A reluctant leader

One aspect of Francis’ changing life that has attracted recent attention is the movement of Francis from solitary figure, living a quasi-hermetical life for four to five years, now beginning to live in a growing community of brothers – all of whom are looking to Francis for spiritual and communal leadership. There was something attractive about Francis, his way of following the gospel, and perhaps the recent “commissioning” by Pope Innocent III gave a certain cache of legitimacy to this way of being Christian in the world. Eventually many people came to join the Franciscan movement, which soon enough became a religio and eventually an ordo, but those demarcations are eight to ten years in the future ahead of the Spring of 1209.

Virtually all scholars agree that Francis, at this point, did not envision his group to be more than a small group of men living an evangelical life in common. But there are also no indications that Francis thought too far ahead in any matter at this point in his life. Things just seemed to unfold, signs appeared along the way, and Francis followed the path in faith. And people followed Francis.  Whether he liked it or not, Francis was their leader. Continue reading

The pattern of the Gospel

It is later in the autumn of 1206 that with his decision to “leave the world” Francis began to be aware of the powerful Divine Presence in his life through, his work among the lepers near Assisi, and his habit of taking refuge in churches for prayer and rebuilding the structures.  At San Damiano he encountered the consoling presence of the Savior who had suffered and died for him. It was a presence he soon came to recognize in other churches: “And the Lord granted me such faith in churches that I would pray simply and say: We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, in all your churches throughout the world, and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.” (Testament 4-7).  Francis was at the beginnings of an inner peace. Continue reading

Finding peace

There are three events that seem to highlight the “period of crisis” in Francis life during the period from late 1205 until the summer of 1206:

  • Francis’ experiences at the abandoned San Damiano chapel – especially his prayers before the cross
  • Francis’ “leaving the world” as he turns away from his family towards the Church and an unknown path with God.
  • Francis and the leper (or lepers)

There is no consensus on the order of the events – and there is some question about later embellishments of the event – and even questions about whether some accounts indicating a single event is actually a compilation of a series of experiences. But then the 13th century writers were not trying to capture “history” they were trying to tell their understanding of the “meaning” of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Continue reading

Franciscans in China

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

Writing earlier about St. Francis Xavier, I was reminded about a Franciscan missioner, John of Montecorvino, whose feast was November 29. Mention John of Montecorvino and most people – even most Franciscans – will say “who?” 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.

Continue reading

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