FRANCISCAN  SPIRITUALITY  and what it means 4 our Oblates

Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Articles, Franciscan Spirituality | 0 comments

Being asked to find a key word that fully describes the spirituality of Francis of Assisi, I personally would use: BEAUTY. The word “beauty”, and the search for beauty paraphrases  Francesco (Giovanni) Bernadone’s  experiences, his psychic needs and plans for his future  while living in the rich house of his father, supported and pampered from his cultivated French mother. So far his search for beauty stayed within the field of elementary but transmuted immediately to the realms of metaphysics after the failure of his dream to become a knight and to participate on crusades.

After having lived a life of pleasure with his friends, as a “king” of their feasts, Francis finally got bored and experienced a period of reflection and conversion. During this time his material, earthly search for beauty and love transmuted into the search for the endless mystery of divine beauty and love. Every search for beauty, wherever and whenever it appears first, is in my opinion basically a search for God’s love. Where  is beauty there is love, and vice versa, because we can only love what we consider to be beautiful. And where is love, there is God. Searching for divine love, charitas, means to get involved into paradoxes  because it embraces the most ordinary and lowly just as the most high.

In this dialectic relation begins Francis’ spiritual life from now on to enfold. The ordinary, the simplicity, the earth: the “humus”, “humilitas”, humbleness ascends and transcends during all his life experiences into the most high, the  source of all beauty, to the sacred union, the “hieros gamos”.  But it was still far to go there and reach this goal, as it is for all of us… Looking at Francis’  way of conversion is fascinating! It shows a spiritual path that grows out of the ordinary and enfolds to the extraordinary while his personality slowly  gets transformed  through God’s grace and becomes a  “bridge”, or an “instrument” of faith, peace and love for the society of his century and for us, he became a link between Heaven and Earth. Human psychological situations are often reviewed to be stumbling blocks, but can be changed into stepping stones on the spiritual path to holiness. That’s the way God works, He uses our vulnerabilities to perform them miraculously into virtues.

To proof this postulate and my opinion regarding the spiritual transformation of Francis’  earthly, materialistic search for beauty into the infinite beauty of the divine, I’ll take now a closer look  on different events during his life: As we know, Francis loved pleasure, society, feasts, exclusive clothing, beautiful horses and to become a knight. To fulfill all his wants and needs he generously spent  his father’s money. He enjoyed the beauty of this world! As a step in the direction of his conversion Francis refused to return to his father’s  house,  and to his old way of life. He gave the money he had acquired for repairing San Damiano back to his father,  and did much more: he stripped himself naked in front of the bishop,  presenting his clothes and all his belongings to his father and called out: “

From now onwards I can turn to God and call Him my Father in Heaven! His father Pietro had to return home convinced that his son must be crazy and while doing so  will ruin his family’s reputation. Francis left Assisi for a while, dressed in the poor garments of a hermit. He had replaced the beauty and richness of his father’s house  with the beauty of love and freedom and surrendered his heart to  his heavenly father. But still a while before he has already done a transforming step into a new  view of life after having met a leper face to face. He must have gotten the sudden understanding that real beauty and real greatness isn’t superficial but lies hidden within a person’s heart. By embracing and kissing the poor man he demonstrated  to have seen this man’s inner beauty and greatness despite his repulsing appearance. Francis had a radical character. He not only changed the beauty of a costly outfit into an – in its simplicity beautiful – habit in the form of a Tau, he also removed his shoes and went barefoot after having heard the gospel about Christ,  sending his apostles to preach, barefoot, with no staff or wallets.

The TAU – the beauty of Jesus Christ’s Cross The Hebrew and Greek letter TAU became the symbol of Francis’ mystic. He meditated on it, he signed his letters and decorated the walls of his brothers cells with this symbol, the initial cross in times before Pilate. Francis worshiped the Tau as a sign of repentance and penance  (by Ezekiel) that has turned to the symbol of salvation through Jesus Christ’s  devoted love and sacrifice. If one considers Francis’ mystical connection and love for “Mother Earth” he  may also have recognized the Tau as the symbol of the ancient Tree of Life. ……… Another characteristic note about Francis, showing his spirituality was his openness to universal dialog. He became the first interfaith-practitioner. He wanted to meet heretics, Saracenes, robbers.. His old dreams of glory with the crusades changed into the desire to embark upon a peaceful crusade to preach the  Saracenes. He left Italy 1211, but his plan failed. His ship got caught in a storm and he was shipwrecked and had to return home. Nevertheless, 1219 he met Sultan Melek el Kamil  for a friendly, peaceful conversation. One of St. Francis’ best known qualities was his love for nature. Through this love are earthly and  heavenly beauty melting into another, and become one. Francis didn’t only see God’s love and beauty in every living being, he saw God Himself.

