A detail showing St. Francis of Assisi, from Benozzo Gozzoli's fresco, "Madonna and Child between St. Francis and St. Bernardine of Siena" in the Convent of San Fortunato, Montefalco, painted in 1450.
ASSISI, Italy, APRIL 20, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address that Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, gave Wednesday to participants in the Chapter of the Mats in Assisi, on the occasion of the eighth centenary of the approval of the Rule of St. Francis.
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Let Us Observe the Rule We Have Promised
1. The dawning of a charism
My reflection begins with a question: what exactly are we remembering this year, in 2009? Not the approval of the "rule we have promised," which is the approved or later rule, but the oral approval by Pope Innocent III of St Francis' primitive rule, now lost. In fourteen years time, in 2023, we will celebrate the centenary of the approved rule and on that occasion, we can be certain, words will be written and spoken far and wide about the rule and its importance. This year we have a unique opportunity to go back to the source of the Franciscan charism, to the moment when it first buds forth, so to speak, "in its pure state." This is a kairòs for the order and the whole Franciscan movement, one that we cannot allow to pass by in vain.
Sociologists have long highlighted the force and unrepeatable character of a collective movement "in statu nascent," when it is in the process of coming to birth. Speaking about states of collective effervescence, Durkheim wrote: "Man has the impression of being dominated by forces he does not recognize as his own, by which he is carried along and which he does not master. [...] He feels transported to a different world from the one in which he lives his private life. Here, life is not only intense, it is qualitatively different." For Max Weber, the birth of such movements is linked to the appearance of a charismatic leader who, breaking with tradition, draws his adherents into a heroic adventure, and produces in those who follow him the experience of an inner rebirth, a 'metanoia,' in St Paul's sense. The perspective of these authors is sociological, and does not by itself explain religious movements. Nevertheless it does help us to understand their dynamic.
According to Francesco Alberoni, such were the moments when religions, or the Protestant reformation or the French or Bolshevik revolutions, came to birth. We can without hesitation add the Franciscan movement to the list. There is, according to Alberoni, an undoubted analogy between the birth of these movements and the phenomenon of falling in love. This was certainly the case for Francis and his followers: they were in love.
There are flowers that cannot be reproduced by planting their seeds or a twig of the plant but only by burying the bulb, which mysteriously reawakens and bursts into bloom at springtime. The tulip and the lily would be two such flowers that I know. I believe that the Franciscan Order, too, needs to go back to the bulb. And the bulb is the primitive insight, or rather inspiration, ("The Lord revealed to me..."), which Francis of Assisi had and placed before Innocent III in 1209.
This stage of the Franciscan charism has one huge advantage, compared to the juridical tidying-up that had taken place by 1223, which is that the latter is much more a reflection of the historical circumstances and juridical requirements of the time; it is much more dated than the primitive rule and therefore less transferable to our own times. In it the movement has already become an institution, with all the benefits but also with all the losses that such a transition entails. Francis, notes Sabatier, was to find in the ecclesiastical norms that were incorporated into the later rule "directives that would give a precise form to ideas that had only been vaguely glimpsed, but he also found in them structures in which his thought would lose something of its originality and force: the new wine would be put into old skins." This is why, without taking away any of the inestimable value of the definitive rule, it is to that first foundational moment that we must refer if, as we read in the Letter of the General Ministers for this Chapter, we wish to succeed in facing "the challenge of refoundation."
Luckily for us, the contents of the primitive rule are one of the best known and least controversial things in the whole of Franciscan historiography, despite the fact that the text has been lost. In the Bull "Solet Annuere," by which he approved the rule in 1223, Pope Honorius III writes: "We confirm by our apostolic authority the rule of your order, approved by our predecessor Pope Innocent of happy memory and here transcribed." From these words, it would appear that it was a case of the same rule, only "transcribed" -- in other words, put into writing. But we know that this is not the case. Without wishing to exaggerate, as one well-known strand of Franciscan historiography has done, and speaking of the definitive rule as something that had been extracted from Francis under duress, rather than intended by him, there is no doubt that a lot of water flowed under the bridge between the two dates. And a lot of "water" also passed over the primitive rule!
