Sunday, March 30, 2014


Where there is charity and wisdom
  there is neither fear nor ignorance.

Where there is patience and humility
  there is neither anger nor disturbance.

Where there is poverty with joy
  there is neither greed nor avarice.

Where there is rest and meditation,
  there is neither anxiety nor restlessness.

Where there is fear of the Lord to guard an entrance,
  there the enemy cannot have a place to enter.

Where there is a heart full of mercy and discernment,
  there is neither excess nor hardness of heart.

-From Francis' Testament

Francis' Beatitudes

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
A servant of God cannot know how much patience and humility he has within himself as long as he is content.  When the time comes, however, when those who should make him content do the opposite, he has as much patience and humility as he has at that time and no more.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
There are many who, while insisting on prayer and obligations, inflict many abstinences and punishments upon their bodies. But they are immediately offended and disturbed about a single word which seems to be harmful to their bodies or about something which might be taken away from them.  These people are not poor in spirit, for someone who is truly poor in spirit hates himself and loves those who strike him on the cheek.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.
These people are truly peacemakers who, regardless of what they suffer in this world, preserve peace of spirit and body out of love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed are the clean in heart for they shall see God.
The truly clean of heart are those who  look down upon earthly things, seek those of heaven, and, with a clean heart and spirit, never cease adoring and seeing the Lord God living and true.

Blessed is that servant who no more exalts himself over the good the Lord says or does through him than over what he says or does over another.
A person sins who wishes to receive more from his neighbor than what he wishes to give of himself to the Lord God.

Blessed is the person who supports his neighbor in his weakness as he would want to be supported were he in a similar situation.
Blessed is the servant who returns every good to the Lord God because whoever holds onto something for himself hides the money of his Lord God within himself, adn what he thinks he has will be taken away from him.

Blessed is the servant who does not consider himself any better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and looked down upon, for what a person is before God that he is and no more.
Woe to that religious who has been placed in a high position by other and who does not want to come down by his own will.
Blessed is that servant who is not placed in a high position by his own will and always desires to be under the foot of others.

Blessed is the religious who has no pleasure and delight except in the most holy word and deeds of the Lord and, with these, leads people to the love of God with gladness and joy.
Woe to that religious who delights in idle and empty words and leads people to laughter with them.

Blessed is the servant who, when he speaks, does not disclose everything about himself under the guise of a reward and is not quick to speak, but who is wisely cautious about what he says and how he responds.
Woe to that religious who does not hold in his heart the good things the Lord reveals to him and does not reveal them by his behavior, but, under the guise of a reward, wishes instead to reveal them with his words. He receive his reward and his listeners carry away little fruit.

Blessed is the servant who endures discipline, accusation and reprimand from another as patiently as he would from himself.
Blessed is the servant who, after being reprimanded, agrees courteously, submits respectfully, admits humbly and makes amends willingly.
Blessed is the servant who is not quick to excuse himself, and endures with humility, shame, and reprimand for a sin, when he did not commit the fault.

Blessed is the servant who has been found as humble among his subjects as he was among his masters.
Blessed is the servant who always remains under the rod of correction.

Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and cannot repay him as well as when he is well and can repay him.

Blessed is the servant who loves and respects his brother as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him, and who would not say anything behind his back that he would not say with charity in his presence.

Blessed is the servant who has faith in the clergy who live uprightly according to the rite of the Roman Church.
Woe to those who look down upon them for even though they may be sinners, no one should judge them for the Lord alone reserves judgment on them to himself.

Blessed is the servant who stores up in heaven the good things which the Lord shows to him and does not wish to reveal them to people under the guise of a reward because the Most High himself will reveal his deeds to whomever he wishes.
Blessed is the servant who safeguards the secrets of the Lord in his heart.

-An excerpt from Francis' Testament

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Ideal Leader of Jesus' Flock

Such was the zeal which Francis had for the preservation of the perfection in the Order, and such seemed to him the perfection of the profession of the Rule, that he often used to consider who would be sufficient after his death to govern the whole Order and to protect the perfection in it with the help of God— but he came upon none that were fit.

