Five Franciscan Martyrs Region
Dear brothers and sisters, I am really pleased to be with you and to be able to take part in this 12th General Chapter of yours.
I bring greetings from my brother General Ministers of the 1st Order.
I extend my fraternal and affectionate regards to the Minister General, Encarnación del Pozo (Spain), and the members of the International Presidency.
Fraternal best wishes and thanks to the Assistants General: Brother Amando Trujillo-Cano, TOR; Brother Irudaya Samy, OFMCap; Brother Ivan Matic, OFM and Brother Martín Pablo Bitzer, OFMConv.
Greetings to you all, dear brothers and sisters belonging to the Franciscan family, may the Lord give you His peace! And through you may I extend my best wishes to the approximately 430.000 professed secular Franciscans in more than 100 countries worldwide and the 50.000 members of Franciscan Youth.
At this time, we feel called to offer again and again to the brothers and sisters of our time the greeting of peace which the Lord revealed to Saint Francis.
To talk of the BEGINNING of CHARISM, I think it is a good idea to follow what might be (since it cannot be measured) the spiritual journey of Francis, i.e. his existential experience of the work of God in his life, his life in the Spirit, which, it seems to me, has three great interconnected moments:
1 CONVERSION: THE ROAD TO REPENTANCE
At the end of his life, Francis vividly remembers the beginning of his personal process as a moment of great importance:
‘The Lord allowed me, Brother Francis, to begin thus to do penance, since, when I was in sin, seeing lepers seemed to me to be such a horrible thing; and the Lord Himself led me amongst them and I had compassion for them. And, on leaving them, what had seemed so horrible to me was changed for me into sweetness of body and soul. And from then on, I stayed a while and I left the world.’ (Test.1-3)
It is a synthesis of the initial stage: before, during and after.
Francis was always very fair and full of shame in telling us about his experience of God and his conversion.
His biographers give us some facts about this ‘before’ prior to his conversion, of his life ‘in sin’.
From the many available texts I will take the first Life by Celano.
Among the positive aspects Celano recalls:
“He was really very rich but not miserly: on the contrary, extravagant; not greedy for money, but wasteful; a shrewd merchant but very generous, out of vanity; moreover, he was very courteous, gracious and affable, albeit to his disadvantage.”
From another point of view, Celano refers ton the bad education Francis received, inspired by the vanity of the world; a very bad mentality which turns into a disastrous system of education: “from a broken root grows an imperfect tree”, i.e. since “they are allowed to do whatever they like; they indulge heedlessly in a life of depravity. Willingly making themselves thus slaves of sin, they transform their limbs into instruments of iniquity; they eradicate in themselves, in their conduct and morals, all traces of Christian life.” (I Cel 1:317-319)
We can sum all this up by saying that what we have is:
We could not understand the spiritual journey of Francis
For Francis, being met by God, the Supreme Good, meant first of all a conversion of the mind and a radical change in his way of thinking.
Perhaps we can summarize it thus: the change
‘I know only Christ and a poor, crucified Christ’ (1 Cor 2:2; 1 Cel 105:692; LM IX 2:1163) – centred on God.
For Francis, to love God means always thinking of Him with his whole mind, directing all his intentions to Him. (Pater 8:270)
In Francis’ Admonitions we come across several expressions which can help us to understand the reality of this change in his way of thinking.
A converted mind is strictly linked to humility, not only at the level of its intelligence but also in its whole personal reality: it is proud to bear every day the cross of the Lord, it considers oneself worthless, lower than everyone else, simple, contemptible, even when honoured and praised by others. It takes greater joy in the good God works through others than He does in it. Man is only worth what he is worth before God.
