Archive for francis of assisi

The Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , on September 17, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

stigmata of francisToday is the Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine (d. 1621), the important Jesuit bishop and theologian. Or is it?

With all respect to my Jesuit brothers and the universal church, for whom today is the memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, the worldwide Franciscan family celebrates the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis each September 17. It has always struck me as an awkward celebration, at least after first glance. It would appear that Franciscans the world over are celebrating five wounds, celebrating the pain and suffering the we know accompanies what is sometimes billed as a great grace or gift from Christ. And it remains awkward and even weird if we remain fixated on the crucifixion wounds that appeared on Francis’s body.

But this feast day actually has little to do with these wounds as such.

Rather, the Feast of the Stigmata, at least theologically, is a much more complex and robust celebration. What we see when we take a closer look beyond the disputed history of hagiography and medical inquiry (numerous studies have been written about the veracity of the Stigmata accounts, most recently Solanus Benfatti’s book, The Five Wounds of Saint Francis [2011]), is not a question of what appeared on the outside of the Poverello, the poor man from Assisi. Instead, we are invited to look more carefully inside, to the interior life of a Christian disciple who wished nothing more than to follow in the footprints of Christ.

In his conclusion, Benfatti writes:

It is essential to comprehend that Francis had never thought to pick and choose aspects of the life of Christ to dress himself up in, but rather had chosen something that I would say is much harder because there is far less control in it: he had chosen, simply, to follow. Francis chose to move forward step-by-step in the footprints of the Lord, which I say is dangerous, because who can know where it will lead? (236, emphasis original).

This is at the heart of the Feast — a recognition that what appeared externally on Francis’s body was reflective of his interior conformity to the lived example of Jesus Christ.

So often we are people who judge from the exterior — how someone dresses, how or what someone speaks, where someone lives, what someone does, and so on. Yet, as the Scriptures continually remind us, God judges what is inside and in our hearts. The Feast of the Stigmata is a celebration of a Christian life lived as fully and authentically as possible. The ‘grace’ that was given to Francis was not some random burden or some freak sideshow illness, it is a visual and corporeal representation of what only God can typically see — a baptized man who lived as fully as he could bearing the resemblance of Christ.

On this feast day, I invite all people — Franciscans and others alike — to look within, see how each of us does or does not bear the marks of Christ in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Perhaps we won’t receive the marks of Christ in the form of five wounds, but we could certainly — and should certainly — make visible the presence of Christ in every other way.

Happy Feast Day!

Photo: File

Are You Salt and Light?

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

salt-and-lightI believe that one of the real challenges Christianity faces today is a widespread memory problem. For example, do you remember from what book this Sunday’s Second Reading was taken? Most people probably don’t, and while that’s a shame (and raises questions about how closely we are paying attention to the Word of God during liturgy), that’s not exactly what I’m referring to here.

The memory problem I’m thinking about has to do with how we are very quick to apply our own ideas and judgments of various Christian figures throughout history to them before we pause to recall — to listen — to what they are telling us.

Take, for instance, St. Francis of Assisi. Many are quick to mention a whole host of things they associate with the saint. But do they recall that he was stupid, an idiot, crazy, and unattractive? Now before you get too offended, you need to know that these were the descriptions that he himself, many of his fellow Assisi villagers, and the early biographers ascribed to him!

Francis viewed himself as one who was lesser and referred to himself as uneducated and simple, an idiot and stupid. The people who had known him from birth called him crazy as he began to change his life, some accounts even have young adults and others in Assisi jeering and spitting at him. His official biographers also described him as not particularly attractive and affirmed his less-than-impressive educational background.

The reason I bring this up is because it reflects something that is going on in the Second Reading this weekend very well. St. Paul similarly confesses to the Corinthians that he did not come to them nor does he preach elsewhere with any sort of personal charisma or eloquence. Rather, he insists, his whole mission is just to preach Christ crucified!

In the previous chapter of this Letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains how what he is preaching is “a stumbling block to Jews” (who maintain that their understanding of One God precludes the Incarnation) and “foolishness to Gentiles” (who see “divine” and “human,” let alone divine suffering, to be contradictory terms). Nevertheless, this is what we believe and it has important implications for how we should live and act in this world.

We have a memory problem because we way too often look back at those like St. Paul and the St. Francis and imagine that they were such amazing exceptions to the rule, such that we cannot relate to them or hold ourselves to similar standards. But the truth is, these guys were just two average people. Baptized, like you and me, they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit like the next person — like you and me — and actually lived this calling out.

