Saturday, October 31, 2009

Franciscan Prayer...The Journey of Francis

Disillusioned as a valiant knight after being wounded in battle, Francis had a profound experience of God in the broken–down church of San Damiano, which he visited one day. Face–to–face with the wounded and glorified Christ on the cross, Francis met the God of compassionate love, a God ‘bent over’ in love in the wounds of the crucified Christ.

Bonaventure describes this encounter in his Major Legend (1.6) where he writes: ‘While [Francis] was praying and all of his fervor was totally absorbed in God, Christ Jesus appeared to him as fastened to a cross.’ He indicates that there was no exchange of words. ‘His [Francis’] soul melted at the sight, and the memory of Christ’s passion was impressed on the innermost recesses of his heart.’

This encounter with the crucified God changed Francis in the very core of his being. Bonaventure states: ‘From then on he clothed himself with a spirit of poverty, a sense of humility, an eagerness for intimate piety.’ The expression of God’s self–giving love on the cross, impressed Francis in such a way that he began to change, marking the start of Francis’ spiritual journey.

The God whom Francis discovered in the cross of Jesus Christ was a God ‘who delights to be with the simple and those rejected by the world’ (Thomas of Celano, First Life, 12.31). Impressed by the love of the Crucified, Francis could no longer remain alone in his search for God. Rather, he had to find God in others: his neighbor, his brother and even the tiny creatures of nature.

The necessity of the other for Francis thrust him into radical poverty whereby everything that hindered his relation to the other was stripped away. Seeing God in the wounds of the Crucified drew Francis to a new level of compassion and to sharing his goods, his very self, with others.

Bonaventure writes that ‘to poor beggars he wished to give not only his possessions but his very self, sometimes taking off his clothes...ripping them in pieces to give to them’ (1.6). The encounter with Christ gave Francis a new openness and freedom. Embraced by the compassionate love of God, Francis was liberated within and went out to embrace others in love.

According to Bonaventure, Francis discovered his own identity through encountering the crucified Christ, that is, he discovered his own wounded–ness in the image of the crucified man. This self–knowledge enabled him to go out to the poor and sick.

Describing Francis as the truly humble person, Bonaventure writes: ‘As Christ’s disciple he strove to regard himself as worthless in his own eyes and those of others. He used to make this statement frequently: ‘What a person is before God, that he is and no more’’(6.1).

Naming the truth about himself before God freed Francis to make the journey to the other person and back again. Only in relation to the other did his weaknesses become strengths, for it was in naming his weaknesses that Francis matured in authentic human love.

Because of the mystery of Christ and the embrace of God’s compassionate love in the wounded Christ, Francis grew spiritually as a person, finding his true self to be a relational self. The deeper he grew in relationship with Christ, the deeper he grew in relationship with others.

As Francis deepened his relationship with Christ, the other became less for Francis an object and more a brother. Community became the concrete expression of the Christ mystery for Francis. The deeper he entered into the mystery of Christ in his own life, the more he recognized Christ in the world around him, in his brothers, the lepers, in the sick and in the tiny creatures of creation.

‘In all the poor,’ Bonaventure wrote, ‘Francis saw before him a portrait of Christ’ (8.5). Even animals represented Christ to him. Seeing the birth of a lamb, for example, Francis exclaimed, ‘Alas, brother lamb, innocent animal, always displaying Christ to people!’ (8.6).

Bonaventure highlights the idea that the one who dwells in Christ dwells in the other, because the fullness of who we are in Christ can only be found in the other. The difference of the other, therefore, was not an obstacle for Francis in his search for God but rather a celebration of God. For he found his own identity in God and he found God in the fragile, wounded flesh of his brothers and sisters.

It is prayer, according to Bonaventure, that impelled Francis to see the world with new vision, a contemplative vision that penetrated the depths of reality. The world became Francis’ cloister because he found it to be permeated with the goodness of God. Next....Jesus - Revelation of the Father

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Franciscan Prayer...Francis of Assisi

Francis’ path to God was an inversion of monastic values. Rather than fleeing the world to find God, God is to be found in the world – the ‘cloister’ of the Franciscans.

Francis of Assisi, attained the heights of contemplation through a penetrating vision of creation. With a basic education in reading and writing, Francis came to prayer from a popular and lay experience.

