Journey thru John, Chapter 2: Mary as Advocate

Mary, the Grotto, St. Stanislaus Parish, South Bend, Indiana

Did you read the full chapter on your own this month?  Did you look for the verse or couple verses that spoke to you?  Did you pray over them multiple times?  Did you enter the scene and put yourself in direct contact with Jesus?

Did you ask for the intercession of Francis and Clare as you prayed in an effort to gain particular insight about your Franciscan vocation?  Did you find yourself thinking about your prayer in the context of the Rule?

Was your prayer an effort to go “from Gospel to life and life to Gospel”? 

Did you do your own reflection for this month?

Did you consider sharing that reflection with your brothers and sisters?


John Chapter 2, Verses 3 to 5:

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Imagine yourself for a moment to be St. Francis of Assisi. You are still in the process of discerning your vocation. God has been calling you. He has gotten your attention but you are not sure what to do about it. You want to serve Him but you don’t yet know how. Harken back to the scene in the cave from last chapter. You have decided to pursue the treasure, the pearl of great price. You are in that cave, praying fervently, and this is the piece of the Gospel that you happen to be reading this day. You put yourself in the scene as one of the servants at the wedding. You hear the exchange between Mary and Jesus and then Mary looks over at you and says “Do whatever he tells you.”

Mary, just as John the Baptist in the last chapter, acts as a herald of Christ for you.

Can you imagine Francis experiencing the scene not as historical, but as current?  Can you see, in the dim candlelight of the cave, the muscles around Francis’ eyelids, closed in desperate prayer, working as the realization dawns on him that Mary is talking not to some person one thousand years dead, but directly to him, right there and then. Can you see Francis “burning inwardly with a divine fire” as a result?  Watch him fidget with anxiety, about to burst, unable to sit still and contain himself. See him reach the conclusion that if Mary is talking to him, right then and there, that he must devote himself to following the Gospels literally because that is the place where Jesus “tells us what to do!”

Then see him emerge from the cave “so exhausted from his struggle that one person seemed to have entered, and another to have come out.”   This is the potential power of conversion that could result from living article four of our SFO Rule earnestly.

Can you bring yourself to hope for a prayer experience such as this with all your heart?  Is it something you truly hope for, or something that scares you beyond the ability to hope because of the burden it would place on you?  Could you include in your answer to last chapter’s question from Jesus (“What do you want?”) the hope that you might react to praying over the Gospels in such a way that it exhausts you and converts you to such an extent that it is apparent externally to the very next person you meet?

Can you recognize the value of learning the skill of putting yourself in the scene?  I doubt I have ever experienced the fervor of being immersed in a Gospel scene the way Francis did. He was just gifted in ways that I am not. But I have experienced it to some degree. I have found myself unable to sit still after praying over a scene and gaining a particular insight from that prayer. I have found myself up and pacing, wringing my hands with the desire to drop everything in my life in order to pursue the outcome of that prayer as utterly and completely as possible. And I have experienced the frustration of trying to be productive at my everyday job afterwards and of wondering how to take the thrill of that realization and somehow incorporate into a very different way of living and not yet discerning how to do it.


At the beginning of chapter three of The Major Legend of Saint Francis by St. Bonaventure, we find this:

In the Church of the Virgin Mother of God her servant Francis lingered and, with continuing cries, insistently begged her who had conceived and brought to birth the Word full of grace and truth, to become his advocate. Through the merits of the Mother of Mercy he conceived and brought to birth the spirit of Gospel truth.

We don’t know from the record whether or not these exact verses from the Gospel of John elicited the hypothetical reaction from Francis that I asked you to consider above. But the heading of chapter three is “The Founding of the Religion and the Approval of the Rule,” so we do know from the above that Francis prayed insistently to Mary during his discernment process and that Bonaventure gives major credit to Mary for the path that Francis ultimately found. That is how powerful an advocate she became for Francis. Whether or not it was these specific words that caused his devotion to and reliance on Mary is not the point. The reality of the devotion, and how that gets passed down to us, is what these Gospel verses invite us to consider.

The SFO Rule, chapter Two, article Nine, reads like this:

The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to his every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.

This section of our Rule echoes closely chapter 150 from The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul by Thomas Celano:

He embraced the Mother of Jesus with inexpressible love, since she made the Lord of Majesty a brother to us. He honored her with his own Praises, poured out prayers to her, and offered her his love in a way that no human tongue can express. But what gives us greatest joy is that he appointed her the Advocate of the Order, and placed under her wings the sons to be left behind, that she might protect and cherish them to the end.

