Spirituality of St. Francis
During his lifetime, thousands of men and women, cleric and lay, chose to follow the way of St. Francis. The influence of St. Francis on the people of his own day and on the people of every century since is immeasurable. What is it about St. Francis that millions have found so inviting, so inspiring? What are the elements of Francis’ spirituality?
By coming to understand the spirituality of St. Francis, we make available to ourselves a rich source of spiritual guidance and nourishment.
The following are twelve elements of Franciscan Spirituality.
“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Of all the doctrines of our Christian faith, Francis was most taken by the “Incarnation.” Francis was overwhelmed by the condescension of God – that, out of love for sinful humanity, God took on human form. Francis saw Christ present in all of creation and in all people. He himself endeavored to live his life in imitation of Christ so that he could, likewise, manifest the presence of Christ to others. We see Francis’ love for the Incarnation embodied in two common liturgical practices passed down through the centuries by his followers, the Christmas creche and the Stations of the Cross. Franciscan Spirituality is deeply Incarnational. Franciscans seek to know, in a personal way, the person of the Risen Christ. They seek to find Him present in others, especially the poor, and they endeavor to live their lives in such a way as to render Him present through their words and actions.
How do I make His presence known through my words and actions?
Above all, Francis desired to imitate Christ. He did not want to imitate Jesus in just one area of life. He desired to imitate him in all things. He prayed even to experience the sufferings of Christ and was graced with the sacred stigmata, the wounds of Christ. On the night he died, Francis had his brothers read from John 13:1-17 the account of the Last Supper and the washing of feet. Francis wanted to recall Jesus’ last night on earth as he was experiencing his own. This aspect to Franciscan Spirituality is rooted in Francis’ love of the Incarnation and his belief that we must enflesh the love of God in the world. Franciscans endeavor to give birth to Christ in the world by imitating Him as closely as possible.
Can people tell by my words and actions that I am a follower of Christ? Name some concrete ways that I can imitate Christ in my daily life.
2. Love of the Eucharist.
Francis loved the Eucharist. Francis could often be found praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Whenever anyone would complain about a priest, he would exhort him or her to respect all priests, no matter how sinful they might be, because through their hands the all powerful, almighty God becomes present in our midst. His love for the Eucharist was rooted in his admiration of the humility of God. He was overwhelmed that God would deign to humble Himself and to become present to us under the form of simple bread and wine. Franciscan Spirituality is marked by a great devotion to Jesus present in the Eucharist. Francis would exhort us to attend Mass as often as possible and to receive Holy Communion regularly.
In what ways has the Eucharist transformed my life?
3. Love of Scripture.
Francis’ love for the Holy Scriptures was deep. Once Francis discovered the Scriptures, he pursued them like a newfound treasure. Every religious order had to have a rule of life. Francis went so far as to proclaim, “The Rule of Life of the Friars Minor is the Gospels.” He took the Bible, especially the Gospels, seriously. He was somewhat literal in his interpretation of the Gospels. If he had a decision to make and didn’t know what to do, he would open the Bible, read what was there and do whatever it directed. (“Bible Roulette”). Franciscan Spirituality is characterized by devotion to the Word of God. Franciscans are called to study the Bible, reflect upon it and, most especially, to live it.
When was the last time I was challenged by words of scripture? Describe that experience.
4. Reliance upon the Holy Spirit.
Francis called the Holy Spirit “The Minister General of the Order.” He believed that the Holy Spirit was guiding him and the Order. He relied upon the Holy Spirit and had total confidence that the Holy Spirit would never fail him. For Francis and for all Franciscans it is the Holy Spirit that inflames us to follow in the footprints of Jesus Christ. The prayer he offered his friars in his Letter to the entire Order expresses this well. “Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God, grant us in our misery the grace to do for You alone what we know You want us to do, and always to desire what pleases You. Thus, inwardly cleansed, interiorly enlightened, and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit, may we be able to follow in the footprints of your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In what ways has the Holy Spirit guided me in the past? Describe the situation.
5. Devotion to the Mother of God.
Francis loved the mother of Jesus and entrusted the care of the Order to her. He called her the Queen of the Franciscan Order. He loved her because she was the Mother of God. Because of her willingness to say yes to God’s call, Christ was born into the world. His respect and admiration for her was tremendous. The first friary was Our Lady of the Angels of the Portiuncula. He chose this place because it was dedicated to the Mother of Jesus. An important aspect of Franciscan Spirituality is a devotion to Mary. “Hail, O lady, Holy Queen, Mary, Holy Mother of God; you are the Virgin made church and the one chosen by the Most Holy Father in heaven whom He consecrated with His most Holy Beloved Son and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete in whom there was and is all the fullness of grace and every good. Hail, His palace! Hail, His tabernacle! Hail, His home! Hail, His robe! Hail, His servant! Hail, His mother!”
How does she serve as a model for my own pilgrimage of faith?
