“After the Lord gave me some brothers, no one showed me what I had to do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel. And I had this written down simply and in a few words and the Lord Pope confirmed it for me.”
—St. Francis of Assisi, The Testament
It is impossible to capture Francis in an analysis or a summary. Where grace is, there is mystery. But if, in a human way, we try to list the elements of the mystery, we would have to place the Gospel at the head of that list. In his delightful and even thrilling literalness, Francis simply said, “Here is God’s living Word. He is speaking to us today.”
What Francis meant by “Gospel” was Jesus, the living Word of God made living flesh and living with us today. “Brothers, I know Holy Writ—I know the poor Christ,” he said. The last thing Francis wanted was to be special or to found a group of people who would be distinguished or superior. He simply wanted as many people as possible to be led by the Holy Spirit to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, allowing the Lord to transform their lives. To be Franciscan, then, is to attempt to be Christian, a disciple. So, Franciscans today try to be Christians with the particular inspiration and traditions of Francis. Nevertheless, the fundamental thrust is always the Gospel way of life.
A way of life is a set of values, a spirit that affects our whole life, an attitude that enters into every thought we think, each emotion we feel, what we say and each action of our days. Christianity is the way of life God himself has graciously given us. Our tradition says: “Since Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, Secular Franciscans should have the deep conviction that, by Baptism and profession they must become like Christ crucified, and follow his Gospel as their rule of life. As they live their lives in the world, they are imbued with the mind and spirit of Christ.”
We can never emphasize enough the fact that Gospel means “Good News.” This is one of the key ideas in Francis’s life. He was thrilled to discover the beauty and simplicity of this idea: The Good News is that God is our Father and our Mother! God loves us! Christ is our Brother. We are the children of God, truly possessing spiritual life. We are brothers and sisters of Christ and of each other. The Spirit of God’s love lives in us. Our lives are holy and secure in Christ. Christ and his Gospel were, therefore, the center of the life of Francis. To live like Francis, we are to live the Gospel—that is, live according to the Good News, live as God’s children, brothers and sisters of Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit. Practically every detail of life has been modeled for us on the earthly life of Christ.
Franciscan life is a high calling. But if God has given us this vocation, he will also give us his grace to carry it out. One important quality is required: a spirit of trust and generosity. This is the lesson of Francis’s life: a spirit of childlike confidence in his Father in heaven, and in the power and wisdom and love of his Father. With him, there is nothing to fear. Nothing can hurt us. There is no problem we cannot solve with God’s wisdom and grace.
Questions for Reflection
• What does a Franciscan spirituality add to the Christian way of life?
• What is the Good News?
• How are we told how to live the Gospel life?
Connecting with Scripture
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. —Mark 1:14–20