Monday, November 30, 2009

HOLY POVERTY AND THE HOLIDAYS (Advent reflections for Franciscans based on an article by Br. JR)-Part 1

As Advent dawns upon us, we begin to think of the holidays – Christmas is just around the corner. Many are thinking of the gifts to receive, the dinner parties they are going to host, how they will decorate their homes, who to invite, where they are going to travel. This may seem normal, but there is something that must be considered but is often forgotten. Anyone wanting to imitate Francis of Assisi’s Gospel Life must consider his plans to be consistent with the evangelical counsel of poverty as Francis understood and taught it.

Francis’ spirituality is a moral commitment. The Gospel still calls us to ‘leave everything and follow Christ.’ These words moved our holy father Francis to begin a new life, and nothing has changed in 800 years.

The Gospel still says ‘Deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow me.’

This was exactly what Francis and his brothers did. They denied themselves of many things – family, property, comfort, money, and sometimes, food. They worked for what they had. They kept what they needed and the rest were given to the poor. They put their talents to serve the brotherhood and the poor. Nothing was kept for themselves.

The Gospel still says, ‘If you want to be perfect sell all that you have; give it to the poor, then come and follow me.’

This was exactly what Francis and Brother Bernardo did on the town square the day after they heard these words from the Holy Gospel.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fraciscan Prayer - Implications of Franciscan Prayer .. Last Part

How does this theology of the word play out in Francis’ journey of prayer? For Francis, God loves us where we are—with our frailty, weaknesses and insecurities. This is the meaning of his encounter with the God of compassionate love as seen in the cross of San Damiano.

Francis understands that while God is incomprehensible and ineffable, he is at the same time ‘bent over’ in love for us, in and through the Son, Jesus Christ. God is infinite in love and intimate in love, far beyond us yet intensely
By following in the footprints of Jesus Christ, we are led to the Father of incomprehensible love through the Spirit, who joins us to Christ, who in turn leads us to the Father. For Francis, Christ is the center of the Trinity and the center of our relationship to God.

For Francis, prayer is not a flight from the world toward a transcendent God; rather it centers on the mystical body of Christ and our participation in this mystery. God took on our flesh that we might discover his eternal face in ourselves. This is the good news of Jesus Christ and of our lives in Christ. Prayer channels us into the depths of the Christ mystery where the fullness of our humanity—and our happiness—lies.

In her Second Letter to St. Agnes of Prague, Clare directed her toward a relationship with the God of self-giving love. Take some time to meditate on the following words of Clare and consider whether or not your relationship with God is leading you more deeply into the mystery of Christ:

‘Gaze upon [Him]; consider [Him]; contemplate [Him], as you desire to imitate [Him]. If you suffer with Him, you shall reign with Him, [if you] weep [with Him], you shall rejoice with Him, [if you] die [with Him] on the cross of tribulation, you shall possess heavenly mansions in the splendor of the saints and, in the Book of Life, your name shall be called glorious among people.’

Group Sharing II: Guide Questions for Reflection:

-Who is God to whom you pray?

-Where do you find God? In silence? In other people? In liturgical prayer?

-Is God ‘up above’ you, transcendent and distant to you? Or do you experience God’s intimate presence in your life?

-How do you envision the journey to God? Does a ladder, a spiral or another image capture your relationship to God?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Franciscan Prayer - Franciscan Journey

For Franciscans, the journey to God is a journey inward, toward a new relationship with God in which God takes on flesh anew in one’s life. The Good News of Jesus Christ, as the Franciscans understand it, is that we do not ‘go to God’ as if God sat in the starry heavens awaiting our arrival; rather, God has ‘come to us’ in the Incarnation.

‘The eternal God has humbly bent down,’ St. Bonaventure wrote, ‘and lifted the dust of our nature into unity with his own person’ (Sermon II on the Nativity of the Lord). We move toward God because God has first moved toward us: This is the Franciscan path of prayer.

The journey of prayer for Franciscans is the discovery of God at the center of our lives. We pray not to acquire a relationship with God as though acquiring something that did not previously exist. We pray to disclose the image of God in which we are created, the God within us, that is, the one in whom we are created and in whom lies the seed of our identity.

We pray so as to discover what we already have—’the incomparable treasure hidden in the field of the world and of the human heart’ (Clare of Assisi, Third Letter to Agnes of Prague). We pray not to ‘ascend’ to God but to ‘give birth to God’—to allow the image in which we are created to become visible. We pray to bear Christ anew. In prayer, therefore, we discover what we already have—the potential for the fullness of life, and this life is the life of Christ.
Next...Implications of Franciscan Prayer

Monday, November 9, 2009

Franciscan Prayer- Jesus – Revelation of the Father

In his writings, Francis showed less a personal relationship to Christ than to the Father—the source of all goodness and the Most High. Yet Francis realized that the Son is the beloved of the Father; thus the deepest reason for clinging to Jesus is that he reveals the Father. Francis believed that Christ alone is the One in whom the Father takes delight because the Son satisfies the Father in everything.

Instead of relating to Jesus in a personal way, Francis often used the expression ‘Word of the Father’ when speaking about the person of Christ. This is surprising for one who was considered a ‘second Christ’ in the Middle Ages. Yet we have evidence of this understanding in Francis’ writings.

In the second version of his Later Admonition and Exhortation, for example, he states that, ‘Through his angel, St. Gabriel, the Most High Father in heaven announced this Word of the Father, so worthy, so holy and glorious, in the womb of the holy and glorious Virgin Mary’ (4-5).
Francis saw God as communicative and expressive—perhaps like a divine cell phone! The Father’s self-expression is his word. Jesus is the word of the Father. Francis saw a connection between the divine word, which is entirely worthy, holy and glorious, and the Incarnate word, which assumed our fragile human nature.

Francis emphasized to his followers that the word of the Father left his divine riches in order to accept the poverty of humanity. God expresses himself by giving himself away in love. The Incarnation is where the word of the Father ‘descends’ to embrace us in love. This movement of descent, shown to us in Christ, is a daily event that we see and touch in the Eucharist:

‘Behold, each day he humbles himself as when he came from the royal throne into the Virgin’s womb; each day he himself comes to us, appearing humbly, each day he comes down from the bosom of the Father upon the altar in the hands of a priest’ (Admonition One).

The descent of the word into humanity reminded Francis of the humility of God—not simply the humble circumstances of Jesus’ earthly beginnings and life but rather another name for God, who is, above all, love. In his Praises of God, Francis exclaimed, ‘You are love...You are humility.’

Francis called God ‘humility’ because he perceived the love of the Father in the descent of the Son in the Incarnation. In Bonaventure’s terminology, the Father bends low in love to embrace us fragile human beings in and through the Son, the Word of God. The Word incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth, expresses the humble love of God.
Next...Franciscan Journey
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