BEFORE THE CROSS | Franciscan spirituality is full of joyful surprises

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Zac Boesch |

Our new pope is full of surprises. Starting with his choice of name (Francis), and his choice of residence (the Vatican's guest house), and his means of transportation (a modest car) and continuing in many other ways since he was elected pope less than a year ago. "God is always a surprise," Pope Francis said in the interview he gave for Jesuit magazines. We can say the same thing about this Holy Father!

To be full of surprises is typical of Franciscan spirituality. It's true that Pope Francis is a Jesuit, not a Franciscan, but he has clearly tried to model Franciscan values in his personal life and in his ministry as a Jesuit priest, a religious superior, a cardinal archbishop and now pope. Perhaps that's why Pope Francis is universally regarded as "a breath of fresh air" for our Church and for society at large.

What are some of the main characteristics of Franciscan spirituality? And how can they help ordinary believers like you and me grow in holiness and in service to our Church and our world?

Three virtues come to mind whenever we think of St. Francis of Assisi and the spiritual movement he inspired. First, there is simplicity of life. St. Francis stripped himself of everything that was unnecessary. He embraced a life of radical poverty, and he dedicated himself wholeheartedly to caring for all people in need.

Second, St. Francis was keenly aware that all creation is God's gift to us and that we are all children of God, brothers and sisters who belong to one immense family that includes all that God has made -- sun and stars, plants and animals, and women and men of every race, culture and social condition. St. Francis loved deeply everyone and everything he encountered. He found God's love and mercy everywhere, and he shared it generously with everyone -- even or perhaps especially with the poor, the outcasts and the sinners that he came to love (and forgive) in spite of their sins.

Finally, St. Francis was a joyful man. Singing, dancing, reciting poetry were part of his daily routine. In spite of great physical and mental suffering, and much self-imposed hardship, St. Francis recognized the goodness that surrounded him every day from the rising of the sun to its setting. His famous "Canticle of the Sun" is an exuberant song of praise that celebrates with great joy the beauty and goodness that God has shared with all His creation.

Simplicity, solidarity with all creation and a joyful celebration of God's goodness and mercy. These are hallmarks of Franciscan spirituality. They are also powerful indicators of what it takes for all of us to be successful in daily Christian living.

I don't know about you, but I struggle to live simply. When a family member gives me a new sweater (for Christmas or my birthday), I accept it gratefully because it's a sign of their love. But I go to my closet and remove another sweater (a relatively new one!) and give it to the poor. I am not called to a life of radical poverty like St. Francis, but I am called to live simply and to resist the temptation to get too attached to worldly things.

Awareness of God's generosity and goodness is very important to me. My struggles with cancer a few years ago taught me -- in no uncertain terms -- that all life is precious and that everything I have is a gift from God that I'm called to cherish and share generously with others. Franciscan spirituality reminds us of the stewardship responsibility that is an integral part of our baptismal calling as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Finally, you'll be pleased to learn that I don't do much dancing, singing or reciting of poetry these days, but I do have a healthy sense of humor, and I truly enjoy time spent with my family and friends. I believe Christians should be joyful, not gloomy, and this is a Franciscan value that we can all learn to incorporate more fully into our daily lives.

Pope Francis surprises us with his simplicity, his love for everyone -- especially the poor and marginalized -- and his joyful acceptance of the burdens and responsibilities of his pastoral ministry. Let's join our Holy Father in choosing to make authentic Franciscan (Gospel) values our own.

Archbishop Carlson's weekly schedule

Monday, Jan. 27

11 a.m. Archdiocesan High School Mass at Duchesne High School

6 p.m. Reception for the Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation at archbishop’s residence

Tuesday, Jan. 28

9:30 a.m. Archdiocesan High School Mass at St. Francis Borgia High School

1 p.m. FOCUS Holy Hour and vocations talk at Chaminade College Prep

Wednesday, Jan. 29

10 a.m. FOCUS Mass for vocations rally at Chaminade College Prep

Thursday, Jan. 30

9:40 a.m. Mass at Trinity High School

1:30 p.m. Priest Council meeting at Cardinal Rigali Center

Friday, Jan. 31

10 a.m. Archdiocesan High School Mass at St. Dominic High School


Bishop Rice's weekly schedule

Monday, Jan. 27

11:15 a.m. Mass at Notre Dame Motherhouse,

1 p.m. Search committee/Catholic Education meeting at Cardinal Rigali Center

Tuesday, Jan. 28

9:30 a.m. Region 3 School Mass at St. Peter Church in Kirkwood

1 p.m. STL 250 Anniversary Committee meeting at Cardinal Rigali Center

5 p.m. Sts. Peter & Paul soup kitchen

Wednesday, Jan. 29

9:20 a.m. Annual Catholic Appeal check presentation at Cardinal Ritter College Prep

1 p.m. FOCUS Talk at Chaminade College Prep

Thursday, Jan. 30

9:30 a.m. Region 2 School Mass at St. Ferdinand Church

1:30 p.m. Priest Council meeting at Cardinal Rigali Center

7 p.m. XLT at St. Catherine Laboure

Friday, Jan. 31

10 a.m. Region 5 School Mass at St. Francis of Assisi in Oakville

Saturday, Feb. 1

7 a.m. Mass at Catholic Men for Christ Conference at Peabody Opera House

10 a.m. Reconciliation talk at Catholic Men for Christ Conference

5 p.m. 100th anniversary Mass at St. John the Baptist

Sunday, Feb. 2

2:30 p.m. Scout Prayer Service at the Cathedral Basilica

5:30 p.m. South Side Youth Mass and confession at St. Mary Magdalen

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