His family belonged to the rising merchant class in Assisi. His father, a cloth merchant, owned a shop in Assisi where Francis apparently worked. He was not only familiar with the daily business of buying and trading cloth, but also came into contact with many different types of people—farmers, craftsmen, artists, bakers—people who worked with their hands and valued the material things of the earth.

The idea of transcending this world to contemplate true reality would have been foreign to Francis’ thinking. Rather, he regarded earthly life as possessing ideal, positive potential as God’s creation. Some regard him as ‘the first materialist’ in the best sense of the word because of the way Francis looked on the material world—not for what it is but for how it is: God’s creation. Next... The Journey of Francis

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Franciscan Prayer...The Monastic Approach

According to the Rule of St. Benedict, a monk must flee the world to seek God because the world poses obstacles in the search for God. The monastic life is a renunciation of one’s will, the place to do spiritual combat for Christ so that one may strive for the Kingdom of heaven.

Monks sought to live the ‘life of the angels’ through the work of continuous prayer that anticipated life in the heavenly Jerusalem. For Benedict, ‘nothing is to be preferred to the work of God’ (Rule, 43.3).

Monastic life has a strong eschatological dimension, a desire for heaven and union with God. The monk strives for the Jerusalem above, the place where far from the world and from sin, one draws close to God, the angels and the saints who surround him. Here on earth, a monk’s life anticipates the life of heaven where the angels already enjoy the vision of God.

Gregory the Great held that the contemplative life is the heavenly life, which cannot be lived perfectly ‘in this world.’ Contemplation is given to monks so that by purity of heart they may anticipate the incorruption of heaven. Gregory claimed that the contemplative life is superior to and better than the active life and thus should be preferred to the active when possible.

For monastic spiritual writers in general, contemplation could only be attained in the monastery because it anticipated union with God in heaven. To strive for such union required listening in silence and solitude, being alone in the presence of the transcendent One. The busy marketplace of the world with its sinful practices hindered the search for union with God.

It is no wonder that, up to the 13th century and the rise of the Franciscans, contemplation for the ordinary Christian was unthinkable. Few were believed to have the grace of this pursuit. With the rise of Franciscan evangelical life, a new path to salvation emerged in the quest for God. Next...Francis of Assisi

Friday, October 2, 2009

Franciscan Prayer

This lecture is based on Ilia Delio’s article, ‘St. Francis Style of Prayer’ appearing on the Saint Anthony Messenger, October 2004.

Introduction: Our Relationship with God

Importance of language to speak to God:

-Distant and remote language = God is distant and remote
-Male language = God is male
-Humble and loving language = God is humble and loving
-Judgmental language = God is judgmental

-The God to whom I pray is the God who directs my life; thus my image of God, the kind of God I believe in, is crucial to the way my journey of prayer proceeds.

Group Sharing 1: Image of God

-Is God interested in me or is He distant?

-Is God primarily a severe judge or savior for me?

-Do I treat God as ruler or lover?

Image of God

In his book The Social God, Kenneth Leech looks at various images of God that have governed Christian belief throughout history. For example, those who believe in a transcendent, spiritual God who does not get involved with the messiness of the world believe that the material world is irrelevant because only truly spiritual activities are important. Prayer to this type of God can be self–centered and present peace, stillness and tranquility as ends in themselves.

Followers of a God who is not passionate about creation and therefore never becomes angry or jealous promote a nice, safe God of love, life and joy. Because Jesus is a nice guy, the reality of the passion and the role of God in our ambiguity, messiness and sin is avoided. These types are like the hippie flower children of the ’60s and ‘70s who always proclaimed that everything is beautiful and ‘all you need is love.’

On the other hand, some people perceive God as a fascist, distant and authoritarian. Prayer is highly structured and a duty—not real communication or personal relationship because God is a harsh judge who uses the world as a courtroom. These people often live in the fear of God’s judgment and eternal damnation (i.e., the pains of hell).

There are many other images but the bottom line is: The way we experience God is the way we experience the world and all that is in it. That is why to talk of a journey or path of prayer means talking about a particular way of experiencing God.

Growth in prayer is the measure of our journey to God. In the monastic tradition, the idea of journey meant that the created world motivates a person to turn inward in the search for God. In order to know true reality, a monk or nun had to transcend this world and contemplate the one above.
next...The Monastic Approach
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