Franciscans in China

Ideograms for Rabban Bar SaumaServant of God – John of Montecorvino
Franciscan and first Bishop of Beijing

Today is a day in which we Franciscans remember John of Montecorvino. To which most people – even most Franciscans – will say “who?” Brother John was the first Catholic missionary to China, centuries before the efforts of other Catholic religious orders. It is a compelling story.  If you would like to read an interesting and accessible account of the travel within the context of an art historian comparing 13th century Italian and Chinese art, read Lauren Arnold’s: Princely Gifts & Papal Treasures: The Franciscan Mission to China & Its Influence on the Art of the West, 1250-1350 – fascinating book.

Beginning with the pontificate of Innocent IV (1243–1254), the popes and Mongol khans began to communicate and exchange gifts in a diplomatic effort to see if there was a basis upon which to effectively bind and subdue their common enemy, the Muslim Empire.  The two most famous envoys were the Franciscans John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck. Their journeys, remarkable and daring, were not specifically missionary but were more as political emissaries. Carpini traveled in the years 1245–1247 while Rubruck’s mission was 1253–1255. Although Rubruck was sent by Louis XI of France to enlist the aid of the khan against Islam, Rubruck also attempted to convert the Mongols (also known as Tartars) by converting the Great Khan.  William’s Itinera is a masterful travel account  that also includes observations about the Saracens and Nestorian Christians found in the Mongol territories. On Pentecost 1255 William met with the Great Khan who received William but nothing more came of the meeting. Continue reading

A little-known saint

Duns Scotus1November 8th is the feast day of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan friar from Scotland noted for his theological and philosophical work in the high-middle ages (late 13th and early 14th centuries). Scotus’ work was in the generation that followed Thomas of Aquinas and Bonaventure. His work was complex and nuanced, and he is generally considered to be one of the three most important philosopher-theologians of his time. He was given the medieval accolade Doctor Subtilis (Subtle Doctor) for his penetrating and subtle manner of thought. Continue reading

The Franciscan Scotus

Duns Scotus1November 8th is the feast day of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan friar from Scotland noted for his theological and philosophical work in the high-middle ages (late 13th and early 14th centuries). Scotus’ work was in the generation that followed Thomas of Aquinas and Bonaventure. His work was complex and nuanced, and he is generally considered to be one of the three most important philosopher-theologians of his time. He was given the medieval accolade Doctor Subtilis (Subtle Doctor) for his penetrating and subtle manner of thought. Continue reading

The Assumption of Mary

Much of our religious consciousness is affected by art; we have inherited specific images that are more artistic than biblical.  For example, we always imagine St. Paul being knocked from a horse on the Damascus Road.  There is no mention of the horse in scripture.  Is that a bid deal? Perhaps not.  But when Caravaggio placed Paul on the horse, a sign of privilege or royalty, he removed Paul from the midst of Corinth, the hard-scrabbled sea port town, from among the drunks, slackards, ner-do-wells, and people who sorely needed salvation. Continue reading

St. Anthony of Padua – part 2

tn_anthony-padua1Before He Was Anthony of Padua.  Anthony of Padua was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões on August 15, 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal. His was in a very rich family of the nobility who wanted him to become educated, and they arranged for him to be instructed at the local cathedral school. Against the wishes of his family, however, at the age of 15 he entered the community of Canons Regular at the Abbey of St. Vincent on the outskirts of Lisbon. Monastery life was hardly peaceful for young Fernando, nor conducive to prayer and study, as his old friends came to visit frequently and engaged in vehement political discussions. Continue reading

St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio

St. Bonaventure holding the tree of the redemp...

Today, July 15th is the Feast Day of St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. He was a Franciscan theologian and philosopher, held a Master’s Chair at the University of Paris, was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order in one of its most contentious times, wrote many spiritual texts, compiled a biography (legenda) of St. Francis at the request of the friars, and many more things. His work Itinerarium mentis in Deum (Journey of the Soul to God) is considered a masterpiece of medieval spiritual practice. You can read more about the saint here.  Happy Feast Day to all Franciscans.

Tales from the barbershop

barber-shopThere was a barber in a small town. One day he’s sitting in his barbershop and a man walks in wearing a pair of sandals, and a long brown robe with a hood. The man sits down in the barber’s chair. “Excuse me,” says the barber. “I was wondering: why are you dressed like that?”

“Well,” says the man. “I’m a Franciscan friar. I’m here to help my brother Franciscans start a soup kitchen in town.”

And the barber says, “The Franciscans? Oh, I love the Franciscans! I love the story of St. Francis of Assisi, and I so love all the work you do for the poor, and for peace, and for the environment. And it’s just great that the Franciscans live so simply! You guys are wonderful! This haircut is free!” Continue reading

Bl. John Duns Scotus

Duns Scotus1November 8th is the feast day of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan friar from Scotland noted for his theological and philosophical work in the high-middle ages (late 13th and early 14th centuries). Scotus’ work was in the generation that followed Thomas of Aquinas and Bonaventure. His work was complex and nuanced, and he is generally considered to be one of the three most important philosopher-theologians of his time. He was given the medieval accolade Doctor Subtilis (Subtle Doctor) for his penetrating and subtle manner of thought. Continue reading

Pentecost Sunday

ImageThe description of the first Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles tells us that when devout Jews from many different nations heard the Spirit-inspired proclamation of the gospel by the disciples, “each one heard them speaking in his own language.” The outpouring of the Spirit of God united this very diverse group of people in a powerful moment of God’s self-revelation.  Such is the power of Spirit. Continue reading