We know directly from Francis about the tone of the primitive rule. In his Testament he writes: "And after the Lord had given me brothers, no one showed me what I ought to do, but the Most High himself revealed to me that I should live after the manner of the holy Gospel. And I had it written down in few and simple words, and our Lord the Pope confirmed it for me."
Celano writes: "When Blessed Francis saw that the Lord God was daily adding to their number, he wrote for himself and his brothers, present and to come, simply and with few words, a form of life, or rule, using for the most part the words of the holy Gospel, longing only for its perfection. But he did insert a few other things necessary to provide for a holy way of life."
The "few words" he put into writing doubtless included the Gospel texts that had struck Francis during his famous reading of the Gospel during Mass, in other words, the passages about Jesus sending the first disciples out on a mission, with instructions to carry "neither gold nor silver, without a staff, bread or shoes, and having no second garment." It is thought, not without reason, that some of these texts are the ones contained in chapter one of the earlier rule.
But these were only partial examples. Francis' real purpose is encapsulated in the expression that was to recur in all succeeding stages of the rule, and which the saint would repeat in his Testament: "to live according to the form of the holy Gospel." His purpose is a simple and radical return to the Gospel, meaning to the life of Jesus and his first disciples. The general ministers have rightly entitled their letter convoking this chapter: "Living According to the Gospel."
2. Itinerant charismatics
In this first phase, Francis did not analyze the contents of his choice: I mean, those aspects of the Gospel he proposed to relive. Following his instinct to live the Gospel "without gloss," he took it as a whole, as indivisible. We today, however, can highlight some of the specific contents of his choice, on the basis of what we observe him setting out to do, before and after his journey to Rome and his meeting with the Pope. We can speak of the three "p's" in Francis' life: preaching, prayer and poverty.
The first thing Francis starts to do is to go himself, and to send his companions out, around the villages and towns to preach penance, exactly as he had heard that Jesus did. Jesus inserted times of prayer into his preaching: at night, during the day, at daybreak or dusk, he started with prayer and returned to prayer after his journeys. And now, the little group gathered around Francis does the same. Prayer was the noble framework surrounding all the day's activities. All of which went hand in hand with a lifestyle that was poor in the broadest sense of the word, meaning that it was made up of radical material poverty, but also of spiritual poverty; in other words, of simplicity, humility, and the avoidance of honors. All of these things Francis later included in the name "minors" which he gave to his brothers.
We should point out one important fact: this primitive experience was entirely lay. The great historian Joseph Lortz has forcefully stated: "At its core, the piety of the Catholic saint, Francis of Assisi, is not clerical."
Francis' intuition finds striking confirmation in the most recent scholarship about the historical Jesus. It has become fairly commonplace to define the group of Jesus and his disciples, from the viewpoint of religious sociology, as "itinerant charismatics," even if the term is understood by some in a way that can only be accepted with considerable reservations. "Charismatics" indicates the prophetic character of Jesus' preaching, accompanied by signs and wonders; "itinerant" points to his being on the move and his refusal to settle in one fixed place, confirmed by what Christ himself said: "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Mt 8,20). No more apt definition could be found for the primitive group gathered around Francis than "itinerant charismatics."
3. From Francis to Christ
Now it is time for us to try to move to our own day, to see what we can learn from this initial moment of the dawn of the Franciscan movement. The first danger, or delusion, we must avoid is to think we can reproduce the experience of Francis in actual external forms. Life and history are like a river: they never turn back.
Attempts at Franciscan reform where the main attention is on the external features of the Franciscan as he exists in the popular imagination can for a short while attract the approval of people, who instinctively admire non-conformity and a certain hippy style, but they do not stand the test of time, or of life. Where is the sap that gives life to the tree? That is what needs to be rediscovered. It's not enough to replant its leafy branches in the earth.
