Central to Franciscan spirituality is this: God is love.
Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.
—St. Francis of Assisi, The Testament
A spirituality is a particular way, or emphasis, in following Christ. Obviously many things are common to all Christians, and these are more important than the interests of any one group of Christians: Christlike love and forgiveness, community, personal and communal prayer, celebration of the sacramental life, obedience to legitimate authority, love of Scripture, and concern for justice and peace, to name a few. There is no difference between our goals and our ways and means. But there can be a difference in emphasis.
Differing spiritualities depend largely on the personalities of their founders and the times in which religious communities developed. We speak of a Benedictine spirituality, inspired by the monastic vision of St. Benedict. A Dominican spirituality will be marked by the teaching and preaching fervor of St. Dominic. Francis’s spirituality was simply to “observe the Gospel.” Yet, because he was a unique and attractive personality, the Church gained a unique charism called Franciscan spirituality.
There is also a spirituality proper to lay people, as contrasted with that of priests; a lay spirituality is properly more concerned with activities in the world than being about the business of the church and liturgical rituals. This idea featured prominently in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
Pius XII described Franciscan spirituality this way: “There is, then, a Franciscan doctrine in accordance with which God is holy, is great, and above all, is good, indeed the supreme Good. For in this doctrine, God is love. He lives by love, creates for love, becomes flesh and redeems, that is, he saves and makes holy, for love. There is also a Franciscan way of contemplating Jesus…in his human love.”
The great emphasis, then, is on the fact that God is love. Every Christian believes this, of course, but some of us choose to emphasize it as Francis did. To live the Gospel according to the spirit of Francis means participating
- in communion with Christ poor and crucified,
- in the love of God,
- in brother/sisterhood with all people and all of creation,
- in the life and mission of the Church,
- in continual conversion,
- in a life of prayer—liturgical, personal, communal,
- as instruments of peace.
Connecting with Franciscan Writings
Francis had noticed from the beginning that when he went begging, especially, very few people looked into his eyes. They seemed always to avoid eye contact, either from embarrassment or fear or contempt. There were, of course, the few bright-eyed, open people whose eyes were surely the lamps of their whole selves radiating love and goodness and trust.
It was marvelous how people became who they really were once you reached out your hand to them in the gesture of the beggar. Even the insight into people he had gained in his father’s shop paled when compared to what he learned begging in the streets of Assisi. So often the veneer of respectability would be sloughed off and something like a monster would emerge, cursing and destroying you with the venom of words and gestures. It was an experience only beggars understood.
From these harrowing experiences Francis determined to be always on the outside what he was on the inside. He knew that some of the brothers felt he overdid this obsession with sincerity and wholeness, but Francis feared duplicity and hypocrisy more than anything in all the world. It was against hypocrisy that Jesus had railed again and again in the Gospels, and Francis was sure Jesus would never speak harshly against anything unless it spoiled the human heart and made the Holy Spirit’s entry there impossible.
—Murray Bodo, Francis: The Journey and the Dream