Holding back

When I was a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy (last century!) I encountered a new phrase: “if the minimum weren’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum.” There a bit of logic to it, but…. can’t say it is the most inspiring bit of prose ever recorded. Yet, there was a sense in which tradition enshrined the saying. The person who graduated with the lowest GPA (2.5 was the minimum) was referred as the “Anchor Man.”  At the end of the graduation he was paraded around on his classmates shoulders and we were all expected to give him a dollar.  Strange tradition, that. He had done the minimum – and who knows he may have worked twice as hard as the rest of us…. Continue reading

The Feast of St. Francis

francis-in-stained-glassIn a 13th century text called the Il Foretti (The Little Flowers), a story is told about St. Francis in which a brother friar came to him and asked, “Why after you? Why is the whole world coming after you, wanting to see you, to hear you, to follow you?” Some 800 years after the life of St. Francis, this question remains. What is it about this unpretentious figure from the early 13th century which continues to exert such a perennial fascination for Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and agnostics alike? What is it that has made Francis the subject of more books than any other saint? Why has he inspired artists, led ecologists, peace activists, and advocates for the poor to claim him as a patron? Why has he inspired countless tens of thousands of men and women to follow his Rule of Life in religious and secular communities? Continue reading

St. Francis and the Lord’s Prayer

A Prayer Inspired by the Our Father
(Expositio in Pater Noster)

 O Our Father most holy
Our Creator, Redeemer, Consoler and Savior:

Who are in heaven:
In the angels and the saints,
enlightening them to know, for You, Lord are light;
inflaming them to love, for You, Lord, are love;
dwelling in them and filling them with happiness,
for You, Lord, are Supreme Good, the Eternal Good,
from Whom all good comes
without Whom there is no good.

Holy be Your Name
May knowledge of You become clearer in us
that we may know
the breadth  of Your blessings
the length of Your promises
the height of Your majesty
the depth of Your judgments.

Your kingdom come:
That You may rule in us through Your grace
and enable us to come to Your kingdom
where there is clear vision of You,
the perfect love of You,
blessed companionship with You,
eternal enjoyment of You.

Your will be done on earth as in heaven:
That we may love You
with our whole heart by always thinking of You,
with our whole soul by always desiring You,
with our whole mind by always directing all our intention to You,
and by seeking Your glory in everything,
with all our whole strength by exerting
all our energies and affections of body and soul
in the service of Your love and of noting else;
and we may love our neighbor as ourselves
by drawing them all to Your love with our whole strength,
by rejoicing in the good of others as in our own,
by suffering with others at their misfortunes,
and by giving offense to no one.

Give us this day:
in remembrance, understanding, and reverence
of that love which our Lord Jesus Christ had for us
and of those things that He said and did and suffered for us.

our daily Bread:
Your own beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ

Forgive us our trespasses:
through Your ineffable mercy
through the power of the passion of Your beloved Son
and through the merits and the intercessions
of the every blessed Virgin and all Your elect.

As we forgive those who trespass against us:
And what we do not completely forgive,
make us Lord, forgive completely
that we may truly love our enemies because of You
and we may fervently intercede for them before You,
returning no one evil for evil
and we may strive to help everyone in You.

And lead us not into temptation:
hidden or obvious,
sudden or persistent.

But deliver us from evil:
past,
present,
and to come.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.
[1]


[1] St. Francis of Assisi, “A Prayer Inspired by the Our Father” in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, eds. Regis Armstrong, JA Wayne Hellman, and William J Short (New York: New City Press, 1999) pp. 158-60

 

Who are my mother and brothers?

What do you wantThe reading from today’s gospel (with a few extra verses) and St. Francis of Assisi’s answer to the question.

20 Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. 21 When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” … 31 His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. 32 crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers* [and your sisters] are outside asking for you.” 33 But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” 34 And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 35[For] whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3) Continue reading

Francis of Assisi and almsgiving

prayer fasting almsgiving2There are many ideas that people hold about what it means to be Franciscan.  I was once asked, “Where do you friars keep the animals?”  I was living in the Soundview area of the Bronx at the time.  The person assumed that our way of life would always be surrounded by furry friends.  Later, another person wondered why we were not living out our vow of poverty by spending our day begging for alms? Continue reading