The first thing we need to do is take up the correct perspective. When Francis looked back, he saw Christ; when we look back, we see Francis. The difference between him and us is all there, and it is enormous. Question: In what, then, does the Franciscan charism consist? Answer: Looking at Christ with the eyes of Francis! We do not cultivate the Franciscan charism by looking at Francis, but by looking at Christ through Francis' eyes.
Christ is everything for Francis: He is his only wisdom and his life. Before becoming a theological vision in Saint Bonaventure and Scotus, Christocentricism was an experience, lived in real life in an unreflected way by Francis. There is no time, and no need, to multiply quotations. At the end of his life, to a brother who tried to persuade him to have the scriptures read to him, Francis replied: "But I have already taken in so much of scripture that I have more than enough for meditating and reflecting. I do not need more, son. I know Christ, poor and crucified."
We are in the year of St. Paul and it is extremely instructive to compare Paul's conversion with that of Francis. Both were blazing encounters with the person of Jesus; both of them were "captured by Christ" (Phil 3, 12). Both were able to say: "Life, to me, is Christ" and "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me," Phil 1, 21; Gal 2,20); both could say -- Francis even more strongly than Paul -- "The marks in my body are those of Jesus" (Gal 6,17). It is significant that the liturgical texts for the Office and Mass of the Feast of Saint Francis are mostly taken from Paul's Letters.
The famous image of the marriage of Francis to Lady Poverty, which has left deep traces in Franciscan art and poetry, can be misleading. One does not fall in love with a virtue, not even with poverty; one falls in love with a person. Francis' wedding, like that of other mystics, was a betrothal to Christ. Francis' reply to the person who asked him if he intended to take a wife: "I shall take the most noble and most beautiful bride you have ever seen," is usually interpreted wrongly. It seems clear from the context that the bride is not poverty, but the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, namely Christ. "Indeed," comments Celano, "the unstained bride of God is the true religion that he embraced, and the hidden treasure is the Kingdom of heaven, which he sought with great longing."
4. A renewed Franciscan preaching
On the basis of these presuppositions, let us try to see how we today could implement those three fundamental aspects of the primitive Franciscan experience which I have explained: preaching, prayer and poverty.
With regard to the first, preaching, we first need to ask a disturbing question: what place does preaching occupy today in the Franciscan Order? In one of my sermons to the Papal Household I once reflected on some points which I think could also be useful for us here. In the Protestant churches, especially in certain new churches and sects, preaching is everything. Consequently, the most gifted members of the church are steered towards it, and there they find a natural way to express themselves. It is the church's number one activity. Who, on the other hand, are the ones who are earmarked for preaching in our Church? Where do the liveliest, most valued forces in the Church end up? What does the preaching office represent, among the many possible activities and appointments that can be given to a young priest? There is, it seems to me, a serious drawback here: that only those are destined for preaching who are left over after the others have been chosen for academic studies, for Church government, for diplomacy, teaching or administration.
Speaking to the members of the Papal Household I said: we need to give back to the preaching office the place of honor in the Church; and here I add: the office of preaching must regain its honored place in the Franciscan family. I was struck by a reflection of de Lubac: "The ministry of preaching is not the popularization of a more abstract piece of doctrine, which supposedly comes before preaching and is superior to it. It is, on the contrary, the doctrinal teaching itself, in its highest form." Saint Paul, the model of all preachers, certainly placed preaching before everything else, and subordinated everything to it. He did theology by preaching, not a theology which he then left for others to pick out the most elementary things and then pass them on to the simple faithful through preaching.
We Catholics, because of our past, are more ready to be "pastors" than "fishers of men." I mean we are better placed to shepherd the people who have remained faithful to the Church, than to bring in new people, or to "fish back" those who have drifted away. The itinerant preaching which Francis chose for himself meets precisely this need. It would be a shame if the existence of our own churches and large structures made us Franciscans only shepherds and not fishers of men. We Franciscans are "evangelicals" by birth and by our native vocation; we shouldn't allow itinerant preaching to be practiced in certain continents, like Latin America, only by modern "Evangelicals" protestants.
