Most people don't associate the term "franciscan spirituality" and the words: "Give me..." We've developed a great sense of self-emptying and poverty, that many people who view us don't see us people who ask, but people who give. Yet in his prayer before the crucifix at San Damiano, Francis asked for three specific things:
Enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me
and Perfect Charity;
sense and knowledge
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.
(*sometimes correct faith in some translations)
To start off, What is faith? Most often when people talk about their faith they speak in labels: I am Catholic, I'm Christian, I'm Muslim, etc. In actuality this is not our faith, rather they are a set of histories, traditions, and doctrines that help to guide us in our faith. We must look at faith as the destination, and the other traditions and doctrines as the roadmap to how we get there.
What then is faith? Faith is our desire to encounter the God that has been revealed to us. Faith is not built from the fear of death or the promise of rewards. It is the desire to enter into relationship with God, a relationship that penetrates all aspects of our being.
Perhaps the best example is to look at the story of the rich, young rule that encounters Jesus:
Often our view is focused on the lesson of the rich being hard-pressed to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet let's take a look at this man. He's lived the commandments of Jesus since he was a boy. Most likely, he continued to live that life at meeting Jesus. And at the time of his death, the command was fulfilled, since none of us can take our worldly belongings with us after we die. It is in his eventual death, as well as ours, that he is free from his worldly possessions to follow Jesus.A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. -Luke 18:18-23
What Jesus asked of the rich, young ruler was "to die on this earth," to completely sever his old life and live entirely for Christ in all ways. It's a challenge that is continuously put before us as Capuchins and as Christians.
And much like the rich, young ruler...faith is a labor. As Catholic Christians, we must accept that our faith is a struggle. For if faith is akin to a relationship with the revealed God, our faith will struggle as all relationships are capable of hardship. And much like Francis' faith, our faith develops into different stages until we're able to come to a place where we can truly die in this life.
The stages of faith development look similar to this: (from the perspective of a Cradle Catholic)
1. Early Stage In the beginning of our faith when we're young, we can only learn and process so much. We learn words like Jesus, Heaven, God, and begin to associate those terms to something bigger than our parents.
2. Stories The use of stories to teach lessons is pervasive in the Gospels, and it is a teaching tool that is often used in our own catechesis. Stories of the Bible are used to explain lessons, doctrines, virtues, and many other important lessons that help us develop a relationship to God.
3. Expectations In our growth, we understand certain expectations put upon us to follow the road to faith. We attend church, we say our prayers, we engage in acts of charity. In essence we are doing what we have been told will lead us to faith.
Fr. Polifka talks about how too many Catholics today struggle in this stage. A good example he gave was how many people left the Catholic Church when the Tridentine Mass was changed to the Novus Ordo (from the Latin Mass to the English Mass in rudimentary terms). The issue comes not in way people experience God in the Old Mass, rather the belief that the Tridentine Mass is better because it is right. He warns that a faith based on legalistic terms such as correct/incorrect leads to a selfish understanding of faith: "If I do X, God gives me Y." If faith is about entering into a relationship with God, it must be more than just what I can get from God, rather what we're willing to give each other.
4. Self-Conflict The deeper we're willing to enter into our own faith journey, the more visible the struggle to connect with God becomes. We ask questions about the "Preferential Option of the Poor" and see the wealth of the Vatican and wonder...as one example. The struggle to find a faith within the context of an organized faith can be tough for a lot of people, yet the grace is to continue to seek that relationship with God in one's faith community. I touch on this a little in my discussion on Conversion, and how we as people striving for faith have to reorganize our world views to further encounter God.
5. Death in Life The best example of this can be seen in the meeting with Francis, his father, and the Bishop of Assisi. In a display of his true faith he undresses himself and places his needs and desires on the Father who art in Heaven, and not the man who gave him birth. The bishop welcomes Francis into his arms, and from that point after, Francis views the world in a much different way. His love, dependence, and total being are in relation to God...as was asked of the rich young ruler we looked at earlier.
In this is Francis' prayer for true faith answered, and the challenge for us continues as we live as Capuchins.
This is the first of a three-part series.