As the weather gets colder and we travel from autumn to winter, my husband and I have been indulging ourselves in the luxury of spending more time reading. After a busy start to the school year in my new role as a homeschooling coordinator (which has been both a challenge and a great joy), it now seems right and good to spend some quality time hibernating with hot chocolate and good books in the ever-darkening evenings. And since my husband has embarked on a “study year”, as he contemplates permanent profession as a Secular Franciscan, we’ve immersed ourselves in learning more about various Franciscan personalities throughout history. Last year we studied the spirituality and life of St. Francis, in depth. This fall, it’s been like meeting some terrific new Franciscan friends!
St. Clare… who we discovered was not just Francis’ feminine counterpart, but a woman of independence, strength and courage. In 1212, she and her female followers founded the Order of Poor Ladies, also known as the “Poor Clares”, and together they created a way for the radical life of Francis to be lived with freedom and joy. Her letters and writings are so hopeful, encouraging, visionary and loving.
St. Bonaventure… a medieval philosopher and Franciscan Friar who became Minister General of the Franciscan Order in 1265, just one year before the death of St. Francis. Where as much Christianity in this period was filled with fear and guilt, Bonaventure’s frame of reference is big, optimistic and positive. He passionately believed in the universal “belonging” of all creation, and he wrote and preached that fear-based preoccupations are small and unnecessary. His writings still feel like a breath of fresh air, 750 years after they were written.
John Duns Scotus… who in 1224 joined an early group of Franciscans who lived in Canterbury, England. His brilliant insights were a breakthrough in the Middle Ages. In a time when the concept of the individual apart from the group had not yet been born, Scotus honoured the uniqueness of persons and things within the Wholeness of God. He understood that God’s love always shows itself in the specific, the concrete, the particular – something he called “this-ness”. Fascinating stuff!
This fall we’ve also enjoyed reading two books written by modern Franciscans, which have sparked much thought and discussion:
The Lessons of St. Francis: How to Bring Simplicity and Spirituality Into Your Daily Life (Penguin Group Publisher; 1997) by John Michael Talbot. Talbot is a Secular Franciscan, musician and author, who founded and still lives in a Franciscan integrated monastic community at the Little Portion Hermitage in the Ozark Mountains. This beautiful book is filled with wisdom and practical advice about living a more simple and authentic life.
Immortal Diamond: Searching for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass Publishers; 2013) by Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan priest and founding director of the Centre for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His book is a wonderful exploration of identity and truth – of shedding our false self and getting in touch with our true self, which lies like a diamond buried within and is rooted in God’s love and mercy.
And now we are approaching the third Sunday of Advent. Our research, reading and discussions this fall have given both my husband and I a better appreciation of our rich Franciscan heritage...and also nourished our faith and increased our Advent longing for more of Christ in our lives!