There would be some important observations to make also about the content of our preaching. We know that the earliest Franciscan preaching was entirely centered on the theme of "penance," so much so that the earliest title the brothers gave themselves was "penitents from Assisi." At that time, penitential preaching was understood as preaching based on conversion, in the sense of a change of behavior, moral preaching, in other words. That was the mandate given to the friars by Innocent III: "Go and preach penance to all." In the definitive rule this moral content is made specific: preachers are to proclaim "vices and virtues, punishment and glory." 
This is one point where an automatic return to the origins would be fatal. In a society steeped in Christianity it was most natural and urgent to insist on the aspect of external works or deeds. Today, things have changed. We live in a society which in many countries has become post-Christian: the most necessary thing is to help people to find faith, to discover Christ. This is why moral preaching, or moralism, is not enough. What is needed is a kerygmatic type of preaching that goes right to the heart of the message, proclaiming the paschal mystery of Christ. It was by this proclamation that the apostles evangelized the pre-Christian world, and it will be through it that we can hope to re-evangelize the post-Christian world.
Francis, and thanks to him, in part his first companions too, managed to avoid this moralistic limitation in their preaching. In him, all the newness of the Gospel resonates with full force. The Gospel is truly good news; it proclaims the gift of God to man even before man's response. Dante has caught this climate well, when he says of Francis and his first companions: "Their concord and glad looks, wonder and love, / And sweet regard gave birth to holy thoughts."
They had found, so the sources tell us, the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, and they wanted to make it known to everyone. The air one breathes around Francis is not the same as that of certain later Franciscan preachers, especially in the counter-reformation period, which is entirely centered on human works, austere and oppressive, but with an austerity closer to that of John the Baptist than of Jesus. Even the image of Francis is seriously altered in such a climate. Nearly all the paintings of this period depict him absorbed in meditation with a skull in his hand, and this is the man for whom death was a kindly sister!
Therefore, of course we Franciscans too should continue to preach conversion, but we should give the word the meaning Jesus gave to it when he said: "Repent, and believe the Good News" (Mk 1,15). Before him, to be converted always meant to change one's life and behavior, to turn back (this is the meaning of the Hebrew shub!), to the observance of the law and to the broken covenant. With Jesus, it no longer means to turn back, but to take a leap forward and enter the kingdom that has freely come among men. "Repent and believe" does not mean two separate things, but the same thing: be converted, believe the Good News! This is the great novelty of the Gospel, and Francis grasped it instinctively, without having to wait for biblical theology as we know it today.
5. A Franciscan way of praying
The second distinguishing element in Francis' earliest experience, as we have seen, is an intense life of prayer. In this initial phase, Franciscan prayer is, like preaching, a charismatic type of prayer. Later on, with the order becoming clerical, the Divine Office would become the hinge of the brothers' prayer, but in the beginning there were no breviaries or other books. They prayed spontaneously, as the Spirit prompted them, either alone or together. One of the chapters of the Fioretti has preserved the memory of this prayer without books among Francis and his companions.
How can we in our communities rediscover something of that fresh, spontaneous prayer? Before being the prayer of the primitive Franciscan community, it was the prayer of the Christian community. Paul wrote to the communities: "At your meetings, let everyone be ready with a psalm or a sermon or a revelation, or ready to use his gift of tongues or to give an interpretation" (1 Cor 14, 26); and again: "Sing the words and tunes of the psalms and hymns when you are together, and go on singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts" (Eph. 5,19).
Let's be honest: there is a danger that the common prayer of traditional communities may be easily reduced to what Isaiah called "man-made rules learned by rote, honoring God with lip service, while our hearts are far from him" (cf. Is 29, 13-14). Certainly we should not despise liturgical prayer, but it has to be sustained and kept alive with other kinds of prayer; it is not enough by itself. We know only two kinds of prayer: liturgical prayer and private prayer. Liturgical prayer is communal but not spontaneous; private prayer is spontaneous but not communal. We need a type of prayer that is communal and spontaneous at the same time, and this, rather than some strange way of praying, is what we call charismatic prayer.
