10 Challenges from the Admonitions of St. Francis
St. Francis of Assisi is one of the great saints who somehow reaches across all divides, touches hearts and souls, and brings spiritual peace.
His little-known “Admonitions” are at once some of the most beautiful, and troubling, of Francis’s writings. Combining the earthy pithiness of the Desert Fathers with Western theology and devotion, the Admonitions are loving, but they cut right to the heart of the matter.
Francis wrote the Admonitions to address real problems that his spiritual brothers were facing, but his greater vision was to build a faith strong enough to renew a church in terrible need of reform and revival.
Below are 10 short excerpts drawn from John Michael Talbot's reflections on Francis's Admonitions.
10 Challenges from the Admonitions of St. Francis
With the eyes of the Spirit, and with the gift of faith, St. Francis could see Jesus present under the appearance of bread and wine in the Eucharist. The same could be said about the way he saw Jesus in others. Francis was able to see Jesus in the leper. He was told to embrace the one he was most afraid of, and turned off by, and he found the real presence of Jesus in that person. St. Mother Teresa said the same about the poorest of the poor, and the dying. But it is true of all people. Who are the lepers in our lives? Who are we most afraid of, or turned off by? It is only by embracing them that we find Jesus in everyone.
When our deepest self is displaced and forgotten, we begin trying to find our identity in the outer things of body and soul that were intended only to facilitate the deeper things of the spirit. This is where the false self, the ego, or the self-will comes into play. Since we mistakenly place so much of our identity in our sense, emotions, or thoughts, when we do not get what we want we become upset. To cover up the fact that we often get hurt by others when we do not get our way, or what we want, we develop a false self as a protection against such hurt. This is where egoism manifests itself. Usually behind every seeming egotist is a hurt child of God who has gotten confused about who they really are.
Real obedience is more than just listening and symbolic gestures. It is an action! I am reminded of the story of the monk who heard the sound of the signal for community prayer and left his work of copying manuscripts immediately to answer the call. He dropped his pen in the middle of writing a word. He didn’t hesitate, or rationalize, thinking, I’ll just finish this word, or line, paragraph, or thought, and then answer the call. No, he went right away. While this story might sound irrational to modern ears, it demonstrates that real obedience is not only listening, but action, and immediate action at that!
Here at the Hermitage we say that whether one perseveres is rarely a matter of the big things of faith, morality, or of community vision or teaching. We say that one must learn to grow a “green bean for God.” We may think that we can grow it better than the way we have been asked to do it. When the time is right we can humbly express that thought to our work leader without pride. But they might still ask us to do it their way. At that point we must learn how to simply do what has been asked of us, and to do it cheerfully for God.
Do we think that if we can get into leadership, we will finally have our way? Think again! Usually leaders work twice as hard and bear ten times the stress of the rank-and-file member or worker in a community, ministry, or secular job. If we are in leadership, do we use the power we have with great tenderness and care, or do we scrub too hard to get the job done? The gentle way usually works better. Only occasionally do we ever have to be tough, and even then there is usually a price to pay in the long run.
Each must ask himself or herself, have we attached our egos to our position, or to our work? A great test is to ask ourselves: If I lose the ability or opportunity to continue in that position, do I become upset or angry? If so, we have become attached. This attachment and loss steals our inner peace and separates us from the full experience of the grace and peace of Jesus Christ. Only by letting go of our role daily can we fulfill it consistently. But this is a tall order. It is simple, but rarely easy. It requires a real change of old ego patterns that identify our self-worth with the job we do rather than in the person we are in Jesus Christ.
The real giants of theology I have had the privilege to meet (and they are rare) are most aware that the more they have learned about God, the more they realize how little they actually know. So, for the real theologian their theological knowledge humbles them; it does not give way to pride. It is only the “would-be” theologians who carry that pride from an external knowledge that generates arrogance and pride.
About the time I was really beginning to settle more deeply into Franciscanism, I received an inner word that said, “Die to Franciscanism!” What? I loved St. Francis and Franciscanism. How could I “die” to it? Then it dawned on me: I had to learn to be more about Jesus and less about Francis. Likewise, I had to be more about Francis and less about Franciscanism. So in the community we learned to say that Franciscanism is our mother, but our community is a child that is unique and new. We love our mother, and we honor our history, but we must be about Jesus first, if we are to really follow the example of St. Francis. This is ultimately true of those who honor or follow any saint.
Boasting isn’t the only kind of speech that’s bad for us. So, too, is gossip: speaking to others about other people in an unhelpful way. Gossip might say what is true, but to the wrong person, and in the wrong spirit. St. Francis was convinced that this was the greatest danger to the continuation of his new community. He called gossipers murderers and said that disaster awaited the community if such gossiping wasn’t stopped.
Jesus is asking us to step out of the boats of our safety zones. Where have you and I settled for something less than what Jesus wills for us? Where are we still frustrated and angry? Where have we begun to blame others for our unwillingness to really change? Let’s step out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus. . . He will empower you to walk on water with him, and your life will become a walking miracle!