Thursday, August 08, 2013

Study Leave Book Reports, part 3

I know many people who frequently have two or more books open at the same time.  I think I even used to be able to do that (if I could it was so long that I can't remember for sure now).  All I know is that I generally don't do that now.  I like to read one book, focus on it, until it's done and only then move on to something else.

But last month while I was on Study Leave I had two books both calling out to me with such equal passion that I couldn't choose between them.  And since they are actually quite related to one another, I decided to give it a try.

I need to say that I am a fan of St. Francis of Assisi.  I would like to be able to say that I am a disciple, but I'm not (yet?) that disciplined.  But I have been studying his life, his teachings, and his legacy fairly seriously for the past couple of years, and I've even been involved with a group called The Ecumenical Order of Saint Francis (an ecumenical "third order" monastic community).  So I knew that I wanted to do some more reading about Francis during this time.

The first book I picked up -- and I'd been waiting to dive into this for some time -- is a classic:   Leonardo Boff's Francis of Assisi:  a model for human liberation.  I hadn't known that Boff was a Franciscan himself but he knew him as one of the premier liberation theologians, so I was eager to get his take on the "poverello."  This book was originally published in Boff's native Brazil in 1981, and I was reading an updated twenty-fifth anniversary edition published in 2006.  (Throughout I found myself wondering what Boff would say about direction the new Pope Francis seems to be taking the church.)  Boff lifts up Francis as an example of a joyful Christianity, an exemplar of a path that focuses on the poor in a radical way, and that shines a new light on humanity's interrelationship with the rest of the natural world.  It is clear that Francis has earned both Boff's personal affection and theological respect.

The second is titled Saint Francis and the Foolishness of God.  It is, itself, written by an ecumenical team:  Marie Dennis, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Joseph Nangle, and Stuart Taylor.  This is in many ways a more personal book or, to put it another way, a book that aims to help individuals bring the lessons of Francis into their own personal lives.  It can be read as a book study (and I'm thinking of using it at TJMC sometime in the future), or as a personal meditation, but either way it seems to be perfectly in keeping with what I understand to have been among Francis' own last words, "I have done what Christ called me to do; go and do what Christ is calling you to do."  The "Franciscan Way" is not about slavishly reproducing the actions and behaviors of Francis, but of bringing his way of life into reality within the reality of our own.  (Which, of course, can be said of Christianity in general.)

I will confess that I found Boff's book tough going at first. It's been a while since I've read any really dense, "heady" material. As I read on, though, and especially as I did so alternating with my second book, I found many things coming together for me.  (One thing I'll lift up is my delighted surprise as seeing Francis' way described as one which brought clergy and laity together in radically new ways that equalized them in the Order.  In fact, the earliest Franciscans were, by and large, not ordained priests, as Francis himself was not, and so in many ways it is a lay movement!  Considering my own current efforts at this same project it's nice to see that I'm on track.)

Pax tecum,

Print this post

No comments: