The Way of Fraternity
By Alessandro Gisotti
Special Guest Contributor
Saint Francis of Assisi continues to inspire Pope Francis, the first in history to take his name. Five years ago, it was the Canticle of the Sun, with its praise to God for all of creation that provided a vision for his encyclical Laudato Si. This time, fraternity and social friendship are the focus of his new magisterial document that will be signed on October 3rd [and published on October 4th in Assisi], right where the Poverello lived.
But what are, or better yet, who are brothers [and sisters] for Saint Francis? An intimate and revealing response can be found at the beginning of his Testament, where after having recounted his meeting with the leper, who Christ had led to him because he disgusted them, said: “And after the Lord gave me brothers, no one showed me what I had to do, but the same Most High revealed to me that I had to live according to the form of the Holy Gospel.” The frati or brethren, as presented by Francis, are above all a gift from God. They are unexpected and, to be honest, a painless gift because they make him face a new situation that forced him to ask the Lord for help because nobody knew what to tell him to do.
For us, our brothers [and sisters] are not a conquest, even less are they what we desire them to be. They are living works of the Creator who are freely offfered to each one of us. They are given to us and thus we do not choose or possess them, but only welcome and love them as they are, along with their weakness and diversity. Those differences, and at times dissonances, which in the end only the Lord can recreate because as the pope would say: we do not make harmony, the Holy Spirit does.
What Saint Francis of Assisi clearly demonstrates and what finds confirmation in the quintessential written text recounting the conclusive parable of his earthly life, is that fraternity for him was not an idea or an abstract theory, but a concrete fact and a life-changing experience. Alongside this historic fact, even more relevant because it is the source of his teaching on fraternity, we discover that for Saint Francis, there is no fraternity without the recognition and acceptance that we are children of a common heavenly Father.
All of us are brothers [and sisters] because all of us are children of the same Father. Therefore, no one is a stranger to another. This change in perspective set in motion a revolution in Francis’s life and led him to make surprising choices, such as his celebrated visit to the Sultan of Egypt. This is the nucleus of the Saint of Assisi’s conversion; and we could say of the conversion of every man and woman who has authentically encountered Jesus Christ. If we, in fact, do not recognize the common project of love that the Father has for us, then being brothers is simply not enough — not even biologically. After all, a blood brother killed Abel; and Cain killed him because hate had sealed his eyes which could no longer see the Father’s love, which did not even recognize his brother.
Fraternity for Saint Francis of Assisi is not a static gift or an end in itself. It is nourished and grows through charity. In addition, it always leads to peace. Relationships with one’s brothers and sisters trace a path; and initiate a process that develops along a dimension leading to communion. It is after an encounter with his frati, his brethren, that the Lord reveals to Saint Francis that he must live the Gospel sine glossa [without exeption], and must even go beyond that. He must conform himself to it by taking the same form as the Holy Gospel. He does this radically and ‘without tranquilizers’ to use another efficacious term from Pope Francis.
For the Patron of Italy, taking care of others as oneself becomes the way and the privileged space for evangelization. A frate, a brother [or sister] who retreats in isolation, cannot exist. That would be a contradiction, a counter-witness. For Saint Francis, the more love for the Father grows, the more is love reinforced toward one’s brother in whom the face of the Creator is discovered. This love expands in Saint Francis until it reaches cosmic proportions because fraternity embraces every creature. Even the Sun is called brother; and the Moon is called sister.
Eight centuries later, notwithstanding the increase in egoism and the construction of every type of barrier, the world is still thirsty for fraternity and paternity. This is what we constantly seek. The witness of the Poverello of Assisi, the one who wanted to be a brother [and sister] to everyone, is as contemporary as ever. He still exhorts us, together with Pope Francis, his namesake, to walk the way of fraternity.
Alessandro Gisotti serves as Deputy Editorial Director of Vatican Media.
Source: Vatican News Service
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project and our upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!