This would make it possible in certain circumstances, or during the liturgical prayer itself when allowed, to have moments of real spiritual sharing among brothers or sisters. Otherwise there is the danger that in our communities we share everything except our faith and our experience of Jesus. We talk about anything, except about him.
The Holy Spirit has revived this type of charismatic prayer. It is the strength of nearly all the new communities and ecclesial movements of the post-conciliar era. We can open ourselves to this grace without in the least betraying our identity -- in fact we would be manifesting it. When the evangelical renewal ushered in by Francis and the mendicant orders in general appeared in the Church, all the pre-existing orders benefitted from this grace, seeing it as a challenge to themselves to rediscover their own Gospel inspiration of simplicity and poverty. We traditional orders should do the same in the presence of the new movements which the Spirit has raised up in the Church.
Charismatic prayer is essentially a prayer of praise, of adoration, and who more than Francis has embodied this type of prayer? Francis Sullivan, a Jesuit theologian who formerly taught at the Gregorian, defined Francis of Assisi as "the greatest charismatic in the history of the Church." The renewal of the Franciscan Order, throughout its history, appears constantly linked to the renewal of prayer. It nearly always began in houses of retreat and prayer.
6. Being "for the poor" and "being poor"
Regarding the third element -- poverty -- I will just say something that may help us to situate the Franciscan ideal of poverty in the history of salvation and of the Church and to see how, on this point too, Francis puts into effect a return to the Gospel.
With regard to poverty, the transition from the Old to the New Testament marks a qualitative leap. We can summarize it by saying: the Old Testament introduces us to a God who is "for the poor," the New Testament to a God who makes himself "poor." The Old Testament is full of texts about God who "hears the cry of the poor," who "defends the cause of the afflicted," and "brings justice to the oppressed;" but only the Gospel speaks to us of the God who makes himself one of them, who chooses poverty and weakness for himself: "Jesus Christ, rich though he was, became poor for your sake" (2 Cor 8,9). Material poverty, from being an evil to be avoided, acquires the aspect of a good to be cultivated, an ideal to be followed. Here is the great new thing that Christ has brought into being.
In this way, the two essential components of the ideal of biblical poverty are now clear. These are: to be "for the poor" and to be "poor." The history of Christian poverty is the history of the different attitudes people have taken up in the face of these two requirements.
A first synthesis and balancing of the two demands was achieved in the thought of men like Saint Basil and Saint Augustine, and in the monastic experience they initiated. Here, to the most rigorous personal poverty is joined an equal concern for the poor and the sick, which takes concrete form in specially created institutions that in some cases were to serve as models for the future charitable works of the Church.
In the medieval era we see this cycle being repeated in a different context. The Church, and in particular the ancient monastic orders, having grown very rich in the west, now cultivates poverty almost exclusively in the form of assistance to the poor, to pilgrims, in other words, by running charitable institutions. It was against this situation that the so-called "pauperistic" movements sprung up, from the beginning of the second millennium onwards. These placed the effective practice of poverty at the forefront, advocating the return of the Church to the simplicity and poverty of the Gospel.
The balance and the synthesis were achieved, this time, by the mendicant orders, in particular by Francis, who strove to practice simultaneously a radical divesting of self and a loving care for the poor, the lepers, and above all, to live his poverty in communion with the Church, not in opposition to it.
With all due caution, we can perhaps see signs of a similar dialectic in the modern era. The explosion of social consciousness in the last century and the problem of the proletariat have once again upset the balance, prompting people to leave aside the ideal of voluntary poverty, chosen and lived as part of Christian discipleship, to concern themselves with the problem of the poor. The ideal of a poor Church was overshadowed by concern "for the poor," translated into a thousand new initiatives and institutions, especially in the field of the education of poor children and assistance to the most destitute. Even the social teaching of the Church is a product of this spiritual climate.
