1. The heart of Franciscan spirituality is the incarnation. Three questions provide an understanding of this incarnational spirituality:
a. What does God mean?
b. What does it mean to be human?
c. What does it mean to be in the world?
Christ is the one Word in the Franciscan tradition that encompasses all three questions and shows the interrelationship and connectedness of all three (God, humanity, world).
2. The underlying question about the incarnation is this: If “Adam” had not sinned, would Christ have come?
a. Universal opinion of theologians: Christ came to save and would not need to come if “Adam” had not sinned.
b. John Duns Scotus, 14th century Franciscan theologian, offers a different view: God does not come out of “need” but out of “desire.” Therefore, God would have come in the person of Christ because God desires us, wants us and loves us.
B. What does God mean?
1. “The good is inherently self-diffusive,” to quote St. Bonaventure. Christ, the center or heart of the Triune God, is the form or expression through which divine life is poured out into the universe. Everything that is divine comes through Christ. The universe bears the resemblance of Christ (John 1: 1-4).
2. A more generous expression of God’s love is God’s desire to participate fully in creation. Before history began, God’s first decision is to love, create, and become human.
C. What does it mean to be human?
1. Christ the Exemplar
a. God did not only choose to create and to take part in creation, but chose a specific time, place, and identity: a “fingerprint.” God comes as a baby on Christmas. This decision forms the beginning of what it means to be human.
b. Bonaventure sees the close relation of being God and being human. The body of Christ is a human body. Christ, the Exemplar, is the working model or blueprint for the creation of the whole universe. Everything is made in and through Christ, the Incarnate Word. All matter by its very existence resembles Christ.
2. The Human condition and Christ
a. The human person is revealed in the face of Jesus. Franciscan spirituality says it is not so much that Jesus looked like everybody else, but that everybody else looked like Jesus. This is God’s great humility. “..Jesus did not count equality with God something to be grasped at. But emptied himself … born in human likeness…humbled himself…. Obediently accepting death, even death on a cross…” (Phil 2:6-1 1)
b. The human life that Christ accepts is not one that escapes limitations and suffering. To deny suffering in Christ is to deny incarnation. In Christ, God partakes of the human condition.
c. The challenge of the human person is to recognize God in the person of Christ with human limitation. In fact, it was because of these expectations that persons had difficulty accepting the incarnate Christ as God. Likewise, the tendency is to look for God in what is not human, in an abstract world that is removed from the human condition.
D. What does it mean to be in the World?
1. Everything that is in the world is an expression of who God is. The incarnation is the central event of history. The world reflects the wisdom, power and goodness of God.
2. Tradition focuses on a redemption vocabulary which points to a “sin-centered” world rather than a Christocentric universe. Scotus asks for a proportional understanding of history. The cause of this magnificent creation could not be sin, but rather the unfathomable love of God. Moreover, if Christ came as a result of sin, human persons would control divinity.
3. God in Franciscan spirituality is described in words free and non-possessive. First of all, God did come to pay a price because of “Adam and Eve’s” sin, but rather out of desire, out of love. Secondly, God is generous. God does not hold on divinity as a possession but came in order to share divinity’s love and life with creation.
4. God chooses to come in a particular time–a time marked by sin and suffering and occupation. Out of free choice, God enters into this condition. The consequence of that choice is death, “even death on a cross.” This is God’s ultimate commitment to becoming human.
5. The Incarnation is the beginning of all history. Everything before is a prelude, everything after moves toward fulfillment in Divine Love.
E. A Franciscan Way of Life
Following in the Footsteps of Jesus with Francis today:
1. Committing oneself to the Gospel way of life in the spirit of Francis, especially in poverty of spirit and simplicity of lifestyle, chaste love for the sake of the kingdom, obedience, joyful penance, generous service to others, faithful stewardship of God’s creation, devoted work and faithfulness to the Church.
2. Participating prayerfully in the daily celebration of the Eucharist and the liturgy of the hours.
3. Giving prayer a priority in one’s life, including: daily meditation; monthly day of renewal; annual retreat; devotion to the Virgin Mary; and the prayerful reading of the Scriptures.
4. Living as a family, breaking bread together at meals and gatherings, extending hospitality and being available to others.
5. Living in solidarity with the poor and downtrodden and building up a social order based on the Gospel values of justice, truth, freedom, love and peace.
6. Committing oneself to ongoing formation and giving oneself to the daily enrichment of one’s mind to enhance community life and ministry.
7. Being actively concerned with the building up of the Church as the people of God, especially through evangelization.
Itinerary for the prayerful contemplation of the Crucifix of San Damiano
Order of Friars Minor
Francis was walking one day by the church of San Damiano, which was abandoned by everyone and almost in ruins. Led by the Spirit, he went in to pray and knelt down devoutly before the Crucifix… With the lips of the painting, the image of Christ spoke to him. “Francis”, it said, calling him by name, “go rebuild my house; as you see, it is all being destroyed.” (2Cel 10)
On celebrating 800 years since the foundation of the Order of Friars Minor, we have reflected on the experience which marked the beginning of Francis’ conversion, and, together with him, we gaze on the Crucifix of San Damiano.
By handing you this Crucifix, we wish to offer you help in prayer. Like Clare and Francis, and many other Sisters and Friars, who, before it, felt accepted and called to follow Him, so today He turns to you so that you may hear His voice.
Place yourself at His feet, look on Him with eyes, contemplate Him with your heart, adhere to Him by your will, give in to Him in your dreams, imitate Him through your life. Stay where He makes Himself available, listen to Him, “gaze on Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, wishing to imitate Him”; put into His hands all He suggests to you and makes you intuit; collaborate with Him.
Let Francis’ question be yours also: “Lord, what do you wish me to do?”
The “method” suggested here should not imprison your contemplation; it is the Lord who will guide your path and arouse newness of life in you!
The short itinerary proposed may be used in personal, fraternity or group prayer and it is suggested that it be used in a creative manner, taking account of the different cultures.
Besides, this “method” needs to be applied with an openness of heart, patience and perseverance in order to give fruit.
Every moment of this spiritual itinerary requires knowing how to pause, without hurry or anxiety, living this time in the gratuitousness of communion with the Loved One.
- Dispose yourself to contemplation (***NUMBERING***)
- Dispose yourself to contemplation through silence, interior recollection and pacification of heart.
- Call on the help of the Spirit to “purify you, enlighten you and to inflame you internally.”
- “Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart…”.
- Contemplate Him for a prolonged period.
- Allow the gaze of the Crucified reach into your heart.
- Identify yourself with one of the personages.
- Pray with St. Francis
- Contemplate the Crucifix
- “Enlighten the darkness of my heart”
Allow yourself to be questioned by the Lord:
- What are your “darknesses”?
- Who is at the centre of your desires?
- Do you live “a true faith, a certain hope and a perfect charity”?
- What kind of obedience do you give to the “holy and true command”?
- Conclude this time of communion by taking up once more and personalizing the prayer before the Crucifix.
- Assume a commitment to translate and incarnate the prayer into everyday life.
- Give yourself back to the Lord
The Prayer before the Crucifix
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith.
and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord,
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.