Variety – God’s gift to the Franciscan Order
There’s no such thing as mass production among Franciscans. When we remember the stories of Francis’ early companions we are struck by the great variety to be found in the group.
There was the handsome, eloquent Masseo, whom Francis loved to tease; there was also Brother Juniper, a very simple man, who once played with children on a seesaw to avoid a crowd of people who had heard of his holiness (Francis said he would like to have ‘a whole forest of such junipers’!). Then we remember the priest Sylvester, who enters the story as one of the villains (he complained of the lavish distribution of money to the poor); later he appears as one of the two people whose prayers Francis asked to discover God’s plan for his own future.
Another we recall is the learned Brother Elias. A brilliant man, he disliked anything that was not proper or dignified. And although later in his life he turned away from the Gospel way of lowliness and simplicity, it is clear that in those early days he had a great love and admiration for Francis, who personally chose him as his Vicar.
And what of the devoted Brother Leo? He was Francis’ companion for many years, and lived in wholehearted commitment to Gospel poverty. He deferred to Francis in everything – except that time on La Verna when his curiosity got the better of him! In spite of Francis’ strict command, Leo crept up close to watch him in prayer.
Imagine putting such diverse people together to form a brotherhood! It seems an impossibility. Yet Francis simply said “The Lord gave me brothers”. He knew that it was in answer to God’s inspiration that each one had embraced the Gospel way of life. Francis treated each with reverence, respecting God’s call and God’s action in each individual. He made no attempt to mould the brothers into a single pattern.
Our own experience of Franciscan living has shown us that God still calls a variety of people to share it. Each of us has a personal story and personal gifts that make us unique. We each can say quite truthfully,“I am different. I am special. God has called me as the person that I am.”
What is our attitude towards the diversity we experience? Sometimes it becomes a source of conflict. Without realizing it, we try to mould everyone into a single pattern – a pattern that closely resembles our own way of doing things! Yet if we are true to Francis we will see each one as a special gift and rejoice in the richness that such variety brings, a richness that has always marked the Franciscan family.
- How can we make diversity into an experience of joy rather than a cause of conflict?
- Are there practical ways of increasing our understanding of different kinds of people?
We give thanks to God for the gift of each one.