It was the Second Vatican Council that brought the subject of "the Church of the poor" once more to the forefront of the debate. On this point, in the Constitution on the Church we read: "Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path. Christ was sent by the Father to bring good news to the poor, to heal the contrite of heart, to seek out and to save what was lost. Similarly, the Church encompasses with her love all those who are afflicted by human misery, and she recognizes in those who are poor and who suffer, the image of her poor and suffering founder. She does all in her power to relieve their need, and in them she strives to serve Christ." In this text, both aspects are reunited: being poor, and being at the service of the poor.
These developments are also a challenge to us, Franciscans of today. We should not make the mistake of going back to the concept of poverty as it was understood in the religious orders before the time of Francis, and in the universal Church before Vatican II: in other words, almost exclusively in terms of being "for the poor," for the promotion of social initiatives. For us Franciscans, a "preferential option for the poor" is not sufficient; we also need a "preferential option for poverty."
What this means in concrete situations will vary from place to place and it is not my intention to launch into practical suggestions. I will just say that I share the concern expressed by my General Minister, Brother Mauro Jöhri, in his recent letter entitled: "Let us fan the flame of our charism!" where he denounces the danger, present in certain circles, of transforming Saint Francis' choice of poverty into a choice of wealth and social advancement, which separates us from ordinary people rather than leading us to share their lifestyle.
7. Our place in the Church
Now I would like to try and see how Francis related to the Church of his time, and how, following his example, we Franciscans ought to relate to the Church today. Concerning Francis' relationship with the hierarchical Church we have, as is well known, two opposing views: that of the official historiography of the order, of Francis as "vir catholicus et totus apostolicus," and that of the spirituals of the time, espoused by Sabatier, which speaks of a more or less latent conflict and of Francis being used by the hierarchy.
The latter view is the one which, for obvious theatrical reasons, has generally been appropriated by films about Francis. Everyone remembers the phrase whispered by a cardinal, with a nod and a wink, after Innocent III has approved Francis' request, in Franco Zefirelli's film "Brother Sun and Sister Moon": "Eventually, we have a man who will speak to the poor and bring them back to us." Even the television film of two years ago about Francis and Clare gives in to this stereotype.
History, as always, is rarely black and white; there are often half-shades and nuances. Human intentions, even those of Church leaders, are not always pure, or purely spiritual, especially in an age like that of Innocent III, when the Pope was the most prominent political reality in the western world. But why believe that the Pope and the cardinals were only thinking of winning back the masses for themselves and not also for Christ and the Gospel? We are entitled, for good historical reasons, to counter the "malevolent" interpretation of the hierarchy's attitude with a "benevolent" one. The hierarchical Church realizes that it cannot, because of the role it plays in the world, reach the seething masses of the people directly, and sees in Francis and in Dominic instruments to be used for this urgent need of the Church in the face of the aggressiveness of the heretical movements.
We have confirmation of this pastoral, non-polemical intention behind the attitude of Innocent III in the origin of Francis' devotion to the Tau. In the prophet Ezekiel we read: "The glory of the God of Israel came from above the winged creature where it had been, towards the threshold of the Temple. He called to the man dressed in linen with a scribe's ink-horn in his belt, and the Lord said to him: 'Go all through the city, all through Jerusalem, and mark a cross on the foreheads of all who grieve and lament over all the loathsome practices in it'" (Ez 9, 1-4).
In the speech with which he opened the fourth Lateran Council in 1215, the aged Pope Innocent III took up this symbol. He himself, he said, would like to have been that "man dressed in linen, with a scribe's ink-horn in his belt" and to have gone through the whole Church, in person, marking a Tau on the foreheads of those who agreed to embark on a state of true conversion.