Oh Advocate of the Poor! Fulfill towards us your duty as protectress until the time set by the Father!

The reference to the Praises above is then traced into The Office of the Passion, which is contained in The Undated Writings section of Book I: The Saint. The Antiphon to be used throughout the Office reads like this:

Holy Virgin Mary, among the women born into the world, there is no one like you. Daughter and servant of the most high and supreme King and of the Father in heaven, Mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us, with Saint Michael the Archangel, all the powers of heaven, and all the saints, at the side of your most holy beloved Son, our Lord and Teacher. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, Amen.

Francis has specifically assigned Mary the roles of Advocate and Protectress. And he has specifically taught us to ask her to pray for us. Is he just honoring Mary within in the long tradition of the Church without consideration, or did he maybe find something in the Gospels that caused him to recognize her as uniquely suited for this role?  

Read the passage from the Gospel again in light of that question. Do you find, in this Gospel passage, justification for Francis asking Mary into these roles?

This interchange between Mary and Jesus is fascinating. Mary, perhaps because of her unique role as Mother, accomplishes something that Jesus’s disciples fail at later in the Gospels.

When Jesus tells Peter that he must die and then be raised on the third day. Peter says to Jesus, “This shall never happen to you!”  Jesus tells Peter “Get behind me, Satan!” and that is the end of the discussion. Peter has been taught authoritatively and his own desires are quashed.

When James and John ask for seats at either hand of Jesus, he tells them “You do not know what you are asking for,” and instructs them to seek the role of servant, not Lord. It’s not as harsh as with Peter, but still, the discussion ends with the instruction. Their desires are also quashed.

But in this scene, Mary actually gets her way. Jesus tells her no, but she goes right by that and gives instructions to the servants to do as Jesus says, and Jesus then does what she wants despite originally telling her no.

Doesn’t this scene establish Mary as the ultimate intercessor?  I am not sure she actually changed Jesus’ mind. There is something deeply mysterious about why an omnipotent God responds to intercession. I don’t think he needs the advocate on His end, but perhaps there is something about me, about us, that needs someone in that role. Jesus, perhaps for his own purposes, chooses to appear as if Mary changed his mind. He has taken this opportunity to establish Mary in a special way in the role of the prototypical advocate.

Perhaps, in seeing her as the model, perhaps in asking for her help, we ourselves learn to become an advocate for others?  Perhaps the model of her total submission in accepting the words of the angel is tied to her role as model advocate in a deeply mysterious way?  If we learn total surrender, then the means to be an advocate is unlocked within us?  We can then aspire to actually being competent at serving others?      

I am not sure. I am guessing. I haven’t prayed over it long enough to reach a conclusion. Perhaps, when we meet as a group, you can help me discover more about how to think about it.

But Jesus does acquiesce to the wishes of Mary in this scene. And there must be something profound in that, something that enhances her stature as His Mother even further. Something that establishes her beyond doubt in that role of advocate. And something in turn that Francis saw in her that caused him to call upon her in his time of need, and then, when she proved to be responsive, to designate her the advocate and protectress of our needs as well.


I think, perhaps, I have made a mistake by not involving Mary enough in my prayer life. I spoke above about the frustration of experiencing productive prayer and then not being able to translate it well into my everyday life. I wonder now, as I see the reliance that Francis had on Mary, if I ought not cultivate that same reliance?

Is the component that is missing in my quest for conversion a lack of having a tried and trusted advocate on my side?  Do I need Mary in ways I do not even realize?

What would happen if I, like Francis, “insistently begged her with continuing cries to be my advocate,” to help me in my conversion process?

Might I make some progress that I have heretofore been unable to make?

Journey thru John, Chapter 1: The Will of God

As we begin our immersion in the Gospel of John, I would be remiss if I did not start with just a few words about process and format.

The Chama River, the Santa Fe National Forest, Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico

I am beginning my reflections by reading the chapter in its entirety several times. As I read, I am looking for the single verse or couple of verses that stand out to me, that speak to me. Once the Spirit points me to those verses, I am then trying to spend extended prayer time with them. In particular, I am attempting to place myself in the scene. And then from within the scene, I am praying that God might help me connect that particular scene to the life and charism of St. Francis so that I in turn might apply the fruits of my prayer to my own process of conversion.