6. Dedication to Prayer.
Francis loved to pray. One of the earlier biographers of St. Francis wrote: “He was not so much a man of prayer as prayer personified,” It is said that the friars would never dare interrupt Francis while he prayed. When he prayed he was like a starving man who had been given a piece of bread. Through prayer Francis experienced great intimacy and union with God. Francis wanted, at times, to be a hermit, to be a contemplative. But he also felt called to lead a life of service to God’s people. So he struggled between the contemplative life and the active life. But he always exhorted his followers to pray and to find time for silence and meditation. It is through prayer that we are given the strength and grace we need to do ministry. Among the prayers attributed to St. Francis, the better known are the “Peace Prayer” and the “Canticle of the Creatures.” A follower of Francis is a man or a woman of prayer.
In what ways does your personal prayer life impact the community?
7. The Communal Life.
Francis recognized that we are all brothers and sisters and that we need one another. A hallmark of the Franciscan Order is the communal life. He believed that God had sent the men who came to follow him and so he would not refuse any of them entrance into the community. He told his friars, “If a mother loves her child how much more should spiritual brothers and sisters love and help one another.” Francis believed that Gospel living was communal living. He wanted his friars to live a common life which reflected the life of the early Christian depicted in the Acts of the Apostles. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32) Franciscan Spirituality is characterized by a love for community. Francis would encourage us to build caring communities. During his life he tried to recreate the warm, compassionate, loving communities of the early Church and he invites us to do the same. This aspect of Franciscan Spirituality calls us to love one another as brothers and sisters and to promote friendship and community with all people. It calls us to set aside prejudice and hatred and to be family with one another.
What attitude(s) or disposition(s) could I embrace to improve the quality of life in my community?
8. Poverty and Simplicity.
Francis chose “Lady Poverty” as his bride. He regarded it a privilege to live as a poor man because God Himself chose to be born in the poverty of a stable. He believed that wealth and possessions could easily become a hindrance to one’s relationship with God. For Francis, poverty and a simple life were the means to and the expression of total dependence upon God. Francis trusted completely that God would take care of him and the Order. Therefore, he forbade his friars from owning anything, from using money and from associating with the wealthy. Francis insisted that the friars dress simply in the garb of the poor and that they not be ashamed to beg. Francis’ desire to be poor was rooted in his desire to depend only on God. The prayer, which Francis prayed most often, has only five words in it: “My God and my All!” Franciscan Spirituality has, at its core, total dependence upon God. Today Francis would exhort us to remove from our lives anything that would hinder us from relying solely on God. Franciscan Spirituality stresses good stewardship of the gifts we have received, simplicity of life and love for and outreach to the poor.
What can I do to simplify my life?
Humility comes from the Latin word for “earth” and “on the ground.” To be humble means that one knows the truth not only of our earthly limitations but also of our divine giftedness. In humility, we have our feet planted on the ground, knowing our real state, which is complete dependence on the will of God, who gives us life, sustains us and loves us. Francis lived this spirit of humility. In one of his admonitions he wrote, “Blessed is the servant who esteems himself no better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and despicable; for what a man is before God, that he is and nothing more.” Francis was acutely aware of his own sinfulness and spent his life mortifying his body and doing penance for his sins. At the same time, he rejoiced in the gift of redemption and the status we share with Christ as sons and daughters of God. His humility prompted Francis to name his Order, the Order of Friars Minor – the Lesser· Brothers. Franciscans are called to live the virtue of humility by being constantly aware that all we are and have is a gift from God and by doing all things, not for the praise of others, but rather for the glory and honor of God.
Name some concrete ways that I can practice the virtue of humility in my daily life.
10. A Joyful Spirit.
As a young man Francis was a “playboy.” He was very popular with his peers because he was jovial and funny. He had a joyful spirit. But at that point, he found his joy in parties and carousing. This all changed with his conversion. Francis fell in love with the Lord and desired to be the troubadour of God, singing His praises and spreading the Good News. His joyfulness was childlike and he often erupted spontaneously in song. Even in his suffering and pain at the end of his life, his spirit exuded the joy of the Lord. Interesting to note is that his famous canticle “The Canticle of Brother Sun” was written while he was blind and in great pain. Franciscan Spirituality is characterized by joyfulness. This joy is rooted in knowing that God loves us and makes himself present in creation, people and the sacraments of the Church.
How do I communicate the joy of God to my community?
When Francis was young he wanted to be a knight in shining armor. He wanted to fight battles and to be hailed as a hero. After his conversion he came to hate violence and fighting. He saw Jesus as a man of peace and wanted to imitate him in this regard. His love of poverty was partly rooted in the reality that most of the fighting and dissension between people was the result of envy and jealousy over money and property. St. Francis taught his companions to use the greeting: “The Lord give you peace!” He realized that quite often our words become realities. If we speak peaceably, we begin to feel peaceful. From this inner peace comes the courage and conviction to make God’s reign of peace present in our words, our work and our world. A popular prayer attributed to St. Francis is the “Peace Prayer.” Franciscans are called to be men and women of peace, non-violence and reconciliation in our families, Church, community and world.
In what ways do I practice peace making?