He evidently could not do this in person, and not only because he was old. Listening to him, hidden among the crowd, was Francis of Assisi (so it is believed). What is certain in any case is that the echo of the Pope's sermon reached his ears and he accepted the appeal and made it his own. From that day onwards he began to preach penance and conversion, even more intensely than before, and to mark the Tau on the foreheads of the people who came to him. The Tau became his seal. With it he used to sign his letters, and drew it on the cells of the brothers. Saint Bonaventure was able to say, after his death: "He had received the mission to summon all people to mourn and lament [...] and to sign the Tau on the brows of those that weep and wail." This was why Francis was sometimes called " the angel of the sixth seal": the angel who personally carries the seal of the living God and stamps it on the foreheads of the elect (cf. Ap 7,2 s.).
Francis took on himself the task which the hierarchical Church was unable to carry out, not even by means of its secular clergy. He did so without any spirit of controversy or argument. He did not dispute either with the institutional Church, or the enemies of the institutional Church, in fact, with anybody. In this his style is different even from that of his contemporary, Dominic.
We wonder: what does all this have to do with us? For different reasons (though not entirely!), today, too, masses of people are alienated from the institutional Church. A gulf has been created between the two. Many people are no longer able to reach Christ through the Church; they must be helped to reach the Church through Christ, starting with him and with the Gospel. One does not accept Jesus out of love for the Church, but it is possible to accept the Church out of love for Jesus.
And this is a task tailor-made for Franciscans. We are in a unique position to be able to do this. What predisposes us for this role is the legacy we have received from our Father Francis, the huge legacy of credibility he has acquired in the eyes of the whole human race. His intuition of a universal brotherhood, extending to every creature, accompanied by the choice of minority, turn him and his followers into the brothers of every person, the enemies of none, the companions of the least ones. Pope John Paul II's choice of Assisi as the meeting place for religions, and countless other initiatives like it, are a sign of this vocation of the sons and daughters of Francis.
The condition required to be able to fulfill this task of being a bridge between the Church and the world is that, like Francis, we have a profound love and fidelity towards the Church, and a deep love for and solidarity with the world, especially the world of the little ones. Another means we cannot neglect is our Franciscan habit. Through it, Francis becomes present, even visibly, among the people of our day. If people never see us in our habit, how will they recognize us as sons of Francis? I am convinced that, if the day ever came when Franciscans never wore the habit in public, not even in Christian and Catholic countries, they would deprive the world of a great gift, and themselves of a valuable aid. Through his habit, Francis, as the Letter to the Hebrews says of Abel, "defunctus adhuc loquitur:" though he is dead, still speaks (Heb 11,4). I have personal proof of this in the help that I receive in my television ministry through wearing the habit.
8. A new Franciscan Pentecost
How are we to translate into action all the proposals I have made, and the many more that are sure to emerge from the later speakers? We get our answer from the word Francis spoke towards the end of his life: "I have done what is mine; may Christ teach you what is yours!" This word was addressed to all his followers, in every age, not only those who were there at the time.
And so we are called back to what we were saying at the beginning about the Franciscan charism: it does not consist of looking at Francis, but of looking at Christ with the eyes of Francis. There is one thing that has remained unchanged, from Francis all the way down to us, over and above all the historic and social changes: the Spirit of the Lord. The whole life of the Poverello, if you notice, unfolds under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Nearly every chapter of his biography opens with the remark: "Francis, moved, or inspired, by the Holy Spirit, went, said, did [...]."
On the occasion of the 16th centenary of the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople -- the council that defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit -- Pope John Paul II wrote: "The whole work of renewal of the Church, so providentially set forth and initiated by the Second Vatican Council [...] can be carried out only in the Holy Spirit, that is to say, with the aid of his light and His power." Never has this been so true of the renewal of the religious orders.
There are only two types of renewal possible: renewal according to the law and renewal according to the Spirit. Christianity -- Paul teaches us this -- is a renewal according to the Spirit (Tit 3,5), not according to the law. Actually, law has never succeeded in truly renewing any religious order. It brings out sin, but it does not give life. It is useful and valuable if placed at the service of the "law of the Spirit that gives life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8,2), not if it claims to replace it.
Saint Thomas Aquinas writes that even the letter of the Gospel and the precepts it contains would kill, if it were not for the inward presence of the grace of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit"; what then must we say of all the other positive laws, including monastic rules? "The Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ" (Jn 1,17). For us this means, "The rule was given through Benedict, Francis, Dominic, Ignatius, but grace is given only through Jesus Christ."