The type of prayer I am describing applies principles from the practice known within the Church as Lectio Divina. That term goes all the way back to the year 220 or so. I think it is fair to assume that Francis prayed over the Gospels in this fashion. Doing the same is for me an integral part of living out my profession. It’s one way I experience “the intercession of my holy father St. Francis,” to quote the Rite of Profession again. I ask for his help as I do this and I like to believe that he supplies it. I want, as we get started on our journey into the Gospel of John, to encourage you to do the same. I and hopefully others will be providing reflections for your use in ongoing formation based on this prayer style, but you should be reading the Gospel and making your own reflections as well.

I would even encourage you, if you are willing, to share those reflections with the fraternity. What an incredible resource it would be for the future if we could gather and hold these reflections so that we might visit them again and again as our mutual journeys of conversion unfold.

My reflection will start with the verses that I settled on and prayed over. I will then supply quotations from the writings by Francis and about Francis that seem to speak to these verses. I will give the direct references for the quotes as taken from the compilation Francis of Assisi:  Early Documents.

The Gospels (along with the rest of scripture) combine with the writings in this compilation to form the two core resources we depend on as Franciscans for our knowledge of St. Francis and the way of life we professed to follow. Hopefully, by drawing from them both simultaneously, along with the OFS Rule, we can make progress in better understanding what we are meant to be about.


John Chapter 1, Verses 35 to 38:

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

We know that Francis built his entire ministry and approach to God within a personal point of view that was highly dependent on the Gospels. Momentarily, I will share with you a passage from Thomas of Celano that speaks about Francis’ wish to know and do the Will of God. Francis used the Gospels as his primary source for discerning that Will. I think it is safe to say that Francis’ answer to the question Jesus is asking above (to all of us, right now, by the way) is essentially this:

“I want to do the will of God by following your example as closely as I possibly can!”

When I place myself in this scene, when I picture myself on the edge of the river with John watching Jesus walk by and then getting up to follow, I can’t help but feel uncertain. As soon as John points out Jesus, I long to follow him. But when Jesus turns and asks his question, it’s intimidating. I can almost feel, in the moment, that if I give the wrong answer, I might lose the opportunity. I know, of course, that Jesus will never stop calling me to follow, that no matter how many times I stumble he will always mercifully invite me to continue the journey. But still, the first encounter with Jesus is awesome and even a little scary. That the first words he has for me is “What do you want?” is meaningful. I realize that I do need to at least have a starting point. I need some answer to that question, even while at the same time expecting that the answer will evolve as my exposure to Him increases.

It is, of course, comforting to have the example of Francis to draw on. Francis had this same experience. Early in his discernment process he struggled to discern the answer to the question “What do I want?”  And, because he was human, he answered incorrectly before he found the right track, an error that makes me feel right at home with him since I have made and keeping making that same error over and over again.

In chapter two of the First Book of The Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano describes this slip by Francis in his early discernment process:

Thus Francis still tried to avoid the divine grasp, and, for a brief time losing sight of the Father’s reproach while good fortune smiled upon him, reflected upon worldly matters. Ignoring God’s plan, he vowed, out of vainglory and vanity, to do great deeds. A certain nobleman from the city of Assisi was furnishing himself on a large scale with military weaponry and, swollen by the wind of empty glory, he asserted solemnly that that he was going to Apulia to enrich himself in money and distinction. When Francis heard of this, because he was whimsical and overly daring, he agreed to go with him.

Francis, early in his journey of discernment and conversion, loses his way. God has called him, but Francis is lured back by “worldly matters.”  Francis has a dream that shows him a room full of weaponry and interprets it completely wrong, assuming it is an affirmation of coming worldly success instead of a work of distraction. He is sure that he will be a great warrior, a knight, and that he will receive rich worldly rewards as a result. He wants those rewards. He wants that glory. He loses site of God completely in his desire to obtain them.

Celano, in a moment of supreme instruction on how to discern the difference between consolation and desolation, says this:

He should have been able to see that his interpretation of it was mistaken. For, although the vision bore some semblance of great deeds, his spirit was not moved by these things in the usual way.

Francis, because he is early in the conversion process, doesn’t know what to look for. He doesn’t know how to tell the difference between what his sinful human nature wants and what God wills for him. He, just like you or I, assumes he has it hand and proceeds accordingly without having any idea that he has lost his way. Fortunately for him and for us, Francis receives another dream that sets him straight and he responds to it astutely. He gets it and catches himself. He abandons his journey to Apulia and returns to Assisi to await the further instructions that this second dream promised.