The Stigmata

stigmata-st-francis-giottoAfter Francis’ withdrawal from active ministerial leadership of the friars, he witnessed an inevitable evolution of the religious order, which had grown to over 5,000 brothers in 1223 from the humble beginnings in 1209 of Francis and four companions. The evolution of the Order, necessary on a number of levels, also began to change the life of the fraternity. Francis worried that the Spirit of prayer was being compromised and that the necessities of ministry were leading the brothers to increasing ties to material possessions. He lived and suffered in a “Time of Doubt,” as described in the previous article. Continue reading

A Time of Doubt

In the short span of 12 years (1209-1221), the Franciscans had grown from a small, Assisi-based fraternity consisting of Francis and four other brothers, to a large, “multi-national,” religious order with an approved Rule of Life, a Cardinal Protector (who would soon become Pope), and more than 5,000 brothers.  There was nothing in Francis’ life that prepared him for leadership of such a far-flung fraternity, which was already spanning the European continent and parts of the Middle East and North Africa.  He had been a spoiled dilatant, a would-be knight, a wounded warrior, a solitary figure, living a quasi-hermetical life, and now he was the “leader” of a growing, international community of brothers.  In the beginning, things just seemed to unfold, signs appeared along the way, and Francis followed the path in faith.  And people followed Francis.  Now most Franciscans had never met Francis and Francis’ model of leadership by example, which worked in 1209, but was not the one needed in 1221.  And so he stepped down as leader, leaving the Order in the care of the Church – at least as far as discipline and administration.  Yet it was also clear that he hoped to preserve a superior authority, of a spiritual type, demonstrated in the way in which he lived the Rule of Life. Continue reading

Darkness, Candles, and Things Unsaid

Easter Vigil at Sacred HeartI am always amazed at the sayings that are attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  Today, I was asked if the following saying was from Francis: “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”  Nice, but at first blush it does not possess the language or sense of language for which Francis is known. The language is not even particularly medieval, but then maybe this is just a modernized version of the saint’s words.

If you search the internet, you will find this “quote” has pretty wide distribution and uniform attributed to St. Francis.  Most have no citation; but some do.  The only source given was “The Little Flowers of St. Francis.”  You can find the Little Flowers in volume 3 (pp. 566-658) of Francis of Assisi: Early Documents  –  Armstrong, Regis, J.A. Wayne Hellmann, and William Short, eds. (New York: New City Press, 1999–2004).

What you can’t find is the quote, or an account for which the quote could be a reduction. I could be wrong.  If someone has the specific citation (text and chapter) that would be an interesting thing to know.   I know I should just let these things go, but…. let the saint speak for himself … I’m just saying.

On Mission and Crossing Over Boundaries

saint-francis-of-assisi-cimabueAmong founders of religious orders, Francis of Assisi is the first who consciously included mission ad gentes (to the people of the world) as part of the order’s Rule of Life. Francis was clear about the ad gentes nature of mission in the Franciscan tradition: “But I tell you in truth that the Lord chose and sent the brothers for the benefit and salvation of the souls of all people in the whole world and they should be received not only in the land of the believers, but also in that of non-believers.” (Assisi Compilation, 108)

Clearly Francis held to the idea of the universality of mission, yet some people might find Francis’ distinction of the world as the twined categories of believer and non-believer to be somehow less than welcoming or out of sorts with our sensibility of what it means to be Franciscan. Yet note how Chapter 16 of the “Early Rule” (1221 CE) is named by Francis: “Chapter XVI: Those going among the Saracens and other Nonbelievers.” I mention this as a way of pointing you back to the first reflection where it was noted that the way you think about Jesus, church, when and how God’s reign is fully inaugurated, the nature of salvation, how the Church values human beings, and the role and value of culture – all these things affect the way in which one understands and carries out mission. As questions, these six topics remain present, even urgent, in every age because how they are answered is how Christianity finds its concrete identity as it constitutes itself in fidelity to Jesus’ mission. Continue reading

Undressing at the Crossroads

Back in March, we all rejoiced as the white smoke billowed and jubilation erupted in St. Peter’s Square and around the world –habemus papem!  We have a pope.  When the name of the new pope was announced, given that he was a Jesuit, I assumed it was in honor of St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary and saint.  That would have been a great choice to tap the tradition of his own order for a new evangelization.  But from the beginning, it was clear that there was something different here – “See I am doing something new.”  Even the first appearance on the loggia of St. Peter’s was different. Here was our new pope – and instantly I was struck by his appearance.  It was as though he was wearing the minimally acceptable papal wardrobe – and the pectoral cross seemed plain – and his demeanor unassuming. Continue reading