"A Franciscan-Hearted People"
September 13, 2023, 6:00 AM

As a father cares for his children, so does God care for those who fear him. Psalm 103:13

Is it time for a Franciscan Renaissance?

Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of St. Francis, described St. Francis’ encounter with God as that which “freed him both from a sinful nature and from a perverted society which was Christian in name only.” Perhaps, it is time to revisit and reclaim St. Francis’ original endeavor and experience of God.

A renaissance may be in order because the major forms of Christianity appear to be stuck. Protestant and Catholic churches alike are mired in renewal and return to faith programs. Most show little reward for the efforts.

White supremacist doctrine, QAnon, and conspiracy theories are stoking a religious zeal with propaganda that asks members to return to the church of their “forefathers” to reclaim an historic, idyllic fairytale of a bygone era. Younger generations see through this hoax. Yet, they find little to replace it. Millions of people are now leaving churches of all denominations.

Rather than hear about Christianity laced with white nationalism or supremacy, people are looking for the truth that lies behind rulebooks “that have been falsified by the lying pens of the scribes.” (Jeremiah 8:8) It is the lived theology of St. Francis that creates a way out of our bind and undermines the fallacies in our thinking about God and all of creation.

St. Francis was unfamiliar with the notion of separation from God and individual salvation. For him, all of creation was infused with God’s Spirit from the beginning of time, and reaches everyone regardless of their belief. Separation from God was never possible. St. Francis would have been appalled at the theology in our liturgies today that emphases separation, shame, punishment, damnation, and an atonement for an individual salvation that correlates with a way into a future heaven. For St. Francis, Jesus came to reveal a loving God and not a God who condemns.

Our crises today include a pending environmental catastrophe as seen in our weather, violence as demonstrated in mass shootings around the country, economic collapse with an ever-increasing divide between the poor and the wealthy, and mounting hostility manifested in exclusion, division, racism, and religious bigotry.

It is the beatitudes of Jesus (“Blessed are they who . . .”) to which a younger generation connects. They see the worth of those who are blessed and loved, and they are ready to WORK on making the Kingdom of God happen on earth right here and now. This generation is not waiting for the “next world to come.”

The crisis in our world today and the crisis in the church are interrelated. A Franciscan Renaissance has the potential to heal both crises because of its inherent Christ-centered nature. In addition to its creative theological contributions, the Franciscan way of living also mirrors the way that Jesus would address today’s crises in the world and church.

With regard to ecology, St. Francis lived out a deep relationship to nature. Secondly, in terms of nonviolence, St. Francis took the side of prayer and fasting. Thirdly, in confronting economic disparity, St. Francis refused to hold on to money and worked to feed the poor. And, in relationship to radical inclusivity, St. Francis embraced everyone, even the despised lepers. He believed in deep-seated equity for everyone.

While Franciscan religious orders have long been part of the church, it is incumbent upon ALL of us to be "Franciscan-hearted" people. This is the essence of a Franciscan Renaissance. Followers need not opt into other-world piety or support the status quo of established Franciscan institutions. They only need to be real-life witnesses to the deep love of Christ that St. Francis and St. Clare showed as the two of them confronted the forces that were tearing their world apart. The requirement for becoming a “Franciscan-hearted” person has already been granted through the love that Christ imparts to us daily.

I pray that you find the “Franciscan-hearted” part of you, and that it may flow into a world that is so much in need of healing.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John