            So near the end of his life, a certain friar said to him, “Father, you will pass away to the Lord, and this family which has followed you will remain in the vale of tears.  Point out any in the Order, if you know one, on whom your mind might be at rest, on whom the burden of the Minister-General may be worthily imposed.” 

            Francis answered, punctuating all his words with sighs, “My son, I behold no sufficient leader of so great an various an army, no shepherd of so wide and scattered a flock, but I will point to you one in whom should shine out how the leader and shepherd of this family ought to be.  

"This man,” he said, “ought to be of the most serious life, of great discretion, having a good reputation, without personal favoritism, unless he should prefer some and so cause scandal in the whole.  There should be in him a strong zeal for prayer, focusing some of his time on his own soul and some on his flock.  Early in the morning, he should put before all things the holy sacrifice of the Mass and there, with devotion, he should most earnestly commend himself and his flock to divine protection.  But after prayer he should put himself in the midst of the friars so that he might be questioned by all, answer to all to provide for all with charity and patience and gentleness.

            “For he should show no favor to anyone, so that he should not pay less attention to the simple or foolish than to the wise and learned.  To those whom the gift of learning is granted, let them display in their manner the stamp of piety and simplicity, of patience and humility and let him cherish these virtues in himself and in others and continually exercise himself in preaching to them, inciting others more by example than by speech.  Let him be a hater of money, which is the chief corruption of our profession and perfection and as the head and example to be imitated by all, let him in no wise be wasted by many store-chests.

            “Let a habit and a book be sufficient for him, but for others writing utensils.  Let him not be a collector of books nor much given to reading, let haply that he be taken from his office which is given to studying.  Let him console piously the afflicted, since he is the last resort of those in tribulation, since if he isn’t seen as having hope for the infirm, the sick would despair of disease.  Let him lead the violent to gentleness, let him bear himself humbly and relax something of his own rights that he might have profit of their soul.  To the runaways of the Order, as to sheep who have perished, let him extend compassion and let him never deny mercy to them—for he should know that those temptations to be very great which could compel a fall to such—such temptations that, if the Lord should permit him to suffer, he might be fated to fall into even a greater chasm.

            “I will that he, as vicar of Christ, be honored by all with devotion and reverence and that he be provided for by all and in all things with all good-will, according to his necessity and the lowliness of our condition.  Yet he should not to smile on honors nor to rejoice more in receiving favors than in receiving injuries, so that his attitude is not changed by honors except for the better.  But if sometimes he may need better food, let him not eat it privately, but in a public place, so that the shame may be taken from others of providing them in their infirmities and weaknesses.  He should distinguish hidden knowledge and to search out the truth from secret vanities.  Let him hold all accusations suspect in the beginning, until the truth begins to appear by diligent examination.  Let him not lend his ear to many speakers, and let him hold them especially suspect in accusations, nor lightly believe them.  He should be this way because of the desire of retaining the honor, never injuring nor relaxing the form of justice and equity.  Even so, he should not be so rigorous that the soul of anyone would be destroyed nor out of excessive gentleness he would generate sloth nor from lax indulgence should discipline be dissolved.  And thus he would be feared by all and loved of those that fear him.  

"Let him always think and feel the office of his prelacy rather a burden than an honor to him.  I wish also that he have for his companions people who are known for their honesty, self-controlled, strong in times of need, pious and compassionate to the straying, giving equal attention to everyone and receiving those coming to them with holy joy and showing the form and observance of the gospel, according to the profession of the Rule, in themselves purely and simply to all.  Behold, I say, such should be Minister-General of this order and such companions that he should have.”

