Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit
Franciscans of Canada - Franciscains du Canada
Ordo Fratrum Minorum
Rediscovering Our Heritage
Saint Francis of Assisi was one of the first Western writers to emphasize that we belong to a universal or cosmic brotherhood. In his famous Canticle of the Creatures, written in 1224, he invited everyone to see themselves as a brother or sister of all other living beings.
Although the terms racism, xenophobia or ethnocentrism were not part of the lexicon in the Middle Ages, Francis’s commitment to respecting and welcoming every person is clear. One of the saint’s first biographers, Thomas of Celano, wrote in 1247 that Francis “wanted to unite the greater to the lesser, to join the wise to the simple in brotherly affection, and to hold together those far from each other with the glue of love.” (2C, 191) Also, in his first Rule intended for the brothers, Francis wrote, “All the brothers are not to have power of domination, especially among themselves.” (ER 5,9) It seems to me that this caution is still extremely relevant today.
In her hard-hitting book entitled “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” (Random House, 2020), the Pulitzer prize–winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson explores the hierarchy of caste which, in her view, has governed American society for centuries. She mentions several categories – such as ethnic origin, skin colour and language – that, every day, assign to men and women their place in society and justify exclusion and violence. Wilkerson’s reflection ends with an invitation to go beyond the labels that divide us and move toward an open way of living together, drawing on mutual support and recognition of our shared humanity. Although Wilkerson’s book is not set in the religious realm, it echoes some major themes of Franciscan spirituality as well as several biblical texts: the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37), Christ and the Canaanite woman (Mt 15:21-28), Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-42), and others.
On this October 3, on the eve of the feast of Saint Francis, the pope is publishing an encyclical on human brotherhood and social friendship entitled Fratelli tutti (All brothers). It is a timely reminder of the equality and dignity of all. In his encyclical, Pope Francis invites us to work for the universal destination of goods and universal solidarity, beginning with a preferential option for the poorest. Why not build on the trend of awareness that is currently sweeping our planet to fight not only against the COVID-19 virus but also against the viruses of racism, social inequalities and exclusion?
Happy Feast of Saint Francis!
Fr. Pierre Charland, OFM