‘In this way, the servant of God can recognize if he has God’s spirit: if, when the Lord does, through him, something good, the flesh does not become proud because of this, the flesh always being opposed to anything good, and if, instead, he sees himself as even more contemptible and deems himself a lesser being than any man.’ (Adm. 12)
‘Blessed is the servant who does not take more pride in the good the Lord speaks and does through him than in what He speaks and does through others.’ (Adm. 17)
‘Blessed is the servant who does not consider himself better, when he is honoured and praised by men, than when he is deemed contemptible and is scorned, since what a man is worth in the sight of God is all that he is worth and no more.’ (Adm. 20)
A converted mind has acquired the wisdom to know what and where its real enemy is:
‘There are many who, when they sin or are insulted, often blame their enemy and their neighbour. But this is not the case: because everyone has in his power the enemy, i.e. the body, through which he sins. Thus, blessed is that servant who always holds captive the enemy entrusted to his power and wisely guards against the same; since, as long as he does this, no other enemy, visible or invisible, can harm him.’ (Adm. 10)
These are only some of the instructions Francis left us in his writings on the necessity of a conversion in our way of thinking.
He seems obliged to emphasize, in particular, the bond between the mind (intelligence, thought, way of thinking) and both:
1.2. Conversion of the heart
Just as in the ambit of intelligence, the path to repentance and the conversion of Francis meant a profound and radical change of heart, in the ambit of his emotions/feelings (cf.Test.)
All of us, of course, know the importance of feelings in personal life and human relations. However, what is the meaning of the conversion of the heart in Francis? Let us follow the instructions Francis leaves us, especially in the Admonitions
‘Therefore it is a great shame for us, the servants of God, that the Saints practised works and we expect to receive honour and glory for telling and preaching about the things they did.’ (Adm. 6: 4)
A converted heart means not feeling envy for our brothers, for the good that God does in and through them. Envy is a feeling, a deep desire to have and possess the good (opportunities, capabilities, activities, position etc.) that a brother has (a gift of God).
Generally, such a feeling or desire is transformed and manifests itself in direct or indirect aggression, conscious or unconscious, towards a brother; speaking ill of someone (against his image of reputation), showing up his negative aspects, undervaluing or minimizing the good of a brother etc. It means having an aggressiveness which is destructive not only of the brother but also of the good/gift of God in the brother, and thus against God Himself, the Supreme Good. In this regard, Francis warns us:
‘Whoever envies his brother for the good that the Lord speaks and does in him, commits the sin of blasphemy, since he envies the Most High Himself who speaks and does all good.’ (Adm. 8: 3-4)
A converted heart does not feel pain in the depth of its heart for anything an enemy or others say or do, with or without good cause.
Nor does it feel pain because it encounters a stronger, more powerful motivation and can overcome it and transform it (autotranscendence) into something positive: its own path to conversion to God and the purification of its sins, which leads to loving, evangelically, its enemies.
‘The Lord says in the Gospel: Love your enemies, etc. (Matt. 5: 44). Someone truly loves his enemy if he does not feel sorry for the wrong done to himself but is offended, through love for God, by the sin on the other’s soul and shows him love by his works.’ (Adm. 9)
A converted heart is a poor heart, which does not acquire possessions. It can be seen in the way it does not get annoyed or react in an irritated fashion, does not get horrified and does not get disturbed, when it sees or supposes a wrong to its person in what another says or if something is taken from it.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3). There are many who, applying themselves diligently to prayer and offices, practice much abstinence and mortification of their bodies; but, because of a single word which seems to wrong their person or for anything that is taken from them, are horrified and immediately become annoyed. These people are not poor in spirit. Since, whoever is really poor in spirit hates himself (Cf. Lk. 14:26) and loves those who strike him on the cheek (Cf. Matt 5:39).’ (Adm. 14)
A converted heart is a pacified heart. These are people who, because of a genuine, deep motivation (the love of Jesus Christ) succeed in putting up with everything in this life and maintain a peace of body and soul. In spite of all difficulties, problems, adversities and/or conflicts - an inevitable and sometimes necessary aspect of our historical reality - they maintain, supported and sustained in their motivation by evangelical faith, their inner and outer peace.
‘Blessed are the peaceful, for they shall be called the children of God (Matt. 5:9). Those who, amidst all they suffer in this world, maintain, through love of our Lord Jesus Christ, peace of body and soul are real peacemakers.’ (Adm. 15)
We come across several directions which Francis has left us on the need for conversion in our way of feeling/living as well. They deal with our personal emotive-affective experience:
Convert your heart!
Our own emotional and affective world is not a simple matter; it is not easily attained, nor once and for all. It takes constant vigilance (formation).
