It has been several months since I contributed the first article, Humility: Act 1. Sometimes being humble requires that we fulfill our daily obligations with work, family and other responsibilities over and above what we would prefer to do. I would prefer to write. The Lord has blessed me with a few moments of time to continue this reflection on the three movements of humility.
In Act 1, ( originally posted in January, 2014 ) we reflected on God’s movement in humility towards his creatures, especially the human creature. We saw how in God’s love for his creatures, he chose to become one of us, and continues to come to us in a total act of self- giving at each and every Mass in the humble form of bread and wine. Let us now reflect on how the creature, in turn, responds to the creator in humility.
St. Francis, deeply aware of God’s gift to us through the incarnation and through all of creation, had a deep awareness of that gift and how we are obligated to reach back to God with humility in thanks and adoration. For Francis, following the will of God and imitating Jesus Christ was the foundation of responding humbly to God. It did not matter what anyone’s particular station in life happened to be; the most poor peasant to the greatest king, all fulfill a role in God’s plan. In his admonitions Francis instructed his brothers “For what a man is before God, that he is and nothing more.”(Admonition 19, Francis and Clare, the Complete Works) Part of our response in humility to God is accepting our place in his plan and not wishing or desiring to be something or someone else. I have often reflected that true holiness is to seek and do God’s will in our individual life. To do otherwise is to act with pride and tell God that we know better than he our purpose in his plan. I often joke that one of my favorite prayers goes something like “God, heavenly Father, I wish to do your will today, and if you could arrange things so that (present my list of wants) that would really be awesome!
St. Francis saw that God reaches out to us in two ways, through his Word and through Creation. Each of these demands a response back to God. Seeking to imitate Christ, Francis reflected on John 8:28 where Jesus taught that “I do nothing on my own but I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone because I always do what is pleasing to him.” In response to this Word of God, Francis spent many hours in prayer and fasting to discern God’s will. In the beginning, Francis sought only to be a man left alone in prayer, seeking God’s will; and then one day, God sent him brothers. Francis did not start out to found a new religious order, yet, that was God’s plan and when God sent him brothers, Francis realized that it was God’s will, and so he welcomed the brothers.
Another Word of God that spoke to Francis can be found in Luke chapter 9. Here Jesus sent out his disciples with the instruction; “take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money and let no one take a second tunic”. In his zeal to follow Christ perfectly and live a gospel life, Francis became totally dependent on God, giving up all worldly possessions. He would even say he did not own the simple, torn and worn out habit that he wore for his clothing. Francis, once the rich young man who loved fine clothing and food and parties with his friends now came to beg for his daily food from those who once benefited from the wealthy young Francis. In humility, Francis sought to show his love and appreciation to God by living as Jesus commanded, If you love me, keep my commandments and by humbly depending and trusting in God. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing.”(Lk 12:22)
Francis also saw himself as a lowly creature, not deserving of God’s generosity and love and forgiveness. He understood that these too are gifts from God and that we could not possibly attain holiness and everlasting life except by God’s gift. However, it would be wrong to think that Francis had a distorted view of his lowliness. One of the greatest tragedies of life is the self-hate or the lack of a sense of self-worth that afflicts many people. That is an attitude not of humility but emotional sickness. “Anyone who is truly humble before God has heard the Good News, that God has made us really “something”, his children” ( To Live as Francis Lived)
Today, the Secular Franciscan Order continues to encourage its members to respond in humility to the Word of God. The Rule of Life that is professed states “The rule and life of the Secular Franciscan is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ…devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel.” (Article 4, The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order)
Francis was also well versed in the book of creation. His reverence for all of God’s creatures, animate and inanimate comes from his realization that Adam ( Hebrew Adama meaning earth ) was made from the same substance as the rest of creation. Out of the dust of the Earth God created us. Then God breathed life into the dust and clay and we became living, rational beings, the pinnacle of creation. Francis understood this kinship with the rest of creation. Francis would certainly echo Psalm 8, praising God for his creation and our place within. “How great is your name, O lord our God, through all the Earth! When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god; with glory and honor you crowned him” One of the more famous writings of Francis is his Canticle of Brother Sun. In this hymn, Francis extols the greatness of God through the beauty of creation. He refers to creation with the terms brother and sister. This shows his understanding that all creatures have the dignity of being created by God. A few examples from the canticle include brother sun, sister moon, brother wind, sister water, brother fire, sister mother Earth and finally, sister death. Francis was not giving creation God like qualities, but praising God through the dignity of all his creatures. St. Pope John Paul II in his commentary on psalm 150 said that God has given rational humans the responsibility to praise God on behalf of those creatures who cannot give him praise.
This was not a new concept. Francis, who was very familiar with Scripture, was echoing the canticle of praise found in the book of Daniel, chapter 3. I encourage you to look up Daniel 3:57-88. This hymn of praise begins “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord, Praise and exalt him above all forever.” They hymn goes on to encourage all of creation to praise God; angels, water, hosts of heaven, sun, moon, stars, showers, dew, winds, fire, heat, cold, chill rain, frost, ice, snow, nights, days, lightning, clouds, mountains, hills, everything growing from the Earth, seas, rivers, dolphins and all water creatures, birds of the air, beasts wild and tame.
Francis responded to God with praise and humility, giving all credit to God, and trusting in God’s providence and seeking to do God’s will. There are those who will try and convince you that Francis, because of his devotion to the incarnation and God becoming man did not use exalted language in his response to God. I attended a seminar recently where the presenter taught that Francis would abhor exalted language in reference to God, that Francis saw only the humble, lowly God who became man. Francis, he said, would cringe at the thought of the God man seeing himself as anything higher than the creature he became. However, all you need to do is read the writing of Francis to realize that while Francis was devoted to the humble, incarnate Word of God, he used exalted language when he spoke about and praised God. Francis’s language responding to God’s gifts to us include; Almighty, Eternal, Just, Merciful, Most High, Perfect, Glorified, All-Powerful, Lord of the Universe, Exalted, All Good, Supreme Good, Great King, Awesome, Voice of Power, Marvelous, Majesty, Stronghold, Vastness, Magnificent, Totally Good, Highest Good, Almighty King. Francis, as should all of us, responded in humility to God’s gifts with praise, adoration, love, trust and commitment.