Now we might be able to hold that some of these confessions of Paul and Francis are more about humility than they are about pure fact, but there is something very telling in their similar testimony.

This testimony is the lived witness they provided the world in following Jesus’s instruction to us in today’s Gospel. We are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world — but do we believe it?

Paul and Francis were and remain lights in the world, figures we put up on the “lamp stand” (i.e., “pedestal”) to shine for all of Christianity. But we are called to do the same thing.

And this isn’t optional.

One way to read the “you are salt” business is to think of the optional flavoring dimension of salt. Want something more savory, add some salt. However, to draw on the metaphor that we are indeed the Body of Christ, every body needs salt to live; without it, we die.

I know this first hand. Many people know that I am a runner. I’ve run for many years, and I’m not too bad at it. Four years ago I was running a 15k Road Race (about 9.3 mi), and as I ran past mile 9, with about 0.2 miles left to go, I collapsed out of nowhere. All I remember is seeing the finish line off in the distance and then waking up in an emergency medical tent only to then be taken to hospital where I stayed for two days.

I was dehydrated and my electrolytes, including most importantly salt, were way out of whack. It was serious and scary, but I came through ok. That never happened before nor has it happened since, but it is a testament to how fragile our bodies are and how important salt is in our system.

We are the salt of the Body of Christ — it cannot live without us. We need to live in such a way as to preach the Gospel of Christ with our words and deeds. But what does that look like?

This is where our First Reading comes into view. The Prophet Isaiah tells us:

Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,

This is what it means to be salt and light in the world, to be like Paul and Francis, to bring hope and joy to a world that experiences pain and suffering. But are we up to the task? Can we answer positively to our Baptismal vocation? Are we willing to come across as foolish, or stupid, or odd, or different in the way we live in the world?

Photo: Stock

Pope, Hope, and Technology

Posted in Pope Francis with tags , , , , , on December 7, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

pope-francis-gq-magazine-men-of-the-year-december-2013GQEarlier today Pope Francis met with the participants of the 26th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, meeting under the theme “Proclaiming Christ in the digital age,” a Vatican Radio news article reports. While the pope’s comments to those gathered in Rome for this event are not likely to garner the sort of attention that his recent Apostolic Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) or his interview published in America magazine have, he has named some important features of contemporary Christian living and gestured toward a balanced engagement with technology.

This is really nothing new, at least as popes are concerned since 2005. Benedict XVI had referred to the internet and the world of technology and social media as a “digital continent” in need of “evangelization.” He saw promise in the place where women and men, especially the younger generations, gather and spend their time. This virtual place, then, is a place where the Gospel can also be lived and it can serve as a guide for right social interaction and use of technology.

Pope Francis has picked up the technology baton from his predecessor and is encouraging Christians not to shy away from technology, social media, the internet, and so on. However, adopting the Pauline exhortation about “testing” new things, Pope Francis’s encouragement comes with some caution. The Vatican Radio article reports:

“Faced with philosophies of great profundity and educational methods of great value – although steeped in pagan elements, the Fathers did not shut them out, nor on the other hand, did they compromise with ideas contrary to the Faith,” Pope Francis said. “Instead, they learned to recognize and assimilate these higher concepts and transform them in the light of God’s Word, actually implementing what Saint Paul asks: Test all things and hold fast to that which is good.”

He said this also applies to the internet.

“You must test everything, knowing that you will surely find counterfeits, illusions and dangerous traps to avoid,” Pope Francis said. “But, guided by the Holy Spirit, we will discover valuable opportunities to lead people to the luminous face of the Lord. Among the possibilities offered by digital communication, the most important is the proclamation of the Gospel.”

Drawing from the model and instructions of St. Francis of Assisi, we can interpret Pope Francis’s words as modern illustration of the Christian call to preach with our deeds as well as our words. How we use technology, digital communication, and social media; how we engage with other people; how we express our opinions and disagreements with others — all of these things should reflect an openness to the work of the Spirit and not simply a compartmentalized activity devoid of our faith and the Gospel.

Pope Francis also sees these modern communication technologies, especially the internet, as a resources for reaching out to people who are “often hurting or lost” and for offering them “real reasons for hope.”

