Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Franciscan Spirituality--Part One of Two

After my August 13 blog entry on being a friar I received several e-mails congratulating me on my 45 years as a Franciscan, and a few which asked me to say a bit more about Franciscan Spirituality.

Unlike many other founders of religious orders Francis simply instructed the early friars to live the Gospel. He did not develop a systematic spiritual path to follow. The Rule of our order begins with the words--" The rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, to live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property, and in chastity." In addition to the rule Francis gave several admonitions to the early friars about living together as brothers. Basically then simply living the Gospel is our spirituality.

People in our order who came later reflected on Francis' experience of God and developed a systematic theology/spirituality from that. Among these were two great theologians, St. Bonaventure and Blessed Suns Scotus. A contemporary Franciscan Sister, Ilia Delio, OSF drawas especially on the work of Bonaventure and sees our path as following Christ as "a God of humble love."

A the heart of this line of thinking is the belief held in the Franciscan tradition as well as by many of the early theologians of the church, like Irenaeus, that the reason why God became human in Jesus was not to get punished for our sin, but to walk with humans in unconditional, humble love. As Duns Scotus said, "God must have had a greater reason than sin for becoming human." The punishment and suffering happen because we humans did not accept this love. Jesus, rather than lashing out in anger, or selling out to the system, was faithful in love and surrendered His life. It is a belief that even had there been no sin the Incarnation would have occurred because it was God's plan from the beginning. In Scripture John's Gospel and the letter to the Collosians provide a grounding for this line of thought. This thinking denies neither the reality of sin, nor the redeeming value of Jesus' life, but casts it in a different light. Redemption happens not because the proper punishment was meted out or a debt paid, but because total love is victorious over sin. The Cross then becomes a manifestation of total love, to which we respond by walking in humble love with our brothers and sisters.

On my next blog entry I will reflect on what it means on a practical level to live out this beleif, to respond to this tremendous love.

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