Saturday, April 24, 2010
Francis of Assisi: Apex of the New Monasticism
The New Monasticism of the Middle Ages found its fullest expression in the life and ministry of Francis of Assisi. Born in 1181 or 1182, Francis renounced the world around the age of twenty-three, converting to a personal relationship with Christ and committing his life completely to the Lord.
Soon a dozen men from all walks of life joined Francis. They sought the Lord regarding what kind of lifestyle they should live. Should they use their resources to establish a monastery where they could pull apart for total prayer, or should they engage in public evangelism and service to the poor and sick?
The Lord answered them in a clear and dramatic way, giving them three passages from the Gospels: “Jesus said, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’” (Matthew 19:21). “He told them, ‘Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic’” (Luke 9:3). “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23).*
With this divine mandate, Francis and the brothers began to follow Jesus as literally as they could. Soon they initiated their mission work, traveling two-by-two through the countryside, preaching the gospel in the local dialect from village to village. In some districts they helped to have portions of the Bible translated into the vernacular so common people could understand the Good News. Just like the original 12 and then 72 disciples (Luke 9 & 10), they took no money or resources with them. Instead, they raised their own funds, relying on the donations of people along the way to provide food and clothing. Much of what they collected, however, they did not use themselves but instead gave to the poor and sick.
Leper Church of Santa Maria Maddalena
(photo taken during our recent pilgrimage in Assisi)
The neediest of the day were the lepers who lived in small colonies, serving as hospices outside of the city. Separated from the rest of society and suffering a slow, agonizing, humiliating death, the lepers were the bottom rung of humanity—often times hardly considered to be human. Although as a young man Francis had been repulsed by the sight of lepers (see upcoming blogs), he now made service to these suffering individuals the centerpiece of his ministry. The above photo is the church of Santa Maria Maddalena, which served one of the leprosaria just below the town of Assisi and which was one of the places Francis spent time tending the lepers—feeding, washing, bandaging, and simply touching them as a sign of his love and care for them.
Francis and his brothers chose the title Friars Minor—little brothers—a name signifying their low station in life and their desire to serve everyone, especially the lowest of the low. They wore (and still wear today) sandals and a plain brown robe tied with a rope belt. In contrast to the wealth and power of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the little brothers emphasized their position of service, their solidarity with the poor and their practice of spiritual humility. The apex of the Vita Apostolica, Francis and his coworkers wanted to emulate the life of the original apostles. Above all, they wanted to follow Christ, imitating his example and lifestyle as simply and completely as possible!
If someone read the Gospels for the first time and then looked at your life, what correlation would they see between the two? What contrast or contradiction might they find between your lifestyle and that of Jesus and the first disciples?
Has God called you to serve him in a radical way? How have you responded? If you have been shrinking from the vision the Lord has given you, what fears or hesitations are holding you back?
*All biblical quotes have been taken from the NIV.
2010 © Glenn E. Myers