Franciscan Spirituality: Two Parts
Love of Animals and Creation
When people think of Franciscan Spirituality they think either of love of animals/creation or being a peacemaker. Go to any garden store and in the midst of the statues of gnomes and Buddha’s you will find a statute of St Francis surrounded by birds and other animals. Most people are familiar with the Peace Prayer of St Francis either as a hymn or as a prayer.
A spirituality that loves animals is easy to follow. I love my cats.... dogs...birds, animals. So I am just like St. Francis. On the other hand the Peace Prayer of St Francis is much more challenging.
On the other hand the Peace Prayer of St Francis is much more challenging:
Of these two popular understandings of Franciscan Spirituality, peacemaking is closer to the truth. To be instruments of peace is an important part of Franciscan Spirituality. To strive to understand rather than be understood; to love rather than be loved, to give rather than to receive and to pardon are all aspects of Franciscan spirituality.
Perhaps a more encompassing image would be "Person of the Gospel".
Franciscan Spirituality is centred on the Gospel. The Friars, Poor Clare nuns, Sisters and Brothers of the Third Order and Secular Franciscans all profess to live the Gospel.
So what major changes did Francis have to undergo. It concerns the commandment to love your neighbour as your self. This is easier if you like your neighbour. But what if your neighbour is unlovable? For Francis this was the leper. How could he strive to live out this commandment and yet despise the leper? God lead him to love and care for the leper.
This is what Francis wrote in his Testament:
The Lord granted me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way: While I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them. And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body; and afterward I lingered a little and left the world.
Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of St Francis, tells us that Francis could not stand the sight of a leper. Even if he saw the leprosarium in the distance he would hold his nose and ride in the other direction. All that changed one day. As he rode down the path deep in thought when suddenly, a leper appeared before him begging alms. Francis nevertheless got down from his horse and kissed the leper. When his kiss was returned, Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off, he turned around for a last wave, and saw that the leper had disappeared. He always looked upon it as a test from God.
Six years before his death, Francis goes to the Egypt to meet the Sultan, the leader of the enemies of the Cross of Christ. We might say he goes to meet enemy number one. Francis goes to live out the command of Jesus that we are to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. In Francis own writing he recalls that Jesus called his betrayer, Judas – a friend. And that Jesus prayed for those who put him to death, asking the Father to forgive them. If Jesus did this then so must he. So Francis goes to Egypt to meet his enemy, to make his enemy his friend. Amazingly he does just that.
In the encounter between them, both Francis and the Sultan were changed. When Francis finally left to return to Italy, the Sultan showered him with many gifts and treasures. Because he had no interest in worldly wealth, Francis refused them all, except one special gift: an ivory horn used by the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer. On his return, Francis used it to call people for prayer or for preaching.
A Dwelling Place
An important aspect of Franciscan Spirituality is to make room for God in our lives. In the Early Rule of 1221 for the Friars, Francis wrote these words:
The Three Mysteries
Lets first look at the Incarnation. St Francis is responsible for the popularity of Christmas Midnight Mass and Nativities scenes in Churches and homes. St Francis of Assisi was so taken by the mystery of the Incarnation that he wanted to present it anew in a living Nativity scene, He is perhaps the first to have a live nativity scene with animals and people playing the part of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and wise men. This happened near the town of Greccio three years before his death. St. Bonaventure in his Life of St. Francis of Assisi tells the story the best: