2 The call of Matthew (Matt 9:9), like that of the other apostles, reads like an unexpected call followed by an immediate response. Jesus “said to him, ‘Follow me’, and he got up and followed him” (Matt 9:9).
3 The commentators tell us that we don’t do violence to the text if we suppose that this invitation was probably the last of others previously made, and that most likely it would have been Matthew’s final decision after a time of reflection. So, they read the text as a literary, dramatic summarizing of what would have been a longer process in real life.
4 Understood in this way, the call of Matthew resembles more closely our own personal call to follow Jesus, first heard at our baptism, but not by us who were babies. Our call by Jesus was intensified when we were more aware, in later events, such as in our first Confession and Communion, in our Confirmation, and in following our vocation, whether secular or religious.
5 Even if the call to be a Christian, or to be a religious or a priest, came to us unexpectedly and was quickly responded to - which is not frequently the case - our following of Jesus since then is often experienced as two steps forward and one step back.
And so it was with the apostles. They consistently failed to understand Jesus
and to get his message straight, right up until the resurrection of Jesus. Then
he sent them back to
7 It is the risen Lord who works with each of us and confirms his good news in us, as we continue to stumble along, following him.
8 PICTURE Luke concentrates on the way of life of the true disciple of Jesus (Lk -42). He describes the true attitude of the disciple, personified by Mary, “who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking” (Lk ). This is the most important thing and we can’t do without it if we want to live in conformity with the word of Jesus.
9 The disciple who is “on the way” with the Lord should not be worried or fretting “about so many things”. Life is too precious for us to be worried too much about material cares.
mustn’t allow ourselves to be carried away by thinking too exclusively about
earthly realities and distracted from building up the
10 Attention to the Master and hearing his word is for the disciple the “better part and it is not to be taken away” (Lk ). But for Luke, to hear the word has nothing to do with idle contemplation. Rather, it results in concrete and demanding action. Mary can’t sit at the Master’s feet for ever. She will have to get up and work for the kingdom, too.
11 Mary “sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking.” This is the biblical picture of a disciple learning from his master. Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel; we say that he studied under him.
The unusual thing here is that the disciple is a woman. That point is lost on us, because women nowadays are into everything. But it is a significant insight into Jesus’s acceptance of women.
12 Luke is saying that the activity of the follower of Christ should develop out of his or her listening to Jesus. As the situation is presented, Mary is doing what is more fundamental to the true follower. She is centred off herself, present to the Lord, listening to him. She can’t sit at the Lord’s feet for ever, but at the moment she is doing something that Martha needs also to do.
Martha is so busy that she doesn’t give herself a chance to listen to the master. But, happy are “those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:28).
13 Martha needs to integrate listening to God into her doing something for people. Listening to Jesus should give rise to practical attention to his needs. Luke indicates what is still needed in Martha’s following of Christ: she needs to hear the great commandment, and act on it: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself” (Lk ). Then Martha would not fall victim to worry or complaint.
14 PICTURE Jesus doesn’t draw a contrast between listening and doing. He doesn’t say one is better than the other. He certainly doesn’t contrast religious life and lay life in the Church. And he doesn’t say that, in religious orders, the contemplative life is better than the active life. These are not valid interpretations, and they are not sound teaching.
15 Our task is to combine Martha and Mary. Both listening and doing are essential to our true following of Christ. The doing without the listening, like Martha, will be choked by the worries of life (Lk ). Our busy-ness will degenerate into distraction and complaint. But the listening without the doing, if Mary stopped at that, would be fruitless.
So, let’s make time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his word. It’s too easy to lose ourselves in the worries and cares of serving our neighbour.
Let’s resolve to listen to the word of God. One way would be to read the scriptures for five minutes a day at least, take it to ourselves, then as a result of it, to persevere in doing something worthwhile for others.
16 If this holds for every Christian, it becomes all the more essential for religious who “renouncing all things for the sake of Christ, follow him as their one necessity, listening to his words and being taken up with his work” (Perfectae caritatis , 5).
17 It becomes more essential also for Secular Franciscans, whose Rule exhorts them, “Let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do” (Rule 8), and whose General Constitutions state, “In all places and at all times, it is possible for true worshippers of the Father to give him adoration and to pray to him. Nevertheless, the brothers and sisters should try to find times of silence and recollection dedicated exclusively to prayer” (GC 14.5).
18 PICTURE “Jesus says, ‘Follow me’, so why follow St Francis or anyone else?”
19 Every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ. The following of Christ means to live one’s unique life as authentically as Jesus lived his.
20 PICTURE There are many ways of following Jesus, many ways in which a person can be a Christian, and so, there are many Christian spiritualities, and there are many specifically Catholic spiritualities. However, the individual Catholic will not find every Catholic spirituality attractive. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he or she will find the one that suits him best.
21 Great founders of religious Orders have lent their names to various Catholic spiritualities: Benedictine, Jesuit, Franciscan, and many others. Through men such as St Benedict of Norcia, St Ignatius Loyola, and St Francis of Assisi, the Holy Spirit has raised up in the Catholic Church large spiritual families of men and women who adopt the spirituality of their founder and share the founder’s charism.
22 Catholic spiritualities differ depending on what the founder emphasised, but they are all Christian. Broadly speaking, Benedictine spirituality is God-centred and stresses divine worship and manual labour. Jesuit spirituality is man-centred, raising man to God. It stresses humanism and study. Franciscan spirituality is Christ-centred and stresses living the Gospel of the God-man and preaching him.
23 The spirituality of any saint is conditioned by his particular time and place, and the way in which God called him into life and gifted him.
24 As a response to God's initiatives, the spirituality of the saint is his particular way of picturing God to himself, of speaking to him, of approaching him, of dealing with God.
25 Every saint sees the attributes of God in the light of what he ponders most, of what he penetrates most deeply, of what attracts him most and what wins his heart.
26 Our choice of a spirituality is not an arbitrary choice. Our spirituality grows out of our own person, as God created us and what we have made of it. Our choice must be in line with our own person, our life history and family influences, our formal education and what we have picked up through private reading and study.
27 There are many other circumstances beyond our control: our parents, our temperament, our natural gifts and the gifts of God’s grace.
28 We have our own personal spirituality largely given to us. It is more or less intellectual or affective, contemplative or active, pessimistic or optimistic, depending on who we are.
29 PICTURE FRANCISCAN SPIRITUALITY
30 St Francis was an affective person, idealistic and optimistic, but also practical and down to earth. He was both contemplative and active. His personality was an extraordinary balance of opposites, as also was the human personality of Jesus.
people, including priests, religious and laity, “recognize that they are called
to follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Francis of
is Franciscan spirituality different from other Catholic spiritualities? What
is particular about the Franciscan vocation and spirituality is that the
Franciscan recognizes that he or she is called to follow Christ in the footsteps
of St Francis of
32 For St Francis, life is centred on the person of Jesus Christ, Son of God and our human brother. Francis would say: “All that belongs to Jesus Christ is for me, and nothing else attracts me as worthwhile.” He would say: “If it does not belong to Jesus and his gospel, then I don’t want it.” He would never think of saying: “I can't have it.” There was no negative twist in his spirituality, no looking back with regret at any good thing that he was forced to deny himself. He was all positive, and all good things were to be sought and found in intimate friendship with Jesus Christ.
33 The spirituality of Francis is characterized by his particular attention to Jesus Christ, transcendent God the Son, made immanent as the earthly son of God the Father. Francis fell madly in love with Jesus, the Son of God and of Mary the Virgin, who made himself our brother.
34 The way that Francis of Assisi followed and that he proposed to everyone was simply to go to the heavenly Father, by means of the beloved Son, in the light of the Holy Spirit (cf. Norberto Nguyen Van Khanh, Gesù, p.327).
35 Franciscan spirituality is therefore first and foremost trinitarian. Francis had a deep awareness of the transcendence of God - infinite, almighty, all holy - eternal source of life and of love, one God in three divine Persons, inter-related as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For Francis, this was not merely theological language. This was his lived experience.
36 In fact, the experience of God in relationships lived out with the three divine Persons is an essential element of Francis's spiritual life. It defines spirituality for all of us who are called by God and gifted as Franciscans. God invites us to follow Francis into the heart of the Gospel, where we will meet the three divine Persons who speak to us in Jesus Christ.
37 At the same time as Francis adored the transcendent God, he had a deep awareness of the immanence of God, that is, the presence of the Blessed Trinity in God's own creation. God is the creator of everything that exists, the provider for every creature, and the necessary sustainer of all life.
38 God the Father is the original father and mother of every creature. God the Son is the original brother and sister of every creature. God the Holy Spirit is the most intimate friend of every creature and the original spouse of every person. Our parents, our brothers and sisters, our friends, especially spouses in the case of the laity, are the instruments whom God has created and chosen to effect his own fatherhood, sonship and loving intimacy in relation to each of us.
39 If we try to make of our Christian and Catholic life more than a system of beliefs and teachings, religious practices, laws and morals, and strive for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the man of the Gospels, the crucified man and the risen Lord, then we are behaving in a Franciscan way. St Francis did just that. He confronted his own person with the person of Jesus. Franciscans, too, in our own way, try to grow beyond Christianity as a system, towards Jesus Christ as our brother, our Saviour and our God, leading us to the Blessed Trinity.
40 We don't “follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Francis” by setting out to do the things St Francis did in the way he did them. Instead, we try to develop dispositions like his. His words and actions, his whole person, inspire us to relate to Jesus personally as he did. Each of us is unique. Merely copying another stifles our unique personal response to God, but being inspired by another develops our originality.
41 PICTURE The full meaning of St Francis's spirituality can be summed up in this statement, which is disarming in its simplicity: all St Francis tried to do was to be an authentic Christian. Franciscan spirituality is not different from Christian spirituality. But there are certain areas of Christian spirituality where St Francis felt most at home. “Home” is where we feel secure, comfortable, joyful and at peace, where we can be our true selves.
42 So, how can St Francis inspire us to become authentic Christians? Our first response may be, mistakenly, that we must take the gospels literally. Jesus himself warns us that the letter kills; the spirit gives life.
Literal imitation of the gospels would have had a deadly effect on Francis. He did not approach Jesus and the gospels in that way. He did not approach Jesus even merely with scriptural ideas. He believed, of course, that Jesus is the Son of God and son of Mary, Saviour of mankind, crucified and risen. But if he was asked: “who do you say Jesus is?”, his reply would be, “He is the one I love.” St Bonaventure confirms this often. He says, “The way followed by Francis was nothing other than a burning passionate love of Jesus crucified” (Itinerarium).
43 The gospels were not just a book to St Francis. He heard the call of his Lord, and he responded with great joy. He believed in the person who spoke. He walked with Jesus Christ in person, through the gospels. His faith in God was an experience that gripped his whole being in pain and in joy.
This is central to Franciscan spirituality. Each of us should open our self in every possible way to meet Jesus personally through the gospels, to develop a living, practical, flesh-and-blood faith in God who is Love.
44 St Francis heard the voice of Jesus, and obeyed without hesitation. He took Jesus at his word, and started out on a life of continual conversion. Call it penance, renewal, formation: his response was completely in tune with the gospels.
He recognized the invitation of his Master and he saw no alternative but to respond as wholeheartedly as Jesus responded to his Father. Here he struck the vein of genuine Christian spirituality: the way of life of Jesus the Son, obedient to his Father.
45 Obedience here is not some initial choice of a way of life which is dropped when the original conditions of the life change. Rather, it is a lifelong personal response to a call which is continually being made, and the response is renewed when the conditions of life change and call for a redirection. We learn to obey in the "school of suffering", which is everyday life with people, forever changing and raising new challenges to faith and love.
46 Now we can sum up what we have noted about following Jesus Christ in the footsteps of St Francis.
Jesus has called each of us by name: “Follow me”. My way of following him arises from the particular way in which I am called by God and respond to God. It is my unique way of having the faith, hope and love that is God's gift to all Christians. It is the persistent attitudes that mark all my advances towards God and my fellows and towards all creatures.
47 My calling and my response to it is Franciscan in so far as I am inspired by St Francis and his direct personal approach to Jesus. Anything that makes Jesus Christ a living person to me, and loved by me, is Franciscan.
The way that Francis of Assisi followed was simply to go to the heavenly Father by means of the beloved Son, in the light of the Holy Spirit.