He begins to spend time with a friend in and around Assisi. In chapter three, Celano tells us of this significant moment where those instructions seem to take hold:

There was a cave near the city where they often went and talked together about the treasure. (Treasure is a reference to Francis earlier speaking to his friend about the pearl he had found and his desire to sell all he had to obtain it.)  The man of God, who was already holy because of his holy intention was accustomed to enter the cave, while his companion waited outside, and inspired by a new and extraordinary spirit he would pray to his Father in secret. He acted in such a way that no one would know what was happening within. Wisely taking the occasion of the good to conceal the better, he consulted God alone about his holy purpose. He prayed with all his heart that the eternal and true God guide his way and teach him to do His will………He was burning inwardly with a divine fire, and he was unable to conceal outwardly the flame kindled in his soul. He repented that he had sinned so grievously and that he had offended the eyes of majesty………Therefore, when he came back out to his companion he was so exhausted from his struggle that one person seemed to have entered, and another to have come out.

Francis wants to do the right thing. When Jesus asks “What do you want?” he longs to respond correctly. He searches, discerns and prays that God will show him the answer and here he finally is able to consolidate his reply. He wants “the eternal and true God to guide his way and teach him to do His will.”  Note that as the answer solidifies, themes that will dominate his ministry are immediately apparent. He begins to repent just as he will call his followers to ongoing repentance. He begins to experience conversion just as he will call his followers to ongoing conversion.

Hopefully, all these components are familiar to us as Franciscans. Hopefully, we all have said to God “guide my way and teach me to do your Will.”  Hopefully, we all want to “repent our sins” and be converted to one who “burns inwardly with your flame, one who can’t conceal that flame” from others as we move through the world.

But this is just the beginning of Francis’ answer. There is more to come. His understanding of God’s will matures before chapter three is over. He comes to comprehend not just the broad and generic idea but also the specific task he must succeed at to fulfill his answer to Jesus’ question. Chapter three ends like this:

He said that he did not want to go to Apulia, but promised to do great and noble deeds at home. People thought he wanted to get married, and they would ask him:  “Do you want to get married, Francis?”  He replied:  “I will take a bride more noble and more beautiful than you have ever seen, and she will surpass the rest in beauty and excel all others in wisdom.”

No doubt the people of Assisi thought this answer a little strange. What woman was Francis referring to here?  Who in Assisi would fit this description?  We, because we have access to the full story, are privileged to know and understand the meaning behind this cryptic answer. Francis has already determined that Lady Poverty is the key to what he is planning. Lady Poverty is the means by which he will fulfill the answer to Jesus’ question. It is Lady Poverty that he will wed. Read that description again and you can see it clearly.

It is again Thomas of Celano who gives us the full measure of Francis’ devotion to Lady Poverty. This time it occurs in The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, Chapter 25. I have to tell you that I find these words nothing short of spectacular. Remember Jesus’ question is “What do you want?”  Read the below and tell me if you have any doubt what it is that Francis wants, what his answer to the question is.

Placed in a vale of tears the blessed father scorned the usual riches of the children of men as no riches at all and, eager for higher status, with all his heart, he coveted poverty. Realizing that she was a close friend of the Son of God, but nowadays an outcast throughout the whole world, he was eager to espouse her in an everlasting love. He became the lover of her beauty and not only left his father and his mother but gave up everything he owned so that he might cling to his wife more closely, and the two might be in one spirit. He held her close in chaste embraces and could not bear to cease being her husband even for an hour. He told his sons that she is the way of perfection. She is the pledge and guarantee of eternal wealth. No one coveted gold as avidly as he coveted poverty; No one was as careful to guard a treasure as he was to watch over this pearl of the Gospel.

Pay special attention to the richness of the language. Reread words like scorn, eager, all, covet, everlasting and cling. Celano is not describing Francis wanting something ordinary. Francis does not want a turkey sandwich and a coke. Celano is telling us about Francis’ most deeply held passion. He wants Lady Poverty not as an aside, but as the embodiment of the will of God that he first yearned for firmly during his experience in the cave. Francis finds the will of God and the espousal of Lady Poverty to be one and the same thing. They are the treasure, the pearl, that Jesus tells us to sell all for and Francis does exactly that.