Photo: GQ Magazine

The 2013 Annual Ignatius Brady Lecture

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 7, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

BONAVENTUREIt is both a great joy and a tremendous honor to return to my undergrad alma mater, St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, to deliver the 2013 Ignatius Charles Brady Endowed Lecture this afternoon. The lecture was established more than a decade ago by the Franciscan friars of St. John the Baptist Province with a gift of a million dollars in the early 200os to honor their late brother, Ignatius Brady OFM, who was one of the most significant scholars of medieval and Franciscan studies in the Twentieth Century. Brady not only broke ground on several Franciscan editorial and historical projects, but he is perhaps best known the world over as the editor of the critical edition of Peter Lombard’s Sentences (yeah, that Ignatius Brady!).

The first lecturer was the Jacques Dalarun, the renowned French medievalist who spoke about gender in the writings of Francis and Clare. Last year’s lecturer was Kenan Osborne OFM, the systematic theologian and from the West Coast and former CTSA president and John Courtney Murray award recipient. I share this little snapshot of past lecturers to illustrate how I do not, in any way, belong in the same list as these fine scholars. With that in mind, I will return to that great institution of higher education today to offer some modest insight from my research and work, something of a glimpse into part of my forthcoming book, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Influence of His Life, Thought, and Writing (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2014).

My lecture is on the theme of the Franciscan tradition in the life and thought of Thomas Merton, who taught at St. Bonaventure from 1940-1941 immediately before entering the Abbey of Gethsemani to become a Trappist Monk. The title of my lecture is: “A Franciscan in Blue Jeans: How Merton Became and Remained a True Franciscan.” St. Bonaventure University is preparing to launch a yearlong series of events in anticipation of Merton’s 100th Birthday in January 2015, so this year’s lecture was planned with that in mind.

For those in the WNY area who might have an interest in this subject, the public lecture begins at 4:30pm and is being held in the University Chapel.

Photo: St.Bonaventure University

The Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , on September 17, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

St Francis receiving the stigmataA blessed Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis to everyone! This is typically an overlooked celebration reserved for the members of the Franciscan family, but the greatest “take-away” is really relevant for all Christians; namely, that it is our internal conformity to Christ that results in external conformity. St. Francis didn’t seek to bear the wounds of the crucified Christ (nobody wants that!), but his life had become so like the Son’s that even his body began to bear a resemblance to the physical condition of Christ in his passion. May we look to Francis as a model of following Christ. Here is the narrative of Francis’s reception of the Stigmata as it appears in Bonaventure’s Legenda Minor.

Two years before Francis, the faithful servant of Christ, gave his soul back to God, he was alone on the top of Mt. Alverna. There he had begun a fast of forty days in honor of the archangel Michael and was immersed more deeply than usual in the delights of heavenly contemplation. His soul became aglow with the ardor of fervent longing for heaven as he experienced within himself the operations of grace.

As he was drawn aloft through ardent longing for God one morning near the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and was praying on the mountainside, he saw what appeared as a seraph with six bright wings gleaming like a fire descending from the heights of heaven. As this figure approached in swift flight and came near the man of God it appeared not only winged but also crucified. The sight of it amazed Francis and his soul experienced joy mingled with pain. He was delighted with the sight of Christ appearing to him so graciously and intimately and yet the awe-inspiring vision of Christ nailed to the cross aroused in his soul a joy of compassionate love.

When the vision vanished after a mysterious and intimate conversation it left Francis aglow with seraphic love in his soul. Externally, however, it left marks on his body like those of the Crucified as if the impression of a seal had been left on heated wax. The figures of the nails appeared immediately on his hands and feet. The heads of the nails were inside his hands but on top of his feet with their points extending through to the opposite side. His right side too showed a blood-red wound as if it had been pierced by a lance, and blood flowed frequently from it. Because of this new and astounding miracle unheard of in times past, Francis came down from the mountain a new man adorned with the sacred stigmata, bearing in his body the image of the Crucified not made by a craftsman in wood or stone, but fashioned in his members by the hand of the living God.

Photo: File

St. Francis and the (Im)possible Gift of Love

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 8, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

the-practice-of-generosity giftOne of the problems with the idea of a gift is that it typically sets in motion an economy of exchange that, unintended by the giver and receiver, can set up a sense of inequality and debit that is not easily overcome. We’ve all been in this social situation before: someone at work gives you a holiday present, unexpectedly, with the sincerest desire to be kind and nice. Yet, you feel indebted, even embarrassed perhaps, for not having something ready at hand to give in return. This exchange sets up an imbalance that denies the possibility of a true gift, for a true gift is freely given and received without there being established such pressure for reciprocation, without there arising a sense of self-gratification or embarrassment, without the possibility of something ever given in return.