As in the two previous dimensions, Francis’ conversion also meant a change in the dimension of the will: in how to act, wish and expend energy in the service of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Francis wishes solely and always to follow the will of the Father (cf. Rnb 22:9; 23; Lf 62; Pater 8; 2Cel 2:92).
Where, and in what way, can the conversion of the will be seen? Several indications can again be found in the Admonitions.
Conversion of the will means
This obedience manifests itself through signs:
Only then can a brother be a disciple of the Lord and live evangelically.
In this way, Francis touches the deep-seated, subtle roots of the human will.
‘A person eats of the tree of the knowledge of good when he appropriates to himself his own will and praises the good the Lord shows and does in him.’ (Adm. 2, 3)
‘The Lord says in the Gospel: He who has not renounced everything that he possesses cannot be my disciple (Lk. 14:33) and: He who wishes to save his soul will lose it (Matt16:25). A person leaves everything he possesses and loses his body and soul in entrusting himself to obedience at the hands of his superior; and whatever he does or says which he himself knows is not contrary to the superior’s will, as long as what he does is good, is true obedience.
Even if the subject sees things which might be better and more useful for his soul than what the superior orders, let him offer this as a sacrifice to God and try to carry out the orders of his superior. This is indeed true, charitable obedience which satisfies God and one’s neighbour.
If, however, the superior orders the subject to do something which is against his conscience, let him disobey but not, however, leave him; and if as a result he suffers persecution from others, he should love them all the more for the love of God. In fact, anyone who would rather suffer persecution than be separated his brothers truly stays in perfect obedience because he lays down his soul (cf. Jn 15:13) for his brothers.
There are, in fact, many religious who, under the pretext of seeing better things than what their superiors order, look back (Lk 9:22) and return to the vomit of their own will (cf. Prov. 26:11). These are murderers who, through their bad example, cause the loss of many souls.’ (Adm. 3)
Conversion of the will means desiring the spirit and not just the letter of the word of God, and returning it (act of the will) by word and example to the Supreme Good, the source of all good.
‘Those religious who do not want to follow the spirit of Divine Scripture but only wish to know words and explain them to others are killed by the letter. And those who do not attribute everything they know and wish to know to their own body but return it by word and example to the Most High, to whom all good things belong, are given life by the spirit of Divine Scripture.’ (Adm. 7:3-4)
Conversion of the will means to want what the brothers want (through a fraternal decision). It means not being ambitious (wishing to be above other individuals), but rather being useful, a genuine servant of all, of the other brothers.
‘Woe to that religious who has been placed in a high position by others and does not want to come down of his own will. And blessed it that servant who does not place himself in a high position of his own will and always desires to place himself beneath the feet of others.’ (Adm. 20: 3-4)
Conversion of the will means self-control or discipline in the face of remarks, corrections, accusations and rebukes received from a brother, as if they were made by yourself.
This self-control should be evident in benign acceptance, respectful submission, inner regret/contrition, humble confession and free and voluntary repentance/reparation; a self-control which does not seek self-defence or to shirk the blame; but, on the contrary, assumes/accepts reproach for the sin, even when not guilty of it.
‘Blessed is the servant who puts up with somebody else’s correction, accusations and rebukes as patiently as he would from himself. Blessed is the servant who, when rebuked, mildly stays silent, respectfully submits, humbly confesses and willingly makes amends. Blessed is the servant who is not quick to make excuses and humbly bears shame and blame for a sin, even when he has not committed any fault.’ (Adm. 23)
As can be seen, in the Admonitions of Francis we come across several very clear and concrete indications of the need for conversion in the dimension of the will.
It is a deep process of transformation of one’s will in relation to:
2. THE EVANGELICAL LIFE: OUR FORM OF LIFE
‘And after the Lord gave me brothers, nobody showed me what I should do; but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel. And I had it written down simply and in few words and the Lord Pope confirmed it for me.’ (Testament 16-18)
Thus, just as the Lord had given him the grace to start doing penance, now He allows him through revelation to know that he should live according to the form of the gospel. The suggestion to all the brothers that they should live together is what the Lord has given him. This is what would become the primitive form of life, which the Pope would approve.
‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. This is the life of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which brother Francis asked the Lord Pope Innocent to be granted to him and confirmed for him. And he allowed him it and confirmed it for him and his brothers present and future.’ (Rnb Pro 2)
‘The rule and life of the brothers is this: to live in obedience, chastity and without personal belongings and to follow the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ…’ (Rnb 1-3; I, 1-2)
‘The rule and life of the Friars Minor is this: to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without personal belongings and in chastity.’ (Rb 1, 2)
Bearing in mind the teaching of Francis, we can say schematically that this evangelical way of life expresses itself in a new way of relating at three levels or dimensions.
2.1 Relationship with God: the beloved son of the Father
We can say that Francis’ founding experience is the experience of God. We only have to read the Testament (a synthesis of his spiritual journey) to discover how much God is the central character in his life. He recognizes the extent of the work the Lord is accomplishing from beginning to end (cf. 2 Test: 1, 2, 5, 8, 16, 17, 27, 47).
In Saint Francis’ experience, it is God who shows Himself, reveals Himself. We have seen this in the Testament: the Lord allowed me…, the Lord said to me…, the Lord Himself took me…, the Lord Himself revealed to me…, to me, brother Francis.
All of these are expressions of a God who meets a human being and who reveals Himself in human, historical reality. It is a real, interpersonal relationship: two realities, two truths, two freedoms, two wills, two loves… which meet.
This would seem to be the experience which really strikes Francis at the beginning. Francis discovers that, being in a state of sin, he is met by a merciful God who takes him among the lepers, ‘and I was merciful to them’. (Test 1-2)
God shows Himself as merciful love.
It is the sinner’s experience of God’s mercy which leads to being merciful in return towards other sinners.
The expression ‘my God is my All’ sums up Francis’ existential experience. The more Francis empties his own self (ridding himself of his selfish ‘ego’), the more he fills himself with God (all the richness of His Being).
In his Writings we come across a great variety of expressions which show us his relationship with God; here are some:
‘You are holy, Lord, the only God. You do wondrous things.’(Ps. 76:15 Vulgate/ Ps. 77:14) You are great. You are the Most High. You are the all-powerful King. You are the holy Father, King of heaven and earth. You are three and one, lord God of gods. You are good, all good, the greatest good, Lord, living and true God. You are love and charity. You are wisdom. You are humility. You are patience. You are beauty. You are safety. You are peace. You are joy and happiness. You are our hope. You are justice. You are temperance. You are all our wealth. You are beauty. You are meekness. You are the protector. You are the guard and our defender. You are strength. You are refuge. You are our hope. You are our faith. You are our charity. You are all our gentleness. You are our eternal life, great and admirable Lord, Almighty God, merciful Saviour.’ (LAl; cf. OP)
It would appear that Francis feels that he does not have sufficient words to express what lives within him: God is All!
On the path to repentance, this is transformed into a permanent hymn of praise. Francis is the man of joy, praise and the workings of grace. He is the happy man, the complete man.
We only have to remember the prayer of thanksgiving at the end of the Earlier Rule (cf. Rnb XXIII, 1-39) or the Canticle of the Creatures to understand the depth of his joy. If God is All, what more does he need (or need he desire, seek or hope for)?
This second dimension is a logical consequence, a continuity in relation to the previous one (God) and to the next one (mission). They are not separate.
I do not want to repeat things which, I expect, everybody knows. I would just like to go over some points from Francis’ experience.
‘And after the Lord gave me some brothers, nobody showed me what I should do; but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel.’ (Test. 16-17)
God continues to be the sculptor of the work.
The path to repentance and evangelical life must be lived in brotherhood: this is the will of God, the gift He made to Francis and for his brothers.
Of course, there are other aspects of life in brotherhood.
I have just wanted to go over here the elements where Francis discovers God moving in his life, not only for him, but also for all his brothers.
This third dimension in the beginnings of charism is also strictly related to the two previous ones (God and brothers). In the visits I make to communities of the Order I always quote Document VFC 54:
‘It is necessary to remind everyone that fraternal communion, as such, is already an apostolate, i.e. it contributes directly to the work of evangelization. The sign par excellence left by the Lord is, in fact, that of brotherhood that has been experienced: This is how all will know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another (Jn. 13:35).’
