In recent years there has been something of a recovery in Franciscan Spirituality. If you were so inclined you could begin a journey of inquiry which could ultimately lead to you becoming something called a Third Party or Tertiary Franciscan; living as a Franciscan brother or sister in the community. I strongly believe that Francis is very much a saint for our times and that we need to learn lessons from the life and witness of St. Francis. Clearly the current Pope, despite being a Jesuit, also believes this to be the case.
St. Francis famously heard the voice of God saying to him ‘rebuild my church.’ We too need to hear that voice. The job of building the church is after all never done and in each generation it feels as though the church loses sight of the essentials. The essentials are the building blocks which allow us to rebuild the church. So what are these essentials; the bricks and mortar of our faith? The answer is given in the readings:
That we should ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with y/our God.’ These are lovely words, but they are also active words. We are not only to talk prophetically about justice but we are to do justice. We are to love acts of kindness, both when we receive them and when we give them and, we are to walk, that is to say press on through life, with a spirit of humility. Francis, with the prophet Micah, insists that we should be ‘doers of the word.’ Our faith should be both active and highly infectious.
The gospel reading points us in the direction of trust and simplicity, or even poverty of spirit. These are to be are underlying attitudes or beatitudes. Why should we care about justice, kindness, humility, trust and simplicity or poverty of heart? Well the answer is three-fold: first because they are good for us, they bring us back into relationship with God. They are essential spiritual nutrients; our five a day (justice, kindness, humility, trust, simplicity / poverty). Secondly, because as I have already suggested they are the bricks and mortar that help re-build the church. A church which isn’t characterised by the active living out of these virtues is a dying, decaying church. Such a church can ultimately only become a ruin, an historic artefact, a place that points towards a legacy lost. Do we want to become such a church? Thirdly, and most importantly, because these virtues are in and of themselves evangelical.
This week I was struck, as I mentioned this morning, by a young woman who wishes to convert to Christianity on the basis that she has encountered what she believes to be an authentic expression of Christian communal spirituality. I was also moved to hear the story of an Israeli woman who visited this church during the week and was amazed by the words on the door ‘all, yes all, are welcome in this place.’ She told a member of the congregation that what she sensed when she went into the church was a sense of deep peace and even deeper love. These are amazing accounts. They are real testimonies to how the Holy Spirit works, when the commitment exists to ‘rebuild the church,’ using the bricks and mortar of:
- Doing justice
- Loving kindness
- Walking humbly
- And all, in a spirit of trust, simplicity and poverty
These virtues form the very essence of Franciscan Spirituality. They are ours to re-capture and enact. If we do so we will like Francis ‘re-build’ the ‘church.’
Let me finish with a quote attributed to St. Francis which I would invite you to take home with you and mull on:
‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel only using words where necessary.’