do you live so simply?”  The monk answered, “I noticed you have only enough things to fill a suitcase; why do you live so simply?”  To which the tourist replied, “But I’m just a tourist, I’m only traveling through.”  To which the friar said, “So am I, so am I.”

“Adoring and seeing the Lord God living and true” is the destination that Francis picked and then chose a road to journey there.  On the journey he saw the God living and true in all creation.

Admonition Sixteen: Cleanness of Heart

1 Blessed are the clean in heart, for they will see God.

2 The truly clean of heart are those who look down on earthly things, seeks those of heaven, and, with a clean heart and spirit, never cease adoring and seeing the Lord God living and true.

Francis of Assisi – Military Adventures

Much of Francis’ youth had been spent as an apprentice in his father’s cloth business by day and as playboy by night – a time that the older Francis refers to as “When I was in sin.” At the same time, the intrigue and rivalry of imperial and papal politics swirled around Assisi. When Francis was 16-years old, the popolo, as the merchant and new generation of leaders were called, rose up in revolt against the nobles of Assisi (1198 AD). The last remnant of feudal governance was replaced by the “commune” of the city-state of Assisi.  Loyalty to the Emperor was replaced by nominal loyalty to the Papal State. The noble families of Assisi – likely including the family of the young woman who would become St. Clare of Assisi – fled to Perugia, the age-old enemy of Assisi, across the Spoleto Valley. While the people of Assisi thought it to be the definitive victory, it was but a lull in the conflict. Continue reading

Admonition Fifteen

The idea of peace in the Hebrew Bible is šālôm whose core meaning is “to be hale, whole, complete.” In one form or another the notions of wholeness, health, and completeness inform all the variants of the word. Peace is not simply the absence of war or conflict. Peace is a positive notion, a notion with its own goal and ends. The Jewish writers tended to use the term primarily for interpersonal or social relations where it comes very close to meaning “justice” and is connected to the covenant with God.  Just as the covenant is gift, so too when justice is done it is seen as God’s gift to the people, and the prosperity (šālôm) comes to the people when they live faithfully under God’s covenant. Continue reading

Showing Up

As a Franciscan friar my habitus of prayer consists of community prayer and private prayer.  And as a priest, the celebration of Mass.  In some ways they form an anchor for the day and for life. And I do not always feel like showing up. But I do – because I promised. And showing up becomes the gateway to noticing “people and things” that would otherwise likely be unnoticed – and in the noticing then naturally fold into the reason, the moment, and the wonder of prayer.