The French philosopher Jacques Derrida was, along with many other topics, deeply concerned about the possibility of a true gift. He believed that for something to truly be a gift it must not appear as such and can only be ‘given’ outside of the confines of the economy of exchange that elicits a response in return that, in effect, ‘annuls’ the gift’s debt. What he means by this is that even if the only response a recipient can offer is a polite “Thank you,” the inherent elicitation of that response arises from without due to the imposition of the ‘gift’ or gesture of another.

This is indeed paradoxical. What does it mean have a genuine gift? Can one escape the ostensible aporia of the dynamics of giving and taking?

St. Francis had an intuitive sense of the impossibility of the gift and the dynamics of relationship that it implies. In his Admonition XXVI, Francis writes:

Blessed is the servant who loves his brother as much when he is sick and cannot repay him as when he is well and can repay him.

What an odd, little aphorism for a thirteenth-century mendicant to share with his brothers. Love, something Derrida also had philosophical concerns about in a way not unlike the possibility of a genuine gift, is tied up in Francis’s admonition within the same economy as Derrida’s gift.

True love, as the later heading for this admonition will term it, seems to move beyond the ordinary dynamics of what is seen and experienced. It exists only in the absence of the possibility of return. Contrary to the “Prayer attributed to St. Francis,” the true gift of love does not take place such that, “it is in giving that we receive.” No. It is, for Francis, only possible to “give” true love when it is impossible to receive in return.

This is a call to love as Jesus Christ did: an exercise of agape, self-giving, disinterested love.

Francis echoes this sensibility in the next admonition, when he writes:

Blessed is the servant who loves and respects his brother as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him, and who would not say anything behind his back that he would not say with charity in his presence.

It is the absence that marks the difference in this sense of the gift of love. When there is no possibility of return because the other is not present, when one has no obvious way to give the gift of kindness, of charity, of compliment — this is when impossible gift of love is possibly given.

Too often people think of the way of Christ’s love as “giving one’s self totally” in terms of what one does in an observable way for another. But what is the true gift? Can we give it? Can we love without the slightest possibility of return? Can we give without acknowledgement or acceptance? Can we give without the gift ever being received?

Derrida says that the possibility of such a gift is inextricably tied up with its very impossibility, but the longing for the genuine gift — as well as genuine love, forgiveness, mourning, and so on — is nevertheless essential. Perhaps this is the meaning of Christian discipleship in action, the striving toward the Reign of God in our actions, longing to love as Christ has and as Francis admonished.

Photo: Stock

There Was No Needy Person Among Them

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Homilies with tags , , , , , , on April 9, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Christian CommunityWhat does it mean to be a Christian? What does it look like? Today’s first reading offers us a glimpse into what some of the early communities understood the ideal situation to look like, marked as it was by several well-known key features: unity in heart, unity in belief, unity in resources, and no one goes without what is necessary — there is no need.

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the Apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the Apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.
(Acts 4:32-35)

New Testament and Early Christianity scholars are generally sure that this quasi-utopic vision of early Christian life is idealistic rather than verbatim historical recounting of a specific community. Nevertheless, what this Lucan passage tells us is that the early Christian communities, after several generations, looked back at their origins and at least imagined what it would have looked like to be more closely following the Gospel.

This passage, in other words, is not really about returning to the past or looking back as much as it is about looking ahead and striving to emulate what an instantiation of the vita evangelica, what the “Gospel Life” would really look like if lived as truly as possible.

It is no surprise, then, that Francis of Assisi’s own Regula or “Rule of Life” begins with the line: “The Rule and Life of the Lesser Brothers is this: to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without anything of ones own, and in chastity” (RB 1:1). It is an attempt to express, in both spiritual and legislative terms, what the Acts of the Apostles passage expresses narratively: living out one’s baptismal vocation is to observe the Gospel, to follow Christ, to live as a hearer of the word (obedience), without anything of one’s own (poverty), and in right relationship with others (chastity).  While these evangelical counsels (as they are technically called) or religious vows (as they are more popularly known) are often understood to be something reserved for those women and men who have a vocation to religious life, the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of our universal call through baptism to live these virtues in whatever state we find ourselves.

This does not mean that everybody is to live in exactly the same way, but it does mean that we have one source for how to live and to imagine what it looks like to do so authentically: the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Long before John Lennon wrote the beautiful song “Imagine,” the worldview of the early followers of Jesus Christ was transformed in such a way that they, too, asked themselves — as they ask us today — “Imagine that there’s no need or want and all live in peace.” Can we imagine a world about which we might say: “There was no needy person among them?”

You might say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Photo: Stock
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