His ability to give himself fully to Lady Poverty is what makes him a Saint. Everything else is built upon it. It is the source of his discipline and strength.


The challenge is immense. To enter the first chapter of the Gospel of John, to meet Jesus face to face, and to hear his question is daunting. To witness Francis’ total surrender in how he answers the question is equally daunting.

I can’t help but wonder how I could ever be up to the task. How can I ever emulate Francis and imitate Jesus?  How can I ever adequately answer the question Jesus puts to me? 

“What do I want?”

Just like Francis, I want to do God’s will by following the example of Jesus in the Gospels as closely as I can.

But, if I were to put myself on the same timeline as Francis, I have to admit that on my best days, I am just emerging from the cave. I have experienced the interior fire that Francis experienced but I have yet to find the courage or the strength to translate it into my life with the intensity and passion that he did. I’m trying, but I’m not there yet. And, in all honesty, there are still days where I regress to the point of declaring myself ready for the journey to Apulia to pursue worldly matters.

I guess I need to amend my answer with something like the following:

“Jesus, I want you to continue to love me, and support me, and uphold me. Guide me and convert me. When Francis lost his way, you kept faith with him. Just as you did with him, please continue to send me your grace and mercy no matter how many times I fail. Please Jesus, never stop calling me until I have gained the strength and wisdom to answer you the way I am meant to answer you.”

What would your answer be?

Journey thru John, the Introduction: Seeking His Glory in Everything

A couple of months ago our fraternity was privileged to hold a profession ceremony for three fantastic women. In the midst of Mass, they stood in front of their families, friends and the fraternity and made their Permanent Commitment to the Gospel Life.

These are the words they used to make that commitment:

Ritual of the Secular Franciscan Order, Rite of Profession:

I, (state your name), by the grace of God, renew my baptismal promises and consecrate myself to the service of his Kingdom. Therefore, in my secular state I promise to live all the days of my life the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Secular Franciscan Order by observing its Rule of life.

May the grace of the Holy Spirit, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and our holy father St. Francis, and the fraternal bonds of community always be my help, so that I might reach the goal of perfect Christian love.

That morning we had ongoing profession as we normally do and we chose to use this statement of consecration as the focus of our discussion. As the leader of one of the small groups, I asked someone to read these words aloud.

I then asked the group to tell me what “perfect Christian love” consisted of. It’s not an easy concept to define, explain or understand. Our discussion lasted for more than an hour but I am not sure that we reached any firm conclusions. Don’t get me wrong. It was a wonderful discussion. Great thoughts were shared and fine examples were cited. But there are some ideas in this world, especially the best ideas, that no matter how much you talk about them, the discussion is never complete. These ideas, by their very nature, ask that we consider them continuously, that we are mindful of them always. They are deep enough that any human attempt to grasp them always runs short, is always incomplete.

It’s like trying to define God himself. In the end, it’s simply beyond us.

I just as easily could have asked the group to tell me what it means to “live all the days of your life the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  That idea is just as vast and just as challenging. And yet, as Secular Franciscans, we pledged to do just that when we made our profession. And when we read the Rule of life that we are obligated to observe we are immediately reminded of our pledge. The very first article of Chapter Two, which bears the heading “The Way of Life,” reads like this:  

SFO Rule, Chapter 2, Article 4:

The Rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.

Christ, the gift of the Father’s love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly. Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the Gospel, going from Gospel to life and life to Gospel.

The Rule requires that the question of how to live a Gospel life must always be present to us, always at the forefront of our priorities. We can never adequately answer it, yet we still most focus upon it. We can never fulfill this desire perfectly, but our pledge to live a Gospel life is at the core of who we are meant to be. We understand that we are called to continual conversion. Our pledge defines the nature of that conversion. We are called to continuously and deliberately and carefully immerse ourselves in the Gospels and then adjust our lives according to the inspiration we find there. It is our never-ending journey. It is a source of great joy for us.

In order to better understand how to do this, we turn to the example of Francis. We are fortunate to have his recorded words to shepherd us. And we also rely on the legends that were written in support of his sainthood and other foundational works that have survived the test of time to guide us.

The context of this decision to use the Gospel of John as our formation material is dependent on these two pillars. First, we have pledged to live a Gospel life. Second, we also pledged to allow the example of Francis to inspire us. Hopefully, the two together, viewed in the light of the words and life of Jesus as presented by John, and of course the Spirit, will teach us to better follow the path of continuous conversion we are called to.   


