Within the Catholic Church there is a rich variety of spiritualities. We speak, for instance, of “Benedictine spirituality”, “Dominican spirituality”, or “Franciscan spirituality” - to name a few.
These spiritualities have their origin in great spiritual leaders after whom they are generally named; for example, Benedictine spirituality is from St. Benedict and so on. A particular spirituality is a specific system, or schema of beliefs, virtues, ideals and principles which form a particular way to approach God and therefore all life in general.
Just because these spiritualities are different does not mean they are contradictory. They all arise from the same Christian heritage and they all aim at the same goal – to love as Jesus loved. The difference is a matter of emphasis. These differences in emphasis give each spirituality its unique character traits. In other words, each spirituality has its “preferred” virtues, ideals and principles without negating all the others. These preferred emphases are what make up each particular spiritual system.
Franciscan spirituality, then, is that spirituality which comes from St. Francis and evolved within the Franciscan order. It has its own unique emphasis which characterizes it as “Franciscan”.
Saint Francis is called the little poor man of Assisi. He was born in the year 1182 in the town of Assisi in Italy. His father's name was Bernadone. Bernadone was a very wealthy merchant of Assisi. Francis was a very good-looking boy. He was merry and soft-hearted. So he had many friends. All the noble men's sons were his companions.
Francis was brought up in luxury and gaiety. He spent a considerable portion of his wealth in extravagant pleasures. He used to drink with the young princes of the land.
Sometime after this, Francis was laid up in bed for many months on account of some serious disease. He was about to die. But the Lord saved him as he had to carry out a definite mission in his life. The nature of Francis was entirely changed. Francis prayed to the Lord for light and guidance as to his future. He had a vision of Lord Jesus. He made a strong determination to renounce his old way of living to tread a life of purity and to dedicate his life to the service of humanity.
Basic principles are:
1. Conversion to and love of Jesus Christ, His Gospel and His Church.
2. A Christ centred theology accenting the primacy of love.
3. An emphasis on the Incarnation of Christ as seen in the crib, cross and the Eucharist, and our Lady’s participation in this mystery.
4. Lived experience of the Triune God in prayer and contemplation.
5. Hope, optimism and the goodness of God and His creatures.
6. Fraternity and peace through Reconciliation with Christ and one another.
7. Solidarity, as lesser brothers and sisters, with, among and in service to the Poor.
There are few people who have not heard of St. Francis of Assisi and the spirituality he left for us. His brothers and sisters have shared this spirituality with all of the Christian world, and many non-Christians have tremendous respect for both Francis and his life of poverty as a witness to Christ. At one time so many Italians wanted to join Francis he needed to begin a Third Order for those who were married. His First Order, Second Order and Third Order continue today, as well as the Franciscan reform groups that have served the Christian Church.
Franciscans, like other pre-Reformation religious orders, are found among Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, and Anglicans.
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.
St. Francis gave up his mortal coil in 1228.
The followers of St. Francis built a beautiful church round him on the hill of Assisi, the hill he so dearly loved. The influence of St. Francis and the sweet aroma of the life he lived will last for ever.
Glory to St. Francis, the little poor man of Assisi, but an illustrious saint !
"The simple prayer of St. Francis of Assisi provides for us a mould in which to cast our own life's conduct and character. It provides a blueprint upon which to pattern our living in our thoughts, speech and actions within our day to day relationships with our fellow beings and with all life around us. Therefore, the prayer of St. Francis is a precious document for us, an indispensable, invaluable frame of reference by which to judge our own lives, and referring to which we can do the necessary to bring about the needed alterations and modifications for the upliftment and purification of our own daily life."