12. Solidarity with All Creation.
Francis had an immense respect and Love for all creation. His love for creation was superseded only by his love for the Creator. He often said, “Love creation but love the Creator more.” Francis believed in the solidarity of all creation. Francis proclaimed, “We are sister and brother to animals and plants, water and soil, earth and sky.” Just as we meet the painter in his art, the poet in her finely crafted words and the dancer in her dance, so Francis believed we encounter the Creator in all of creation. This aspect of Francis’ spirituality can be seen in the “Canticle of the Creatures”, written by Francis toward the end of his life. John Paul II declared Francis of Assisi the patron saint of ecology. Franciscan Spirituality must include a love for and dedication to the environment. In a world, which has great disregard for life, and values efficiency and convenience over care for the environment, followers of Francis are called to work for the conservation of natural resources and respect for all things of the earth.
In what ways do I practice conservation of the earth’s resources?
Twelve Elements of Franciscan Spirituality Graph
How well are you incorporating the Twelve Elements into your daily life? On a scale of 1 to 10, put a line at the point you feel you are living this quality of our spirituality. Do you have, and express, a great love for the Eucharist? Give yourself an 8, 9, or 10. Do you need more dedication and discipline in prayer? You may see yourself as living this as a 3, 4, or 5. After you have marked all your points, connect the dots and see what elements you need to be working on to have a balanced wheel.
Source:The Brothers and Sisters of St. Francis Region
What is Franciscan Spirituality? (Franciscans of Canada)
Within the Catholic Church there is a rich variety of spiritualities. We speak, for instance, of “Benedictine spirituality”, “Dominican spirituality”, or “Franciscan spirituality” – to name a few.
These spiritualities have their origin in great spiritual leaders after whom they are generally named; for example, Benedictine spirituality is from St. Benedict and so on. A particular spirituality is a specific system, or schema of beliefs, virtues, ideals and principles which form a particular way to approach God and therefore all life in general.
Just because these spiritualities are different does not mean they are contradictory. They all arise from the same Christian heritage and they all aim at the same goal – to love as Jesus loved. The difference is a matter of emphasis. These differences in emphasis give each spirituality its unique character traits. In other words, each spirituality has its “preferred” virtues, ideals and principles without negating all the others. These preferred emphases are what make up each particular spiritual system. Franciscan spirituality, then, is that spirituality which comes from St. Francis and evolved within the Franciscan order. It has its own unique emphasis which characterizes it as “Franciscan”.
A general schema for Franciscan spirituality would look like this:
1. Franciscan spirituality is rooted in the general Judeo-Christian, Roman Catholic and Biblical traditions. It is rooted in the general Trinitarian theology of the Church.
2. It is Christo-centric focusing primarily on the Incarnate Jesus.
3. The humility and poverty of the Incarnation of Jesus is the pattern and model for Franciscan life (Imitation of Christ), theology (Primacy of Christ) and its approach to all creation.
4. This downward direction, movement, tendency is called Minority.
5. Minority is expressed in Poverty and Humility. Poverty is the external expression of Minority while Humility is the internal expression of it.
6. Along with Minority, Fraternity is essential to Franciscan life. Minority safeguards and effects Fraternity.
7. The third pillar of Franciscan life is Penance. Penance is on-going, continuous conversion.
8. The fruit of all this is the perfection of love with an particular Franciscan emphasis on peace and joy.
(From: The Franciscans of Canada http://www.ofmqc.ca/eng/spirituality/spirituality01.htm )
What are the elements that make up Franciscan Spirituality?
Seventeen Essential Elements of Franciscan Spirituality:
1. To live the gospel according to the spirit of St. Francis (Articles 1,4,5,14)
2. To be converted continually (Articles 2,4,5,7,9,12,16)
3. To live as sisters and brothers of all people and of all creation (Articles 13,18)
4. To live in communion with Christ (Articles 1,4,5,14)
5. To follow the poor and crucified Christ (Article 10)
6. To share in the life and mission of the Church (Article 6)
7. To share in the love of the Father (Articles 4, 12)
8. To be instruments of peace (Article 19)
9. To have a life of prayer that is personal, communal & liturgical (Article 8)
10. To live in joy (Article 19:2)
11. To have a spirituality of a secular nature (Articles 3,6,8,11,13,14)
12. To be pilgrims on the way toward the Father (Article 11:2)
13. To participate in the apostolate of the laity (Articles 15,16,17,18,19,24)
14. To be at the service of the less fortunate (Articles 13,14,15)
15. To be loyal to the Church in an attitude of dialogue and collaboration with her ministers (Article 6:2)
16. To be open to the action of the Holy Spirit (Articles 1, 4:2)
17. To live in simplicity, humility and minority (Article 11:1)
”Franciscan Spirituality”, St. Margaret of Cortona Region SFO, G.W. Irving, OFS [Online] February 24, 2017: http://saintmargaretofcortona.com/franciscan-spirituality/
”Images “, [Online image] February 17, 2018: http://imagessaintes.canalblog.com