Thursday, October 4, 2012
The Victorian English turned him into a bird table. The contemporary world wants him to be a ecologist or a creation-centred guru or a non-violent activist for social justice. The real Francis was a lot more complex. For him Christ was Lord and brother, glorious and crucified but who also revealed Himself through His Creation. Francis responded to this Lord by giving his all. That’s what he came to understand as his vocation, and by extension the vocation of all Franciscans, to give his all to and for Christ. Francis was a man totally Catholic and totally Apostolic, utterly orthodox and utterly in love with God. From that relationship he could see others in proper perspective and reach out to the leper. Lepers certainly were important to him. In the broken, rotting, abandoned and dreaded lepers Francis found an icon of Christ the unloved, forgotten and rejected. He came to see in them icons of Christ crucified, Christ become sin, Christ not on the margins but totally excluded. As he said himself, he went to them and what had before been bitter became sweet.
As Franciscans though we have had a history of partial appropriation of the legacy of Francis. In the Middle Ages the emphasis was on material poverty at times to the detriment of obedience and reverence for the Magisterium of the Church. In the present era we emphasise his concern for the brotherhood of all things but we are neglecting his determination to follow the Magisterium of the Church in everything, his love for the Liturgy and above all his love for the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Christ.
No one charism can be taken to encapsulate the whole of the Franciscan way. It is itself but a variant of the way of Christ. But we can point to Francis’ own emphasis on obedience above all to the Church. Francis was no bird table. Francis was no guru nor was he an activist. He was not the founder of programs nor did he write any books. He was a follower of Christ and nothing more. It was because he followed Christ so wholeheartedly that he became such a truly holy man.