The importance of the Gospels to the outlook of Francis is immediately apparent as soon as you start to investigate his life. The Gospels are a major focus in our journey because that’s what they were for him. The reason our Rule emphasizes the Gospel life is because the Rules he authored himself did so. Here are the introductions to the two versions of his Rule that have come down to us:

The Earlier Rule of St. Francis – 1209/10-1221, Prologue:

This is the life of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Brother Francis petitioned the Lord Pope to grant and confirm for him; and he did grant and confirm it for him and his brothers present and yet to come.

The Later Rule of St. Francis – 1223, Chapter One:

The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by living in obedience, without anything of one’s own, and in chastity.

You can see that our devotion to the Gospels is directly inherited from Francis. This is what was important to him and as his followers it must also be important to us.

And we can also see without having to hunt very far how Gospel inspired conversion is central to the Franciscan charism. Here then is an example of how Francis reacted to the words of Jesus when confronted by them:

The First Life of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano, excerpt from the First Book, Chapter 9: (This can also be referenced in both the major and minor Legends by Bonaventure and in the Legend of the Three Companions.)

One day the Gospel was being read in that church about how the Lord sent out his disciples to preach. The holy man of God, who was attending there, in order to understand better the words of the Gospel, humbly begged the priest after celebrating the solemnities of the Mass to explain the Gospel to him. The priest explained it all to him thoroughly line by line. When he heard that Christ’s disciples should not possess gold or silver or money, or carry on their journey a wallet or a sack, nor bread nor a staff, nor to have shoes nor two tunics, but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance, the holy man, Francis, immediately exulted in the spirit of God. “This is what I want,” he said, “this is what I seek, this is what I desire with all my heart.”  The holy father, overflowing with joy, hastened to implement the words of salvation, and did not delay before he devoutly began to put into effect what he heard. Immediately, he took off the shoes from his feet, put down the staff from his hands, and, satisfied with one tunic, exchanged his leather belt for a cord. After this, he made for himself a tunic showing the image of the cross, so that it would drive off every fantasy of the demons. He made it very rough, so that in it he might crucify the flesh with its vices and sins. He made it very poor and plain, a thing that the world would never covet. As for the other things he heard, he set about doing them with great care and reverence. For he was no deaf hearer of the Gospel; rather he committed everything he heard to his excellent memory and was careful to carry it out to the letter.

Many of the major themes of Franciscan life are present in this one short excerpt. Respect for the Church and the Priest. Obedience. Poverty. Joy. Penance. Conversion.

But most important is Francis’ willingness to take the words of the Gospel, the words of Jesus, as the pattern for his life. There is no questioning by Francis. His decision is immediate and definite. He has found what he was looking for and there is no hesitation what to do about it.

Understand that we are nine chapters into Celano’s story of his life. His discernment process has been ongoing for some time. He has already made significant progress. He has heard Christ speak from the San Damiano cross and done the work to physically rebuild that church, he has already spent time among the lepers and he has already stripped himself bare and renounced his worldly father in favor of his heavenly one.

And yet it’s clear from the context of this passage that something was missing. Here he seems to find the final piece of the puzzle. When he joyfully exclaims “This is what I want!” he is announcing that he finally has the full picture of what he was meant to do. It is the realization that the Gospels will be his trusty guide that puts him over the top. That exclamation is not about just the one passage that he heard that morning. It is his acknowledgement that he can use the Gospels as a guide to follow Jesus, as a road map toward holiness. Finally his vision and understanding about how to proceed are complete. The Gospels will be his security.

From my viewpoint here in the modern world, it’s very tempting to acknowledge and dismiss this episode at the same time. I can acknowledge Francis as an extraordinary person, as the Saint that he became. I can look upon his unconditional reaction and celebrate it. And at the same time I can dismiss it as unachievable for me. I can maintain my current comfort zone, think about the secular side of my life and come up with all kinds of excuses about why I can’t react to the words of Jesus with the same zeal, abandon and passion that Francis did.

That may very well be true. But the real challenge is to find the middle ground. When I dismiss my own ability to react and change, then I stifle my ability to experience conversion. I may not be gifted with the courage that Francis had, but I have to at least be honest with myself. I have to acknowledge my need for conversion. I have to acknowledge the Gospels as the best possible inspiration for that conversion. And I have to be willing to make changes, even some changes that are out of my comfort zone, if that is what the Gospels call for.

