We’re at the week in Advent with the rose (don’t call it pink) candle, which is when the people in the Church talk about joy.
Up until now, my Franciscan Advent examination of conscience has been pretty, well, dark and joyless. Rejecting St. Francis of Assisi’s radical examples on poverty, peacemaking, love of creation and community, I may have made it sound like following Francis (who was just trying to follow Jesus as literally as he could) is kind of a downer. At the least, trying to measure up to such radical examples has been a little depressing.
So let me say this. When I think about the true Franciscans in my life – the priests and sisters, especially – they are among the most joyous people I know. In fact, if you pull out the laundry list of fruits of the Spirit that I use as my usual examination of conscience – from Galatians 5:22-23 – the Franciscans that I know rock them all. (Most of them, anyway.) Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Lots of check marks for those Franciscans, for Fathers Ed and Jerome and Kurt and Sister Joan, especially.
I know small sample sizes can be a trap. I have spent time with only a few members of the LDS Church, for instance, so I’m sure there are some real Mormon jerks out there, but honestly, those I have met are universally among the genuinely nicest people I know.
Christians, on the other hand, I know a bunch of, and we definitely run the whole gamut. But if you asked me to pick some ambassadors, some people to show off the best of following Jesus, so that people who didn’t know better would say “Those Christians are a loving, joyous, peaceful bunch?” I’d grab me some Franciscans to throw out there.
One of the books on my towering stack of to-reads is called Living Like Francis, and I just got to the part where they articulate what makes Franciscan spirituality different from that of other Christian schools of thought, and they think their big differentiator is that, while other people focus on obedience or preaching or being smart, they focus on this: God is love. My reaction, maybe yours, too, when I saw that was, “Well, duh.” I mean, it’s all over the books John writes in the Bible. Surely that is not distinctively Franciscan.
Maybe what makes the Franciscans unique is that they don’t let that ultra-simple concept (3 words! 9 letters!) get stale. Maybe, if we all spent more time just sitting with what that mantra means, for us and for the world, we’d all be a little more joyous, even if (or especially because) it moved us to do hard things.
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