St. FrancisLast month I shared an article describing in part my calling as a novice in the Third Order or the Society of St. Francis. But what is it that compels me to pursue a Franciscan way of life? What is it that I find so very compelling about this 13th century character… this little poor man of Assisi?

It is true that St. Francis, as Br. Samuel of the Society of Saint Francis puts it, “is perhaps the world’s most well-known and best-loved saint. The rich young man who gave away all his possessions (and some of his father’s too!) to go and live among lepers, the nature mystic who preached to the birds, the peace-maker who travelled to Muslim lands to try and convert the Sultan of Egypt… all this and more puts Francis among the Top Ten of saints; even school children know about him.” There is also however a risk to sentimentalize and romanticize Francis; to relegate him to garden statuary and bird baths.

 

In my mind, this itinerant preacher and contemplative demonstrates many virtues so very critical in 21st century life. Key for me would be his humility, his ability to see and revere the imprint of God in all of creation, his dedication to serve others especially those forgotten or at the periphery of society, his dedication to promoting peace among all peoples, and his remarkable gift to see everything as a gift, to take nothing for granted, and to allow no possessions to take possession of him or blind him to Christ’s path. Francis had no drive other than to be free to follow as closely as he could in Jesus’ footsteps; not to form a set of correct beliefs about the Divine, but to literally pattern his life, his practice, and behavior after that of Jesus.

We live in an era where these virtues are, if not forgotten, often mere tokens. Humility has been replaced by braggadocio and bluster, reverence for God’s creation with exploitation and disregard of the delicate web of interdependence we share with this world, service to others with self-absorption and self-gratification, and simplicity with acquisition and consumerism. Though each of these “disconnects” are by no means unique to our particular moment of human history, our contemporary society’s growth, technical capabilities and mindset would seem to expand the gulf between us and God’s kingdom; and call us to cry out for a change of heart and mind, a restoration and reconciliation with one another and with our Creator.

And so, I’ve chosen to follow a path; “in” but not “of” this world. To follow as best I can, the man often referred to as God’s Fool as he sought to follow Christ’s own footsteps, and in doing so led by example a reform and renewal in both the church and society of his own time. To try to become the authentic human being I was created to be, to become an instrument of God’s peace and, like St. Francis, that my whole life can become prayer.