Before we get to the first chapter, we have a theme to consider, “Without Borders.” Remember: if you want the unadulterated document, go directly this link. Barring that, let’s read. The most famous son of Assisi gives us some inspiration, and caution: it might be troubling for some fragile sensibilities:
3. There is an episode in the life of Saint Francis that shows his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, color or religion. It was his visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil, in Egypt, which entailed considerable hardship, given Francis’ poverty, his scarce resources, the great distances to be traveled and their differences of language, culture and religion. That journey, undertaken at the time of the Crusades, further demonstrated the breadth and grandeur of his love, which sought to embrace everyone. Francis’ fidelity to his Lord was commensurate with his love for his brothers and sisters. Unconcerned for the hardships and dangers involved, Francis went to meet the Sultan with the same attitude that he instilled in his disciples: if they found themselves “among the Saracens and other nonbelievers”, without renouncing their own identity they were not to “engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake”.[SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI, Earlier Rule of the Friars Minor (Regula non bullata), 16: 3.6: op. cit. 74] In the context of the times, this was an extraordinary recommendation. We are impressed that some eight hundred years ago Saint Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal “subjection” be shown to those who did not share his faith.
I was recently reading about the quality of indifference in Ignatian Spirituality. Jesuits do not mean the disciples should be uncaring, but rather, unattached to anything that might get in the way of realizing the mission of God as it crystallizes in the life of one of his daughters or sons.
It might be a story about Saint Francis that leads off this document, but there’s a surprising detachment from expectations that simple folk do not go gallivanting off to enemy territory in the middle of a war, and talk with people of another faith or ethnic group.
Why would Pope Francis turn our first gaze in this document to a saint who not only thought outside the box, but journeyed very far from it indeed? Let’s be prepared to make connections beyond people we find as easy kinfolk. In the context of the 13th century this was extraordinary? Certainly. But if it brings disparate pieces of today’s world together, it will be no less than astonishing.
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