We need to ask ourselves what it can mean, for us Franciscans, to accept the grace of a "new Pentecost" invoked by John XXIII. The second Franciscan generation saw itself as the fulfillment of the prophecies of Joachim of Fiore of a new age of the Spirit. There was, obviously, a measure of ingenuousness, if not of pride, in such an identification, without counting the fact that the very thesis of a third age of the Holy Spirit -- whether or not it is attributable in this form to Joachim -- is heretical and unacceptable. However, there is something we can hold on to from this much-debated chapter of our history: the conviction that we have been raised up by the Holy Spirit and called to keep alive in the world the flame of Pentecost.
The first Chapter of Mats opened on the day of Pentecost in 1221; it therefore opened with the solemn singing of the Veni creator which was already part of the liturgy of Pentecost. That hymn, composed in the ninth century, has accompanied the Church at every great event that took place in the second Christian millennium: every ecumenical council or synod, every new year or century, began with the singing of that hymn; every saint who lived during these past ten centuries sang it and left in the words the mark of their devotion and love for the Spirit.
With those same words we too invoke the presence of the Spirit on this new Chapter of Mats. Come, Creator Spirit. Renew the wonder you worked when the world began. The earth was empty and deserted then, and darkness covered the face of the deep, but when you began to hover over the waters, the chaos was transformed into cosmos (cf. Gen 1,1-2), in other words, into something beautiful, ordered and harmonious. We too feel empty and powerless, unable to reshape ourselves, to find new life. Come, hover over us, come upon us! Transform our individual and collective chaos into a new harmony, into "something beautiful for God" and for the Church.
Renew also the miracle of the dry bones that came to life and stood up on their feet, a great, immense army. (cf. Ez 37, 1 ass.). No longer do we say, like Ezekiel: "Spirit, come from the four winds," as if we did not yet know where the breath of the Spirit comes from. In Easter week we say: "Come, Spirit, come, from the side of Christ pierced on the cross! Come from the mouth of the Risen One!"
[Translated from Italian by Br. Charles Serignat, ofmcap.]
[ ] M. Weber, Economia e società, Comunità, Milano 1961, vol. II, pp. 431 ss. (cit. by Alberoni, ib.).
 Cf. F. Alberoni, op. cit. pp. 5-9.
 P. Sabatier, Vita di san Francis d'Assisi, Mondadori, Milano 1978, p. 75.
 Celano, First Life, XIII, 32
 Cf. Legend of the Three Companions VIII, 25
 J. Lordtz, Francesco d'Assisi. Un santo unico, Edizioni Paoline 1973, p. 132.
 Cf. G. Theissen e A. Merz, Il Gesù storico. Un manuale, Queriniana, Brescia 2003, pp. 235 ss. And the critique of D.G. Dunn, Gli albori del cristianesimo, I,1, Paideia, Brescia 2006, pp. 71ss.
 Celano, Second Life, LXXI, 105
 Cf. Celano, First Life, III, 7 .
 H. de Lubac, Exégèse médiévale, I,2, Paris 1959, p.670.
 Legend of the Three Companions, X, 37.
 Celano, First Life,XIII, 33
 Later Rule, chap. IX.
 Divine Comedy, Paradise, XI, vv.76-78.
 Cf. Celano, First Life, III, 6-7.
 Fioretti chap. IX.
 On this subject of God as a just Sovereign who takes up the cause of the poor in the Old Testament, cf. J. Dupont, Le beatitudini, Edizioni Paoline 1976, pp.596 ss.
 Lumen gentium, 8.
 Innocent III, Sermon VI (PL 217, 673-678).
 St. Bonaventure, Legenda maior, 2.
 Celano, Second Life, CLXII, 214
 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter "A concilio Costantinopolitano I", in AAS 73 (1981), p. 489.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-IIae, q. 106, a. 1-2.