Franciscan Principles

Can we beat Syracuse without Chris Wright? We have Hollis Thompson. What is there to worry about?

…Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

…Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

I think we would have to say that—after our Blessed Mother—the most beloved saint of all time is Francis of Assisi.

While he was on earth, St. Francis loved the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. He loved the Church and the sacraments. He loved music and poetry. He loved his fellow man. He loved the Word of God. He loved the world because God made it, and He loved God for being infinitely greater than anything in the world.

St. Francis had a deep, complicated, and maddeningly unpredictable personality. But we love him most of all because his fundamental principles were simple.

Has anyone ever known a Franciscan? Franciscans wear brown robes with white ropes as belts. Franciscans accomplish many different works: They pray, teach, help the poor, help parishes; they operate many different enterprises. But their fundamental principles are simple. ‘I don’t need money, because God provides. I don’t need a family, because I already have one.  God and everybody is my family.’

Well, looky here! Look at the words of the Sermon on the Mount that we just heard! Your heavenly Father knows that you need food and clothing. Your heavenly Father provides for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, who neither sew nor reap nor toil or spin.

God is our Father, and we are all brothers and sisters. These aren’t just the fundamental principles for Franciscans. They are the fundamental principles for Christians.

But here’s a question. It is the perennial question about the Sermon on the Mount and about St. Francis and his followers, whom everybody loves from a respectful distance. The question is this: It all sounds beautiful, but is it really practical? Can I live by these principles when I go to buy a car? Can I live by these principles when I need a paycheck, and it’s a hard, cold world out there?

How about if we put the question in another way: Would St. Francis be so lovable if he were a flighty, impractical, irresponsible dreamer? For that matter, could we revere our Lord Jesus as the ultimate law of every human life if He were just an ineffectual waif who painted castles in the sky?

To follow the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount does not make a person impractical. Quite the contrary. The Sermon on the Mount helps us to focus on the fundamental reality of life. And the fundamental reality is: God is our Father, and we are all brothers and sisters.

God is my Father. Fathers show their love by entrusting their children with limited responsibilities. When I was a child, I did not understand anything about the mortgage on our house that my father and mother were working to pay off. But I did know that when I came home from school, I had to sit down and do my homework, and that when dinner was over, I had to do the dishes.

Likewise now. I do not understand how it is that my Father in heaven makes the sun come up; I do not understand how He organizes things so that all I have to do to get food is go to Kroger’s. I do not understand how my car works, or the refrigerator in my kitchen, even though I couldn’t live without either of them. But I do understand that it is my responsibility to try to do my best and be a decent priest. My Father loves me enough to provide everything, including even a little area of responsibility for me to control.

Everyone is my brother or sister. We are all in this together. I owe everyone my love and respect. Meeting St. Francis changed people’s lives because he treated everyone he met as if he or she were a king or queen.

But St. Francis was never anyone’s doormat. He could respect others so gently because he respected himself for the child of God that he knew himself to be.

The Lord Jesus let Himself be spat on, crowned with thorns, and executed like a criminal for our salvation. But He never tolerated the slightest disrespect for His divine mission. He repeatedly castigated even His closest friends for insulting Him by trying to make Him out to be less than He is. They wanted a new petty despot for an obscure Roman province. But Christ is the divine King of the Universe, and everything He said and did and suffered bore witness to the indescribable grandeur of Who He is.

‘Everybody is my brother and sister’ does not mean that I let one of my brothers abuse me. If a brother tries to wrong me, it is my duty as a brother to stand up for myself honestly so that we can find our way together to what is true and just.

So let’s all try to be good Franciscans. Or rather, let’s all be good Christians. God is our Father. We are all brothers and sisters.

4 thoughts on “Franciscan Principles

  1. I recently read in a travel book about Italy that St. Francis’s love of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field shaped the nature of Western art from his time on. That’s a marvelous idea to contemplate!

  2. In spite of my “we’ve got to stop meeting this way comment the other day, I’ve just got to ask.

    The picture near the end of the blog that looks somewhat like a much-younger Bill Moyers is tagged “Dad3”. Is this your earthly father?

    LIH,

    joe Doane

  3. Dear Joe, Yes it is a picture of my dearly departed father. The picture appeared in the Washington Post in 1978, when he left his post as deputy chief of the City Planning Office to enter private practice as a zoning lawyer. R.I.P.

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