The way of St. Francis: and ‘my own way’

Posted: October 3, 2016 in faith based, religion, spiritual care, spirituality
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As meaningful as the story of St. Francis’ conversion is, I have always struggled to understand how his way of imitating Christ, by becoming a beggar, relates to the living of my own life.  One day my struggle ended…

This article is an excerpt from “Simple Contemplative Spirituality” written by Charles W. Sidoti, BCC:

For Christians, the life of Jesus, while he walked the earth, is the greatest example of a life lived as God’s steward. This is why many of the spiritual masters instruct us to imitate Christ. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, advises, “Be imitators of me, in so far as I in turn am an imitator of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

One of the most striking examples of someone imitating Jesus in his own life is found in the conversion story of St. Francis of Assisi. I was profoundly touched by Franco Zeffirelli’s 1972 film, Brother Sun Sister Moon, which tells this storyThe movie portrays how, in imitation of Christ, St. Francis renounces all his worldly possessions and his noble family name, Bernardone, and leaves the city of Assisi – naked and free from his past in order to live an ascetic and simple life as a man of God and nature. For St. Francis, imitating Christ meant taking literally Jesus’ reply to the rich young man who had questioned him about how to gain eternal life. Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…then come, follow me” (Matthew 9:21).

According to legend, St. Francis became a beggar because he believed that Jesus and his followers were beggars. In his mind the conception of the Order of Friars Minor was quite simple; it was the literal, deliberate imitation of the life of Christ and his Apostles as described in the Gospels. St. Francis was eventually granted a personal audience with Pope Innocent the Third. At this meeting, the simplicity of St. Francis’ life of poverty, chastity, and obedience received the Pope’s blessing, giving birth to the Catholic Franciscan Order in 1210. Many men and women today have identified with the Franciscan way of imitating Christ. Some do so through vowing to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience by formally joining the Franciscan Order or one of many other religious communities. The vowed life is a blessed and honorable vocation for those called to imitate Jesus in this way.

As meaningful as the story of St. Francis’ conversion is, I have always struggled to understand how his way of imitating Christ, by becoming a beggar, relates to the living of my own life. I appreciate the call to live a simple life of faith, joyful hope, and trust, but to be honest, selling all of my possessions and giving the money to the poor is not what I feel called to do. And yet, I know in my heart that all of us are called to imitate the life of Christ.

One day my struggle ended. I experienced a paradigm shift in the way in which I understand what it means to imitate Christ, when I read the words of famous Catholic writer, Father Henri Nouwen, in his book, The Wounded Healer:

When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a man or woman can be a Christian.

In the light of Nouwen’s words, I have come to understand the call to imitate the life of Jesus in my own life in a new way. The deeper spiritual meaning of Christian stewardship became clearer to me. Nouwen’s perspective on what it means to imitate Christ finds Biblical support in the Apostle Paul’s teaching about the Mystical Body of Christ, “There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit; … different forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all…” (1 Corinthians 12:4).

The Contemplative Connection:

What we are called to imitate in the life of Jesus is his commitment to being the authentic and uniquely gifted person that God calls each one of us to be and to freely share that giftedness with others. Responding with openness and trust to that call is where the concept of stewardship touches us personally. Prayerfully invite the Holy Spirit more fully into your life to help you to discover and be the person God is calling you to be, and to share the unique gifts that you bring to the Mystical Body of Christ, which is alive in our world.



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