            -The Mirror of Perfection, Section V, Chapter 80


Humility Amidst Criticism

Francis once called together many friars and said to them, “I have asked the Lord that he would show me when I am his servant.  The most gracious Lord answered me, ‘I know that you are truly my servant when you think, speak and do holy things.’  Therefore I have called you, brothers, and have shown this to you that I may be put to shame before you when you see me lacking in any of these things.”
                        -Mirror of Perfection Section IV, Chapter 74

The true leader of God must invite and be open to critique.  A great church leader I have known would always, when he was criticized, no matter how petty or narrow minded the complaint, would always respond, "Thank you for bringing this to my attention.  I will pray about it and consider it."  And he would.  

I wish I had such humility. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Humble Leadership

The faithful servant, Francis, felt himself to be most thoroughly transformed by the virtue of holy humility in Christ.  Above all other virtues, he desired humility in his brothers.  He wished that they would love, desire, acquire and preserve this grace.  He encouraged them incessantly with both word and example and especially he admonished and induced the ministers and preachers to exercise acts of humility.  He used to say that they should not, because of their work and focus on preaching that they would neglect holy and devout prayer or asking for alms and working at times with their hands and doing work like the other friars, for the sake of the good example and for benefit for their and other’s souls.  

He said, “Lesser friars are much encouraged when their ministers and preachers spend time in prayer and bend themselves willingly to everyday works, especially those less desired.  If did not do so, they could not admonish other friars concerning their work without confusion, prejudice and condemnation of themselves.  For it is by the example of Christ that we not do and then teach, but that we act and teach at the same time.”
                        -Mirror of Perfection, Section IV, Chapter 73

There is a small group among Christians that say we should be leaderless.  To be a leader is to deny humility, they say.  However, when Jesus spoke of leadership, he didn't deny it's efficacy.  Rather, he said that a leader shouldn't act like a leader: self important, ambitious, knowing better than anyone else.  Instead, a leader should serve, do the tasks others find hard to do, to care for others' needs more than one's own.  

We will always have leaders because that is how humanity works-- we seek those we admire and imitate them. Leaders are essential.  But Christian leaders should be an antidote to worldly, Machiavellian leaders.  A Christian leader should act like the best of mothers, doing the most work, putting herself in the most difficult circumstances for her children, even if it means her children will be ungrateful and spiteful.  Our hope is that the child will look at the mother and want to be like her.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Francis and Christ Crucified

After his initial vision, Francis sought out secluded places, where one could mourn in peace, and he would groan and pray aloud.  Finally, his prayers were answered and he received an answer from the Lord.   At one point completely absorbed in the Lord, he saw a vision of Christ, crucified before him.  Francis’ soul melted within him, and this vision impressed him so strongly that anytime he had remembrance of Christ on the cross, he would have to restrain himself from weeping.    It was by this vision that Francis finally understood the meaning of Jesus’ words, “If you would come after me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

From this point on, Francis took on poverty, humility and goodness.   Up until this point, not only the proximity, but even the distant sight of lepers would disgust him.  But since he saw Christ, marred and despised as any leper, he finally overcame himself.  He would constantly seek to offer humble and gentle service to any leper when he saw them.  He would go to lepers’ homes, offer them alms and then kiss their hands and faces. 

When Francis saw the poor, he would never hesitate to give them something, sometimes his own necessity, stripping off his clothes, or tearing at them to give the poor at least a scrap, when he had nothing else to give.  If he saw a poor priest, he would treat them with the utmost respect and offer them not only goods, but something  for them to place on their altar, so he shared in their worship.

At one point, he visited St. Peters and he saw a group of beggars before the church.  He gladly stripped off his garments, gave them to the neediest beggar there.  Then he spent his day with the beggars, gladly partaking in the poverty of the gospel.

All this he did before he had donned any habit or formed his way of life. 

-From The Life of Francis by Bonaventure, Chapter 1, sections 5 and 6

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Francis' Vision

Francis had no thought of his future, but was caught up in his father’s textile business and his father’s wealth.  The Lord desired to give Francis insight, so he afflicted Francis with a disabling illness.  Once Francis had recovered, he dressed in his fine clothes and went out.  After leaving, Francis met a soldier who was of noble birth, but had fallen on hard times, and was dressed poorly.  Francis immediately took off his outer garments and gave them to the man, showing his honor to a former soldier and his compassion for a poor man.