Are we convinced by this affirmation in the Document?
As regards Francis’ journey, I would like to point out some of the elements that are connected to the dimension of the beginning of charism.
Just as Francis asked ‘the Lord Pope’ for confirmation (guarantee of divine inspiration) of the Form of life, so also brothers wanting to go on a mission through ‘divine inspiration’ will have to submit themselves to the judgment of the brothers.
‘Thus, any brothers who, through divine inspiration, wish to go among the Saracens and others non-believers should go with the permission of their minister and servant. The minister should, then, give them permission and not impede them if he sees that they are fit to be sent; in fact, he will have to give an account to the Lord if in this, as in other matters, he has proceeded without discretion.’ (Rnb. XVI: 3-5; Rb XII: 2)
It is up to the minister to establish and verify the suitability of the candidate to be sent and to give permission.
It is the Minister and not the brother who will have to ‘give an account to the Lord’ of his judgment and authorization. The Minister becomes the ‘guarantor’ of the divine inspiration of the brother, the person in charge as regards God and, as such, also as regards the recipients and beneficiaries of the mission.
Francis writes some regulations in the Rule for missionary brothers:
‘Brothers who go amongst nonbelievers can arrange their spiritual dealings with them in two ways. One way is not to cause arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human creature for the God’s sake (1 Pt. 2:13) and admit to being Christians. The other way is to proclaim the word of God when they see that it pleases the Lord, so that people might believe in Almighty God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, creator of all things, and in the Son, Redeemer and Saviour, and be baptized and become Christians…’ (Rnb. XVI: 5-7)
Francis speaks of two forms of ‘spiritual dealings’:
Francis reminds us that God Himself is the one who delivers the message: ‘The Lord revealed to me that we should say this greeting: May the Lord give you peace.’ (Test. 27)
It is a revealed message; i.e. it is the work of God.
The mission does not consist in taking one’s own message but, rather, the message of God: a message of peace which is not world peace. The brother is simply an instrument or messenger of the Peace which the Lord gives. This evangelical message is written by Francis in the Rule for brothers ‘going out into the world’ (Rnb. XIV: 1; Rb III: 14). It becomes Francis’ customary message/greeting/blessing (cf. Lrp 2; LfL 1; LCust.1; BfL 3; 1Cel X: 23). The message received is one that is lived out and passed on.
These are some elements which can help in our understanding of the mission’s perspective, as an important dimension in our lives.
If conversion or existential change is specific to the first steps of Francis’ vocations (1202-1206) and the Form of evangelical life involved a radical commitment in his life (1206 onwards), the conformation to Christ or “Christification” characterizes, especially externally, the final stage in his life (1220-1226).
Francis has the grace to identify himself with, conform to and adhere to Jesus Christ in his Paschal Mystery of passion, death and life.
According to Celano, Francis had two ‘great loves’ in particular, and he associates this expression with two great mysteries of our Christian faith: the ‘humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion’ (1 Cel. XXX 84): incarnation and passion, humility and charity, Christmas and Easter.
Francis identifies with the ‘whole’ Christ: his conformity to Christ imitates the initial humility of the Incarnation of the eternal Son of God and the eventual charity of the Passion of Jesus Christ, poor and crucified.
I would like to share with you some of the elements which I consider to be important in the formative and spiritual journey Francis experienced and which are, therefore, still valid for us Franciscans today.
Francis wants to conform to Christ in everything, beginning with His Incarnation.
What attracts him most are, as I have already said, its poverty and humility. He who becomes flesh is the true Son of God the Most High (Adm. 1:9). True God and true man, born of the glorious and ever-Virgin Mary (Rnb. XXIII 5), given and born by the will of the Father ( 1Lf I:11); He became poor for us (Rb IV:4; OP V:7); He was poor, as was His mother, living on alms (Rnb IX:5); He came to serve (Adm.IV:1); He offers Himself into our hands and every day we enter into communion with Him in the Eucharist (LC 8-9:); every day He humbles Himself on the altar in the hands of the priest, in whom he sees the Son of God (Test 9-10):
‘Behold, every day He humbles Himself, as when He came down from the royal throne (Wisdom 18:15) into the womb of the Virgin; every day He comes to us in humble appearance; every day He descends from the bosom of the Father (Jn. 1:18; 6:38) onto the altar in the hands of the priest (Adm. I 16-18).
