Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Franciscan Spirituality: Open to Receive

While it emphasises joy in God and being, as Francis said, “cheerful in the Lord” the Franciscan tradition is not naive about the human condition. It does not shy away from the reality of our interior struggles that reveal the reality of human failure and frailty. Faced with our personal foibles and weakness that might seem to hinder the journey we are encouraged to boundless confidence in God's unconditional love, to show tenderness and patience toward one another and to our own selves, to steadfastly avoided the faintest hint of judgementalism, and to chose not to compare ourselves with others or even to be overly anxious about our progress. It is understood that to be human is to be flawed, to be in conflict, to be unfinished. Our failures become an essential part of our life’s journey. Instead of being obstacles, they are a privileged place to experience the divine compassion. The flaw in the oyster is the birthplace of the pearl. When we are empty and open we are ready to receive.

And just as it does not ignore the dark tensions of the heart, the Franciscan approach involves an unrelenting realism about the pain and anguish in the world marred as it is by injustice and poverty. The struggle for justice, peace and the integrity of creation are seen as an essential component of the path. The search for God must flower in a life that is compassionate and just. Franciscan spirituality at its best has an ethical vigour and beauty about it.  Francis, in choosing to side with the outcasts, the lepers, ascended low enough so as to discover the Incarnation writ everywhere. The tradition speaks of a ‘redemptive compassion’ – sharing a goodness that lifts people up with the hope that our life  and our world can indeed be different.  It has been said that Francis ‘walked the world as the Pardon of God.’ What condemnation and accusation cannot do, gentle kindness, courtesy and understanding can achieve. All live in God’s goodness; all breathe His compassion.

The Story Continues
In 1209 Francis walk to Rome from Assisi with his first eleven followers and gained verbal approval from Pope Innocent III for this new way of life within the Church. Like an acorn planted in a fertile field that seed has put down deep roots and flourished. Today the Franciscan Family is numerous, consisting of the three branches of friars (Franciscan, Capuchin, Conventual), the Poor Clare contemplative nuns, the multitude of male and female religious Franciscan congregations, and some hundreds of thousands of Secular Franciscans throughout the world, lay men and women who wish to live guided by this particular understanding of self, God and creation.

As he lay dying Francis told the friars: ‘I have done what is mine to do, may Christ teach you yours.’  The story continues... the story of a Gospel way of life that still has the power  to captivate the mind and nourish the heart.