It’s not easy to face the reality that I fail so much more often than I succeed.


Perhaps though, I might have a better chance of success if I know others have succeeded before me. Perhaps I might find courage in knowing that it can be done. There have been followers of Francis who succeeded in embracing the Gospel message according to the example of Francis.

Here is what happens in the next chapter of Celano:

The First Life of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano, the First Book, Chapter 10:

After him, Brother Bernard, embracing the delegation of peace, eagerly ran after the holy man of God to gain the kingdom of heaven. He had often received the blessed father as a guest, had observed and tested his life and conduct. Refreshed by the fragrance of his holiness, he conceived fear and gave birth to the spirit of salvation. He used to see him praying all night long, sleeping rarely, praising God and the glorious Virgin, his mother. He was amazed and said, “This man truly is from God.”  So he hurried to sell all he had and distributed it to the poor, not to his relatives. Grasping the title of a more perfect way, he fulfilled the counsel of the holy Gospel:  “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all you won, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: then come, follow me.”  When he had done this, he joined the holy man, Francis, in the same life and habit, and was always with him, until the brothers increased in numbers and he, with the obedience of his devoted father, was sent to other regions.

And then, the same episode in another version by Celano, with even more emphasis on the Gospels and the willingness to let Jesus control the outcome and guide the future.

The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul by Thomas of Celano, excerpt from the First Book, Chapter 10: (This can also be referenced in The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions.)

Bernard said to him: “I know that everything I have was given to me by God and on your advice I am now ready to return all to Him.”  The saint replied: “If you want to prove your words with deeds, let us go into the church tomorrow at dawn, take up the Gospel Book, and seek the counsel of Christ.”  When morning had broken they went into the church and, after preparing with a devout prayer, they opened the book of the Gospel, ready to act on whatever counsel should first come to them. When they opened the book, Christ openly gave them His counsel:  If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all you own, and give to the poor. They repeated this a second time, and found: Take nothing for your journey. They tried a third time, and found If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself. Bernard immediately carried out all these things, without neglecting a single iota of this counsel.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The example of Bernard would not be much easier to follow than the example of Francis himself.

But let’s also consider the details of how Bernard made his decision. First, he observed Francis and found his example desirable. He “observed and tested his life and conduct.”  We have done that. We spent time in our initial formation getting to know Francis and the things he stood for. We came to understand his approach to a holy life. Presumably, we also found his example desirable. That’s why we made our profession.

Bernard then declared himself a follower of Francis and asked his counsel. Francis responded by escorting Bernard to the Gospels. They sought the counsel of Jesus together and, when it was revealed to them, they found the courage to follow it.

This, I think, is a good starting point on fulfilling my pledge to faithfully investigate our initial question, how do I “live all the days of my life the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?”  It is also a perfect embarking point for the specific task in front of us as well. As we prepare to immerse ourselves in the Gospel of John through the lens of Francis, we are doing just what Bernard did. We are asking Francis and Jesus and the Spirit to guide us through our own conversion. We might not be able to go as far as Bernard did, but there is somewhere we can go, some first step we can take that will then lead to subsequent steps on the road to an ever fuller conversion.


This is what I hope for, what I long for. Somewhere along the way, I want to experience what Francis experienced. I want to read something in the Gospel of John and I want to joyfully exclaim “this is what I desire with all my heart.”

If I could stay present enough to have that happen just once, and if I could find the courage to follow through on the consequences, then perhaps I could claim the title “disciple.”  Disciple of Jesus and disciple of Francis.

Francis authored a prayer inspired by the Our Father. Part of that expresses the desire to be always present and mindful of God. Perhaps that is the best way to end this introduction, for if I could be more mindful, then I think I would have a better chance of being more courageous, more willing to embrace that conversion that might otherwise pass me by, more likely to experience a “wow” moment as I journey through the Gospel of John, a moment that would open the door for more such moments to follow.

I would become more likely to understand, at least enough to be effective and have some measure of success, what it means to lead a Gospel life, to actually live out the instruction of the Rule that asks me to go “from Gospel to life and life to Gospel.”

Excerpt from A Prayer Inspired by the Our Father:

Your will be done on earth as in heaven: That we may love you with our whole heart by always thinking of You, with our whole soul by always desiring You, with our whole mind by always directing all our intentions to You, and by seeking Your glory in everything, with all our whole strength by exerting all our energies and affections of body and soul in the service of Your love and of nothing else.