Life in all its manifestations is divine and makes God visible, audible, touchable. Francis understood God’s language expressed through the singing birds, the wild animals, the colourful flowers, the stones and trees. He had the Tau, the Tree of Life not only sewed onto his habit but imprinted into his heart. The famous canticle was written AFTER having lost his eyesight, after immensely pain, and distressing, useless treatments. Francis saw brother sun and sister moon and all the beauty of creation with his spiritual eyes, he felt their warmth and coolness in his heart. He felt Mother Earth, God’s “female companion”, and her love, when he laid down on the naked soil. The canticle proofs the profound union between Francis  and the whole creation. This union is built upon the category of universal fraternity, so that every creature, even a terrible wolf, becomes a “frater et soror”. And now my résumé: Every part of Francis’ life reveals that his proverbial lightness of being, his cheerfulness, joy and poetry arised from surrendering the experiences of disappointment, of having been misunderstood and judged as foolish, of illness, rejection, and pain. It is told that he once asked one of his brothers what complete joy would mean for him, and when and how it possibly could be experienced. St. Francis found  for himself the answer: only through total unity with his beloved Jesus Christ, including the unity in suffering. This helps to understand that he , during a vision of a crucified seraph got the unimaginable and indescribable blessing of the holy stigmata. Every authentic life is confronted with paradoxes. One has to accept ones limitations, and on the other hand one has to pass over barriers and restrictions. Francis’ radical understanding regarding penance, his excessive demands and interpretations of poverty have certainly to be adjusted to  our time and way of life without ignoring the central message that God is the giver of all our needs. In this sense I do believe that our spiritual understanding has evolved from an external interpretation to  an perception of inner and outer detachment.

A saint is always a saint of his special time. All centuries have the saints they need, and they live the spirituality their time needs most. The way how he or she expresses spirituality changes but the root remains the same in every time: Having got the T-mark on one’s forehead, and one’s life contract put down in one’s DNA, one will never be able to stop searching divine beauty, and where beauty is, is love. Where love is, is peace. Love, peace and beauty are three synonyms of the “hundred names of God”. I believe, Francis of Assisi lived  a very personal form of essenic spirituality. Sr.Joy

What does Franciscan spirituality mean for me as a human being, as a spiritual person and as an oblate within the soul. Sr. Fiona Watts  When I hear the words Franciscan spirituality I immediately think of acceptance, warmth, comfort, Understanding and non judgmental souls. People who are aware of and embrace god in their daily lives no matter what religion they are. The words Franciscan spirituality fill me with warmth and comfort as I know people who follow the Franciscan way of life are embracing something wonderful and a good, pure way to live their life, following in the great footsteps of St Francis. Trying to heal the world and the people in it with their support and love in whatever small way they are able to. A lot of people in today’s world only care for them and are often blind or do not want to be bothered with other peoples suffering. So they ignore the pleas for help or fail to see that people could be helped with even just a kind word or a smile. They abuse nature and do not realize that she is the power that sustains us as humans. They do not realize that by neglecting others and their needs and suffering just adds more suffering to the Universe and those about them and can make their souls a duller place. I have always loved St Francis, he has been my favorite saint since Childhood and I was not raised in a religious background so he sort of just popped into my life from somewhere. It seems natural for me to be drawn towards the Franciscan way of life. When I first heard about the Tau interfaith Franciscan community I felt a very strong pull towards it because it resonated very strongly with me, the ideals. Living in the way of Franciscan spirituality means acceptance to me, acceptance of any and all people, no matter what their circumstances, faith, wealth, health personal foibles and standing in the community. In fact I feel that the Franciscan way is to help the more needy, the poor, the sick those less able to help themselves. To give support and feel compassion to help and to not judge or condemn because it is not for us to judge people. We do not know their lives, their ordeals and suffering, their joys and happiness. We can try to put ourselves in their shoes but ultimately everyone is different and what may help one will not help another, so i think trying to understand that person’s point of view and not be dismissive of them is very important. Helping people in what big or little way we are able to. We may not have money to spare but we can give support and hold their hands when they need to feel secure and that someone really cares for them. To talk through their problems with them in a non judgmental way. To say a prayer with them. To strive for peace always, to be forgiving and understanding but not to be soft. To join together in worship, prayer and song. To be happy about being Franciscan to embrace with joy and love. Franciscan spirituality is to love the earth and it’s creatures, to try to stop the abuse of the earth and teach people to love and respect the very thing that sustains us. To embrace the animals and creatures of the earth and treat them with the respect we would want to receive ourselves. Not to think of them as lesser beings than us but just as important in the huge planet that is earth. I think Franciscan spirituality feels the right way for me because it is so familiar with the way I try to live my life and I know that as an oblate this feeling, this striving to try to live my life in this way will help people I may meet in my journey through life and in my oblate studies. To see God’s presence in everything and everyone. To look for the good and not the bad, to see the beauty in everything around me even what people perceive of as ugly because everything is Gods creation and should be respected and loved as he loves. My soul feels Franciscan and probably always has even from a child although I did not have a name to put to it then. Not sure if this is enough, i am a bit out of the swing of writing been a while!! I know what I feel in my heart about it and it is not something I can really describe in words because it is colors and a big burst of warmth and sunshine and connection and acceptance. A loving and glowing feeling that comes from deep inside. This loving and colors and bright golden light I feel and see inside myself is my Franciscan spirituality, it is not always something that can be described in words but only felt within my soul. Sr. Fiona Watts

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