Francis and work
“Let those friars, to whom the Lord gives the grace to work, work faithfully and devotedly, in such a way that, having excluded idleness, the enemy of the soul, they do not extinguish the spirit of holy prayer and devotion, which all other temporal things should serve zealously.” So Francis wrote in his Rule.1
As we read these words of Francis we remember that when he speaks of work he is referring to manual work. Manual work was something Francis valued. He considered it to be a gift from God, a grace, an integral part of the way of life of the brothers. As poor people they worked for the food they ate.
The opposite to work was idleness – in Francis’ view the idle brother who expected the others to provide for him was “Brother Fly” and had no place in the Order. 2
Ministry and Work
For most of us today, our ministry is our work. This was not so for Francis. His work was something separate from his ministry of preaching, though preaching “the kingdom of God and penance”3 was also an essential part of his way of life.
All the brothers, in fact, shared this call to proclaim God’s word, whether by the actual office of preaching(reserved to clerics with the approval of the bishop of a place) or by simple brief messages, encouraging people to praise God and turn away from sin.4 Francis wrote in his Letter to the Entire Order,
‘…He has sent you into the entire world for this reason that in word and deed you may give witness to his voice…’
Society’s Attitude to Work
In today’s world of industry, commerce and technology, work implies racing-against-time-to-meet-deadlines, profit margins, intense competition for promotion and so on. For many people work is a burden, something to be endured till the end of the day, till the weekend, till the holidays. Very smart people avoid or escape it altogether! In this climate it seems strange for people to admit they enjoy their work and are enthusiastic about it.
These social attitudes to work can affect our approach to ministry, even though we, like Francis, are called to bring the good news to the world not just from nine to five … not just on weekdays … but with the whole of our lives.
Ministry and Prayer
The tension we observe in Francis’ life was the struggle to find a balance between preaching and contemplation. Francis longed to spend his life in solitary prayer, but whenever there was a choice to be made, the answer Francis received through prayer was always the same: that he had been called not for himself alone but for others.5
Work and Leisure
At first sight, our lives seem to be far removed from Francis’. Our difficulty is to find space for peace and quiet in our life; our tension is between work and leisure! Intuitively we know that we must not allow work to control us. We need an attitude of peace and freedom in our life, in the way we approach both work and play.
What is leisure? Leisure is not idleness. Leisure is rather the reflective and peaceful attitude that enables us to be fully present as we live each moment. It turns mindless busyness into truly human activity. Perhaps the leisure we seek is actually very close to the contemplative spirit of Francis.
The Lesson for Our Life
From Francis we learn that working for our living and proclaiming the good news are both essential parts of our life. We also learn that work will find its rightful place in our life when balanced with contemplation and leisure.
- Rule of 1223, ch 5
- Second Life by Celano, 75
- First Life by Celano, 22
- Rule of 1221, chs 17, 21
- St Bonaventure’s Major Life ch 12, 2