Franciscan spirituality encompasses a rich array of ways of thinking and ways of living. Here is the briefest of introductions, broken into three categories even as they are deeply interrelated. The process is dynamic: you may start by shaping how you think which influences how you see which changes how you live; at another point it may be life experiences that are the catalyst for shifting how you think and how you see.
Franciscan Theology and Philosophy
Franciscan ways of viewing God and God’s action in history has been a theology that was always orthodox with other parts of Christian theology and yet, at the same time, featuring a different set of emphases. Whereas Christianity has often overemphasized “the stain of original sin,” St. Francis and Franciscan theologians lived and preached and wrote about the many ways that creation is good and the life we have been given is a joyous opportunity. Fr. Richard Rohr OFM, a widely acclaimed author, names the Franciscan way an “alternative orthodoxy” with its different set of emphases while not trying to fight about doctrines.
The Franciscan emphasis on the goodness of God and creation has many ramifications. Creation is the outpouring of God’s love into the universe. Creation reveals to us God’s love for us and God’s beauty (which is why Franciscans call creation “the mirror of God” and that God has two books of creation—Sacred Scripture and creation). And the faith in a good God has implications for the Incarnation and salvation history. The Word of God became incarnate not because the world is full of sin, but in order to transform the world into a communion of love centered in Christ. Blessed John Duns Scotus (c. 1266 – 1308) wrote that the Incarnation was part of the plan all along, with creation a prelude to much fuller manifestation of divine goodness in the Incarnation.
From a more positive way of thinking about God and creation, we can see the world from a different consciousness. Francis and the Franciscans honored the world around them and were ignited in praising God from their experiences. They did not split the world into that which is profane and that which is holy, but could see God in the dirt and the worms, in the suffering of life, and in the leper. The Franciscan way of seeing moves us away from dividing up the world in the good and the bad which, as Sr. Ilia Delio says, is “always capable of identifying God’s absence, but rarely consistent in affirming God’s presence in everything that is.” Francis was able to see God imbedded in a marvelously interconnected world with God as the source of each and every thing. He saw the world in universal kinship, with the moon, the water, and the birds as his sisters and the sun and the wolf as his brothers.
“My soul in an excess of wonder cried out: ‘This world is pregnant with God!’ Wherefore I understood how small is the whole of creation- that is, what is on this side and what is beyond the sea, the abyss, the sea itself, and everything else- but the power of God fills it all to overflowing.”
- Angela of Foligno
Franciscan Way of Living
Broadly, the Franciscan way is to live knowing that all of creation is the place to encounter God. Concrete manifestations of involve living more simply on the earth and with other people in order truly experience and savor God’s gift of life (see more on Living Simply).
The things of this world are God-like just as they are and reveals God to us in their specificity. Therefore, to deepen our relationship to God we need regular, attentive contact with the world in its simple, humble state. We can forget about a search for things and people that are worthy of love or that will make us happy. The world is full of signs of God’s presence, with God telling us what we need to hear through the bits and pieces we encounter in a day. In an ongoing way we are converted to the gospel through God’s daily work inside and outside of us.
Who could ever express the deep affection Francis bore
for all things that belong to God?
Or who would be able to tell
of the sweet tenderness he enjoyed
while contemplating in creatures
the wisdom, power, and goodness of the Creator?
From this reflection
he often overflowed
with amazing, unspeakable joy
as he looked at the sun,
gazed at the moon, or observed the stars in the sky.
Some excellent resources:
- Care for Creation by Sr. Ilia Delio OSF, Br. Keith Warner OFM, and Pamela Wood
- Hope Against Darkness by Fr. Richard Rohr OFM
- Francis and the Foolishness of God by Marie Dennis OFS, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Fr. Joseph Nangle OFM, and Stuart Taylor