Essay
Francis’ Witness to Reconciling Brokenness Still Resonant 800 Years Later

BY JASON D. DAMON, OFM HNPNow

Jason lives at St. Joseph Friary, the Franciscan Interprovincial Post-Novitiate in Chicago Illinois, where he is in his final year of studies for his masters of divinity degree. He also serves in ministry in Gary, Indiana.

JASON D. DAMON, OFM

As a student in formation – and even more fundamentally, as a Christian – much of my growth as a person is about recognizing and making peace with brokenness – my own, in the world around me, and, dare I say, in my brothers.

Biased though I may be, I don’t think there is any greater witness to reconciling brokenness than St. Francis of Assisi. In himself, in others, and in the world around him, St. Francis was able to articulate a worldview with his very life and witness that is still resonant 800 years later.

That worldview was predicated on several pillars. While there are Franciscan scholars who have spent far more time studying and praying about Francis and his writings, and can thus articulate his principles better than I can (or ever will), I think the following speaks to me and offers us a perspective that is particularly relevant in a fractious time.

First is the Eucharistic lens through which Francis saw the world and his love-affair with the Incarnation. In almost all of his writings, there is an exhortation to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and he urges the reader to have the same humility as Christ does in approaching us through the Eucharistic elements.

Francis’ fascination with the Eucharist and with the personhood of Jesus Christ from His birth in a manger to His death on the Cross reveals an understanding of a very present and humble God. It also indicates that for Francis, the Incarnation wasn’t just a one-off event, but an ongoing reality into which we are continuously invited. How enthusiastically do we respond to that invitation? And what actions – what way of life – does this spur us to?

Perhaps part of the answer to the second question can be found in a warning that was frequently included in his writings, alongside his exhortation to consume the Body and Blood of Christ. Francis warns against eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ “unworthily.” While (at least to my unscholarly mind) it is rarely spelled out what, exactly, “unworthily” constitutes, the closest that I can come to is in his first Admonition: that those who do not share of the Spirit and don’t see with “spiritual eyes,” in turn, “eat and drink judgment on themselves.” These spiritual eyes allow the believer to see the elements as they really are, to see the revealed Christ in the bread and wine.

These “spiritual eyes” need to be directed toward the altar, but they also need to be pointed toward the Mystical Body of Christ as well. Indeed, it seems to me that Francis had the spiritual eyes to see the oft-hidden presence of Christ in all of creation, allowing him to see everything in terms of a familial relationship, from the leper to the natural elements. It is this fraternal vision – perhaps rooted in the spiritual eyes of St. Francis – that has inspired his pontifical namesake to issue multiple encyclicals that lean on his spirituality and worldview, and borrow from his writings for their very titles.

It’s no secret that in our own time, there is a lot of brokenness in the relationships we keep (or, perhaps more accurately, fail to keep). There are sharp divisions within the Church, our society, maybe even our individual fraternities. There is a dire need for social friendship amidst the rampant tribalism that marks everything in our culture today, from politics to ecclesiology.

It’s easy to pick sides and stick to them, to dig a trench and endeavor to die in it. I, for one, have become an expert in doing so (a take, I’m sure, that will be backed by anyone who’s lived with me). It’s much harder – and sometimes much more painful – to be an instrument of peace and engage in dialogue, outreach and genuine conversation. Seeing with “spiritual eyes” can be threatening because it takes us out of our own worlds and helps us to see more as the Holy Spirit does. And, despite what I often think, my views and God’s views are not from the same perch!

As Friars Minor, let’s hope that the example of our Seraphic Father, St. Francis, can help us to see with renewed vision the reality of Christ’s presence in all things, and to vigorously seek to repair what has been broken. May we do what is ours to do.

Happy Feast Day, brothers!