In 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
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:
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. 
 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
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
There 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
After 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
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
I 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.
Among 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
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
The year is 1221 and at the request of the “cardinal protector” of the friars, Cardinal Hugolino, Francis and several of his brothers have taken up the task of writing a formal rule of life. It was not clear that the Franciscans were actually a “religious order.” When Francis visited Pope Innocent III in 1209, the pope verbally approved (or did he?) a Rule of Life that was written down in few words. In 1216, the 4th Lateran Council ruled that no new religious orders could be formed: all new groups would be absorbed into existing religious orders. Hugolino recognized the uniqueness of the charism of St. Francis and his brothers and was determined that it not be lost to the church.
Francis and some companions undertook the writing of the “early rule” also known as the Rule of 1221. It is a potpourri of spiritual reflections, exhortations, and communal and individual norms of behavior – all animated by extensive citations from Scripture. Even though Francis was attempting to write a juridical rule of life that would “pass muster” from the canon lawyers in the Roman Curia, at the same time he was trying to write a rule borne out of his lived experience of following Christ and the pathway that was revealed to him: “God has called me to walk in the way of humility and showed me the way of simplicity. I do not want to hear any talk of the rule of Saint Augustine, of Saint Bernard, or of Saint Benedict. The Lord has told me that he wanted to make of me a new fool in the world, and God does not want to lead us by any other knowledge than that.” (Assisi Compilation, 18)
The rule was finished, shown to Hugolino (we do not know of his reaction), and submitted to the Roman Curia. We know the end result. There is a reason why the “early rule” or “Rule of 1221” is more formally known as the regula non bullata – it was rejected. But undaunted, Francis and his brothers rolled up their sleeves and went to work on a more streamlined rule, one more suited to the tastes of the canon lawyers. This “later rule” or “Rule of 1223” is known as the regula bullata because it was formally issued under the Papal Bull (seal) Solet annuere. It conferred on the Franciscans the official status of “Order” as a juridical foundation.
The document was the most the Curia would accept and was far less than Francis wanted, even if it remained faithful to his fundamental intuitions of the way of life God had showed to him. For the next three years of his life, Francis worked to continue to give example, a living testimony, of the manner and meaning of the approved rule – and at the end of his life Francis wrote his Testament, a clear indication of what Francis wanted for the order: live under the Rule of 1223 – but hold the Rule of 1221 close to your heart. Here is one example of the differences between the two rules:
Regula non bullata (1221)
Chapter 16: Those who are going among Saracens and other non-believers
Regula bullata (1223)
Chapter 3: Of the Divine Office and fasting, and how the friars are to travel about the world
|The Lord says: Behold, I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be prudent as serpents and simple as doves (Mt 10:16). Therefore, any brother who, by divine inspiration, desires to go among the Saracens and other nonbelievers should go with the permission of his minister and servant. And the minister should give [these brothers] permission and not oppose them, if he shall see that they are fit to be sent; for he shall be bound to give an account to the Lord (cf. Lk 16:2) if he has proceeded without discretion in this or in other matters. As for the brothers who go, they can live spiritually among [the Saracens and nonbelievers] in two ways. One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake (1 Pet 2:13) and to acknowledge that they are Christians. Another way is to proclaim the word of God when they see that it pleases the Lord, so that they believe in the all-powerful God—Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit—the Creator of all, in the Son Who is the Redeemer and Savior, and that they be baptized and become Christians; because whoever has not been born again of water and the Holy Spirit cannot enter into the kingdom of God (cf. Jn 3:5) There are 14 more lines- all scripture about mission.||And this is my advice, my counsel, and my earnest plea to my friars in our Lord Jesus Christ that, when they travel about the world, the should not be quarrelsome or take part in disputes with words (cf. 2 Tim. 2:14) or criticize others; but they should be gentle, peaceful, and unassuming, courteous and humble, speaking respectfully to everyone, as is expected of them. … Whatever house they enter, they should first say, “Peace to this house” (Lk. 10:5), and in the words of the Gospel they may eat what is set before them (Lk. 10:8).
The differences are sometimes quite clear. In the 1223 Rule, one travels about the world while making sure that the Divine Office is prayed and proscribed fasts are observed – both worthy things. Only then is one to evangelize and be about mission – which has a certain logic and order to it all.In the 1221, the rules on prayer and fasting have their own section as foundational to being a friar, but the Rule holds up a model of minoritas and mission as intrinsic to the friar way of life. It is in this Rule that one sees the passion and soul of St. Francis and his attempt to describe the vision God has shown him. Especially prominent is mutual discernment between one brother and his community about God’s call.
The Rule of 1221 and the Testament, even though not juridically approved, reveal the soul and passion of St. Francis, and as such are the “go to” texts when Franciscans study what it means to be “friar minor.”