That night, Francis slept and dreamed of approaching a huge, opulent castle, filled with banners and shields that bore the cross of Christ.  When he asked the occupants whose they were, he was told that they were his and that all the soldiers were his to command.  

When he awoke in the morning, he knew that the dream had been given to him by God, so he thought how he might act to receive this wonderful prize.  So he walked to Apulia, where a wealthy count was battling.  He thought that to win glory in war was certainly a way to obtain great riches.

On his way to the city, he heard the voice of God speaking to him as if He were a friend, saying, “Francis, who can provide you the greater reward: the wealthy man or the poor man?” 

Francis immediately answered: “Well, the wealthy one, of course.”

The Lord then said, “Then why do you seek help from the servant instead of the Lord, from a poor mortal instead of the wealthy God?”

Francis stopped and said, “Well, then, what should I do?”

He was told, “Go back home. The vision you saw was from the Spirit, and you must seek such wealth from God and not from human counsel.”

Francis rested overnight and then hurried back to Assisi, rejoicing and awaiting God’s instructions.

-Paraphrased from Bonaventure's Life of Francis, 1.2 and 1.3 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Francis the Merchant

THERE was a man in the city of Assisi, by name Francis, whose memory is blessed, for that God, graciously preventing him with the blessings of goodness, delivered him in His mercy from the perils of this present life, and abundantly filled him with the gifts of heavenly grace. For, albeit in his youth he was reared in vanity amid the vain sons of men, and, after gaining some knowledge of letters, was appointed unto a profitable business of merchandise, nevertheless, by the aid of the divine protection, he went not astray among the wanton youths after the lusts of the flesh, albeit given up unto pleasures ; nor among the covetous merchants, albeit intent on his gains, did he put his trust in money and treasure. For there was divinely implanted in the heart of the young Francis a certain generous compassion toward the poor, the which, growing up with him from infancy, had so filled his heart with kindliness that, when he came to be no deaf hearer of the Gospel, he was minded to give unto all that asked of him, in especial if they pleaded the love of God.

But once on a time, when he had been busied with the cares of his trading, and, contrary unto his wont, had sent empty away a certain beggar who besought an alms for the love of God, he forthwith, returning unto his pitiful mind, ran after him, and bestowed alms in merciful wise upon him; promising unto the Lord God that thenceforward he would never, while he could, refuse any that asked of him, pleading the love of God. And this promise with unwearied goodness he did observe until his death, thereby winning abundant increase of the love and grace of God. For he was wont to say in after time, when he had perfectly put on Christ, that, even while he was in the secular state, he could scarce ever hear words telling of the love of God, and remain unmoved in heart. Assuredly the charm of his gentleness and his courtly bearing, his submissiveness and docility surpassing mens wont, his open-handed largesse even beyond his means, were all clear tokens of the fair disposition of the youth, and seemed to be a presage of the abundance of divine blessing that should thereafter be poured out more richly upon him.

-The Life of Francis by Bonaventure, Chapter 1.1

Francis' Weakness

A certain companion once said to Francis, “Father, forgive me if I say anything to you which you may have already considered.  You know how previously through the grace of God the whole Order flourished in the purity of perfection.  You know how all friars with great enthusiasm and encouragement lived out holy poverty in everything, in small and poor buildings and furniture in few and poor books and clothes.  In these areas and in all external actions they were of one mind and action and they were encouraging the observation of all things which pertain to our profession and vocation and example of all.  And thus they were of one mind in the love of God and to their neighbor, as men who were apostolic and evangelical in truth. 

