|……only those who have stripped themselves and taken on a profoundly human relationship with Christ become followers of Francis and receivers of his prayer of protection.|
Exhortation of Saint Francis to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance
Concerning Those Who Do Penance
All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (cf. Mk 12:30), and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.
Oh, how happy and blessed are these men and women when they do these things and persevere in doing them, because “the spirit of the Lord will rest upon them” (cf. Is 11:2) and he will make “his home and dwelling among them” (cf Jn 14:23), and they are the sons of the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:45), whose works they do, and they are the spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 12:50).
We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ; we are brothers to him when we fulfill “the will of the Father who is in heaven” (Mt 12:50).
We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor 6:20) through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give life to others by example (cf. Mt 5:16).
Oh, how glorious it is to have a great and holy Father in heaven! Oh, how glorious it is to have such a beautiful and admirable Spouse, the Holy Paraclete.
Oh, how glorious it is to have such a Brother and such a Son, loved, beloved, humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all: Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave up his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:15) and prayed to the Father saying:
“Oh, holy Father, protect them with your name (cf. Jn 17:11) whom you gave me out of the world. I entrusted to them the message you entrusted to me and they received it. They have known that in truth I came from you; they have believed that it was you who sent me. For these I pray, not for the world (cf. Jn 17:9). Bless and consecrate them, and I consecrate myself for their sakes. I do not pray for them alone; I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word (cf. Jn 17:20) that they may be holy by being one, as we are (cf. Jn 17:11). And I desire, Father, to have them in my company where I am to see this glory of mine in your kingdom” (cf. Jn 17:6-24).
In the spirit that I have previously outlined, let me make a few initial points regarding the Prologue of the Rule of the OFS. First, this is the authoritative source from which comes our awkward charism:namely third order member’s of Francis motley crew. This is his letter to us who so desire to live his Gospel life but are bound by our states in life to live it in an equally radical yet different manner. We are only followers of Francis, and therefore addressees of this letter, if we correspond to the traits laid out in the first paragraph: Love God totally, Love neighbor, Hate the body or flesh of sin and attachment to this world, receive the Eucharist, and do penance. These are the prerequisites of our relationship and discipleship to Francis and His Christ.
Even before we can follow Francis, we must be willing to follow Christ. Francis is about Jesus. We must follow Christ’s command and example and love. We must be one with Him in the Eucharist. We must turn from sin and repent. We must mortify ourselves with discipline and offer sacrifices of love through a life of penance. In doing this we die. In doing this we are stripped as Francis was. Necessary to following Francis is being stripped with him before the bishop. Then and only then can we look to God as our Father. Only by these five traits does the Holy Spirit come to dwell in our hearts, do we becomes sons of the Father, and kindred of Christ.
Notice how much family language is used in these paragraphs. Our starting principle is a real relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A relationship that is profoundly human. We carry Him, We become pregnant with Him, We are born of Him. Francis uses human terms because the God he loves became Human. The Newness of our Franciscan vocations must be Christ-centered and human. We must live our radical detachment or “stripping” and the radical gift of relying on the Father. We must look and find Christ in our human relationships and express our love for Him in our human relationships. Then and only then, do we fall under the protective tunic of Francis, under his paternal blessing.
At his death, Francis blessed his followers. At the end of the letter to those who do penance, only those who have stripped themselves and taken on a profoundly human relationship with Christ become followers of Francis and receivers of his prayer of protection.
Father Adam Streitenberger, OFS
Originally posted at Franciscan Wonderings on Wednesday, April 24, 2013