Jesus was a human being just like each of us. He laughed, he wept, he ate and drank. He earned his living as a laborer before the final, public phase of His life. He used the things of this earth to lead us toward His Father in Heaven: water, bread, wine, even spitting into the dirt to rub mud into the eyes of a blind man, who then was able to see.
Francis saw the Nativity as the self-emptying of Jesus (kenosis), the very poverty of God. He desired with all his heart to follow Jesus in the way of the Gospel, poor, in the footsteps of the poor Jesus, so as to share more deeply in the grace of God… (Conventual Franciscans, Melnick and Wood, 1996).
Francis wanted to make Jesus’ physical reality known to others, so they could experience Jesus’ presence as vividly as he did. He was the first to re-create the scene of Jesus’s Nativity, even to the point of gathering animals around a hay-filled manger.
Today, we carry on this incarnational approach to Gospel living. Living as brothers in community, we share meals, work together, and care for our brothers when they are ill.
We do the same for those we serve. We pray with them and give them direction when they ask. But first we make sure their stomachs are full. Sometimes it’s said that the kitchen is the most important room in our houses.
While we don’t marry and have children, living in community does require sacrifice. We can’t always have what we want or do as we please. We have to do what’s best for the whole group, putting the needs of others first, especially those we serve, before we consider ourselves and our own wishes.
Francis entered into communion with God through obedience, the self-sacrificing love that he encountered in the Crucified Christ.
In both the Rule and the Admonitions, Francis is speaking to real men – we can feel their presence and we know them because they are still among us. Far from being angels, Francis’ followers have always been men of good, but impassioned, will. (Melnick and Wood)
We see this in our own Province and in each of our friaries.
At the heart of our lives as Conventual Franciscans is prayer, especially prayer in community with the other Friars. And at the heart of our prayer is the Eucharist where Christ becomes physically present to us.
Humanity and divinity are joined in this foretaste of Heaven. Francis constantly exhorted his followers to have the utmost respect and reverence for Christ’s real, yet hidden presence in the Eucharist. (Melnick and Wood)
And Francis continues to point us toward this action, as he says in his first Admonition:
As He revealed Himself to the holy apostles in true flesh, so He reveals Himself to us now in sacred bread… And in this way the Lord is always with His faithful, as He Himself says: Behold, I am with you until the end of the age.
By worshiping together in community, and inviting others to share this sacred meal with us in our churches and chapels, we make this divine Presence available to all who seek it – a love given freely to all for all time.
It is sometimes said that Francis is the most radical, authentic Christian in history. What this means is that he took Jesus’ words as literal directives and tried to follow them as faithfully as he could. Whether it was what to wear or how to treat others, the answer for him was found in the pages of the Gospels.
Francis believed that when we meet Christ in the Word, we are commissioned into action. He entrusted himself totally to the concrete directives found in the pages of the Gospel and carried them out with zealous abandon. (Melnick and Wood)
We continue to find our spiritual nourishment and direction in the words of Jesus. And we try to follow in the difficult path laid out by our founder.
Francis the daring general also becomes Francis the tender mother. He is never the imposer of a harsh ideal, nor does he exact a uniform pattern of behavior from his followers. He makes exceptions at every turn, and expects weakness in every champion. (Melnick and Wood)
We are the Conventual Friars of Our Lady of Consolation Province. One of our central ministries is the responsibility to administer the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio, where thousands of pilgrims travel each year. We pray to the Blessed Mother in our daily community prayer, and many Friars wear a rosary as part of our religious habit.
Awed by the sanctity of the Virgin Mary, Francis aspired to imitate her perfect discipleship. Like the Mother of Christ, Francis said “Yes” to the plans of God and carried Christ within his very being. He strove to give birth to Christ’s compassionate presence in the world and to recognize that presence in others. (Melnick and Wood)
Mary doesn’t get in the way of God; she leads us to God. We take to heart her words at the wedding feast: “Do whatever He tells you.” While we may not always live up to her, and Francis’, example, it remains the ideal toward which we strive.