Incarnation and Eucharist are one and the same expression of humility and humiliation, lowering oneself (kenosis), poverty and love of Jesus Christ, the Son of the father.
The logic of conformity and following Christ (‘sequela Christi’) is a paschal logic:
However, this paschal logic must have evangelical motivation. Just as Jesus came into the world and accepted death on the cross, so as to fulfil the will of the Father (Lk. 22:42) - the living bread which came down from heaven and gives Its flesh ‘for the life of the world’, so that we may have eternal life (cf. Jn. 6:22 ff.) – likewise, leaving behind, losing and giving of oneself come from a deep and authentically evangelical motivation. Francis quotes the bible: ‘for love of me’, ‘for my sake’. This is choosing evangelical love.
We all know the page on Perfect Joy. I believe it is a text which reveals the paschal logic as conformity to Christ in the mysteries of the Incarnation and of the Cross.
We can in this way discover the paschal logic that Francis undertook:
This logic is one we can see more clearly in the words of the ‘Perfect Joy’. Even if this is a quite long text, it is worth quoting it in full:
‘One day, Blessed Francis, near Santa Maria degli Angeli, called over brother Leon and said to him: “Brother Leon, write this”. He replied: “Here I am. I am ready.”
“Write,” said Francis “what true joy is.” “A messenger comes and says that all the masters of Paris have entered the Order; write: that is not true joy. Further, that all the prelates beyond the Alps, archbishops and bishops, have entered the Order; not just them, but even the Kings of France and England; write: this is not true joy. And if news reaches you also that my brothers have gone amongst the nonbelievers and converted them all to the faith, or that I have received from God so much grace that I am able to heal the sick and perform many miracles, well, I tell you: this is not true joy either.”
“What, then, is true joy?”
“Look. I return from Perugia in the middle of the night. I get here and it’s a muddy winter’s night, so cold that icicles are forming at the bottom of my habit and keep hitting my leg until they draw blood from the wounds they have made. And in all this mud, cold and ice I get to the door and, after knocking and calling for some time, a brother comes and asks: ‘Who are you?’ I answer ‘Brother Francis.’ And he says: ‘Go away. This is not the proper time to be arriving here. You’re not getting in.’ And when I insist, he replies: ‘Go away, you are a simple and stupid person and you can’t get in here now; there are lots of us and we have no need of you.’ And still I stand at the door and say: ‘For the love of God, take me in tonight.’ And he replies: ‘I won’t. Go to the Crossed Friars and ask there.’
Now, I tell you: if I have stayed patient and not become upset, then this is real joy, real virtue and salvation of the soul.” (True and Perfect Joy)
I will emphasize just a few ideas:
I would like to conclude by quoting a passage from a speech given by Benedict XVI whilst on a visit to the city of the Poverello in June 2007. In Assisi, the Pope insisted in presenting the true face of Saint Francis, rejecting any distorted description:
“The millions of pilgrims who pass through these streets drawn by the charism of Francis must be helped to grasp the essential core of Christian life and to aspire to its ‘high standard’, which is, precisely, holiness. It is not enough for them to admire Francis: through him, they should be able to encounter Christ, to acknowledge Him and love Him with ‘true faith, certain hope and perfect charity’ (Prayer of Francis before the Crucifix). Christians of our time find themselves more and more confronted by the tendency to accept a diminished Christ, whose extraordinary humanity is admired, but whose divinity in its profound mystery is rejected. Francis himself undergoes a sort of mutilation when, in holding him up as a witness of values that are, indeed, important and appreciated by present-day culture, we forget the fact that his profound choice, what we might call the core of his life, was the choice of Christ. In Assisi, a high-profile pastoral approach is needed now more than ever ….It is true that whoever passes through this city receives a beneficent message, even if only from its “stones” and its history. That does not exempt us from making a strong spiritual proposal which can help confront the many seductions of relativism which characterize the culture of our age.”
May our Franciscan Saints intercede for us.
Brother Marco Tasca
Minister General, Friars Minor Conventual
(Translation from the original Italian version by Mike Ward)