            “But recently this purity and love begins to change.  There are many who excuse the friars on account of its popularity, saying that because of so many friars the Rule cannot be observed by them.  Many friars have, in fact, come to such blindness that they think that people will be more edified and turn to devotion by this way rather than the former, and it seems to them that they now live more decently because they despise and count as nothing the way of holy simplicity, humility and poverty, which was the beginning and foundation of our Order.  Now we observe these things and we believe that they are displeasing to you.  But we wonder that if they really do displease you, why do you allow them and not correct them?”

            Francis answered him, “May the Lord have mercy on you, brother since you will be in opposition to me and try to get be involved in things that do not pertain to my office.  For as long as I had the office of superior over the friars I satisfied them by example and preaching, even though I was often ill,  and they remained in their vocation and profession.  After I saw that the Lord multiplied the number of friars and I saw that they began to depart from the right and secure way by which they had been used to walk and entered the broad way which leads to death because of their lukewarmness and lack of spirit.  They were not following their vocation and profession and a good example.  And they did not abandon this dangerous path, despite my preaching and admonition and the example which I showed to them continually.  Therefore I handed over the rule of the Order to the Lord and the Ministers.  At the time, I excused myself from leadership in the Chapter-General for the reason of my illnesses and I gave up the office of superiority over the friars.  But if the friars desired to walk according to my will even now, for their consolation and usefulness, I would desire that they had no other minister except me to the day of my death. I would actually rejoice at the benefit and the welfare because of the gain they and I would have.  Even if I were lying in bed I would not be ashamed to assist them, because my office of superiority is spiritual only—just to keep under control faults and to correct them spiritually.  

"But since I am not able to correct them by preaching, admonition and example, I will not become an executioner by punishing and flogging them, like the magistrates of this world.  For I trust in the Lord that the invisible enemies, who are the police officers of the Lord for punishment in this world and in the next, will take vengeance on those who have transgressed the commands of God and the vow of their profession and will cause them to be corrected by the men of this world to their disgrace and shame.  In this way, they will return to their vocation and profession.  Yet until the day of my death I will not cease at once to teach the brothers by example and the good works which the Lord has shown me and I will walk by that way which I have taught and show them by word and example.  In this way they will not have an excuse before god and I will not be forced to give an account of them before God.”
                        -Mirror of Perfection, Section IV, Chapter 71

It is good for leaders to recognize their weakness and their inabilities in leadership.  It is sad when only on leader will keep the organization following Jesus.  But some leaders are better at following Jesus than establishing an organization that will help all within it to follow Jesus.  We all have different giftings.

The Fallen Order

Francis used to say, “The time will come in which this Order, loved by God, will be so disrespected by the bad example of evil friars that it will be ashamed to go out in public.  But they who in that time will come to join the Order, will be led only by the working of the Holy Spirit, and flesh and blood will raise no stain on them, and they will be blessed by the Lord.  Unfortunately, good deeds will not be found in them, since charity which makes the saints work hard grows cold.  Great temptations will come upon them; and those in that time will have been found more worthy than their predecessors.  But woe to those who, in the form and appearance only of religious conversation, applauding themselves in their wisdom and confident in their learning, be found idle.  These idle are not acting in the works of virtue, in the way of repentance and in the pure observation of the Gospel, which, by their profession they are bound to observe pure and simply.  For these will not persistently resist the temptation which shall be permitted to happen for the proving of the elect.  But those who have been tried and approved will receive the crown of life, which, in the meantime, the malice of the reprobate will urge them on.
                        Mirror of Perfection, Section IV, Chapter 70

Every organization shifts and focuses on a new purpose.  Every organization eventually gets caught up in a mix of dead tradition and moves ahead in purposes grown out of lowest human endeavors.   Most organizations cannot remain in the way of Jesus, no matter how godly or inspired the founders.  Organizations become redundant, self-consuming, a blight on society.  This is not a possibility, it is a prophecy, a certainty that must eventually unfold.  The only way to avoid this is to have the leaders constantly examine themselves and their work to determine if it is following the path Jesus established in the gospels.