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Kellyville Franciscans

The parish community of Our Lady of the Rosary, Kellyville, is in the pastoral care of the Conventual Franciscan Friars
The parish community of Our Lady of the Rosary, Kellyville, is in the pastoral care of the Conventual Franciscan Friars.

St Francis of Assisi: Living the spirit of minority

This month we begin a new series on spirituality by Rev Paschal Corby OFM Conv, Assistant Priest at Our Lady of the Rosary, Kellyville.

In this issue, Fr Paschal reflects on the spirituality of minority, which is foundational to the Franciscan charism.

If you have ever had the grace of visiting Assisi, the heartland of Franciscan spirituality, you would have been inevitably drawn to the basilica of St Francis.

This great monument to the life of the saint is filled with the frescoes of Giotto, Cimabue and Lorenzetti, and the oldest stained glass windows in Italy.

Among these is a curious window in the nave of the upper church. The window, in two panels, depicts on one side the Blessed Virgin holding the Christ child, while in the adjoining panel, the adult Christ is seen holding St Francis – not Francis as a child, but an adult Francis, bearded and habited, made small to be ‘like’ a child.

On gazing upon this image, immediately the words of our Lord in Sacred Scripture come to mind: “Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt 18:3).

Within this image is contained the spirituality of minority, which is foundational to the Franciscan charism. In founding his Order, Francis wanted his followers to be identified as friars minor, ‘lesser brothers’, who modelled themselves on the humility of Christ.

It is not by chance, therefore, that the image of St Francis in the stained glass is set in proximity to the image of the Virgin and Child, since for St Francis, minority only made sense if modelled on the humility of Christ – who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8).

This self-emptying of Christ, mirrored in the events of the Incarnation and the Cross, so consumed St Francis that Thomas of Celano notes, “so thoroughly did the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion occupy his memory that he scarcely wanted to think of anything else.” [1]

And so to capture the reality of the mystery of the Incarnation, Francis assembled the first Christmas crib at the mountain hermitage at Greccio, so that he could see with his own eyes the wonder of God made man.

The mystery of the cross, likewise, was always before him, such that it became imprinted on his own body. Towards the end of his life, while contemplating the mystery of our salvation on La Verna, Francis personally experienced the passion of Christ, and himself became a living sacrament, an icon, of the crucified, being branded with the wounds of Christ’s passion, the sacred stigmata.

Living the spirit of minority allowed St Francis to unite himself to Christ in a remarkable way. Minority also allowed him to perceive God’s saving grace made present through the simple signs of the sacraments.

It was especially in the blessed Eucharist that St Francis encountered the humble, self-emptying love of the Lord. For St Francis, the Mass was not only the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, but also the continuation of the humility of His Incarnation.

“Behold, each day He humbles Himself as when He came from the royal throne into the Virgin’s womb,” he wrote. “Each day He Himself comes to us, appearing humbly; each day He comes down from the bosom of the Father upon the altar in the hands of a priest.” [2] 

Through the profession of the evangelical counsels, to live in obedience, in chastity and without anything of their own, the friars throughout history have strived to imitate the humility and minority of Christ – to acknowledge their nothingness before the majesty of God, to identify with the lowly, to be lesser brothers in harmony with all of God’s creation.

A friar exists to serve God and his Church in humility, simplicity, and with gladness of heart. In this way he endeavours to be faithful to the example of his father Francis, who followed Christ on his path of descent, making himself small and humble so that God might exalt him (cf. Mt 23:12).

[1] Thomas of Celano, The Life of St Francis. Francis of Assisi, Early Documents. Volume 1. (New York: New City Press, 1999), 254.
[2] Francis of Assisi, ‘Admonition 1’. FAED1, 129.

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