What Would Francis Do?
Francis of Assisi, our founder, showed us that in order to follow Jesus and live the Gospel we must respect and care for creation, advocate for human rights, care for the poor and marginalized and be peacemakers. It is these values that motivate each and every friar to maintain a reverent attitude towards nature in such a way that they may restore it completely to its condition of brother and to its role of usefulness to all [humankind] for the glory of God the Creator. As true followers of Francis, they are to place themselves in solidarity on the side of the weak and poor and to live in this world as messengers and agents of peace and to be gentle, peaceful, unassuming, courteous and humble in their dealings with others.
Care for Creation
60 Once while he was staying near the town of Greccio, a certain brother brought him a live rabbit caught in a trap. Seeing it, the most blessed man was moved with tenderness. "Brother rabbit," he said, "come to me. Why did you let yourself get caught?" As soon as the brother holding it let go, the rabbit, without any prompting, took shelter with the holy man, as in a most secure place, resting in his bosom. After it had rested there for a little while, the holy father, caressing it with motherly affection, let it go, so that now free it would return to the woods. As often as it was put on the ground, it rushed back to the holy man's lap, so he told the brothers to carry it away to the nearby forest. [1Cel XXI: 60]
One of the most significant marks of Saint Francis’ spirituality is his acute sense of the presence of God in creation and in human history. This spirituality guides Franciscans today to work to see that creation is not reduced to the economic interests of humanity, to restore the dignity and intrinsic value of the created world and to support sustainable practices that will preserve the planet for future generations.
76 The father of the poor, the poor Francis, conforming himself to the poor in all things was distressed to see anyone poorer than himself, not out of any desire for empty glory, but from a feeling of simple compassion. Though he was content with a ragged and rough tunic he often wished to divide it with some poor person. … In order to help the poor in some way, [he] used to approach the rich people of this world during the coldest times of the year, asking them to loan him their cloaks or furs. As they responded even more gladly than the blessed father asked, he used to say to them, "I shall accept this from you only on the condition that you never expect to have it returned." The first poor man who happened to meet him, he would then clothe with whatever he had received,.... [1 Cel XXVIII: 76]
Francis called the brothers to live the Gospel, to do as Jesus did, to help the poorest, neediest and most marginalized to lift up their heads and obtain their dignity by securing their rights.
Concern for the Poor
Chapter IX: Begging Alms
Let all the brothers strive to follow the humility and poverty of our Lord Jesus Christ … They must rejoice when they live among people considered of little value and looked down upon, among the poor and the powerless, the sick and the lepers, and the beggars by the wayside. … When it is necessary, they may go for alms. … Alms are a legacy and a justice due to the poor that our Lord Jesus Christ acquired for us. The brothers who work at acquiring them will receive a great reward and enable those who give them to gain and acquire one; for all that people leave behind in the world will perish, but they will have a reward from the Lord for the charity and almsgiving they have done. [ER IX: 1-9]
Francis had a deep love of and respect for the poor, seeing them as the image of Christ. If he could not offer material assistance, he lavished his affection on the poor and affirmed their right to beg alms.
115 Taking a companion with him, he was not afraid to present himself to the sight of the Sultan of the Saracens. … Before he reached the Sultan, he was captured by soldiers, insulted and beaten, but was not afraid. He did not flinch at threats of torture nor was he shaken by death threats. Although he was ill-treated by many with a hostile spirit and a harsh attitude, he was received very graciously by the Sultan. The Sultan honored him as much as he could, offering him many gifts, trying to turn his mind to worldly riches. But when he saw that he resolutely scorned all these things like dung, the Sultan was overflowing with admiration and recognized him as a man unlike any other. He was moved by his words and listened to him very willingly (1Cel XX:115-16)
Francis greeted everyone with, "May the Lord give you peace." Francis was able to challenge and confront injustice, but he did it non-violently, respecting all those involved, as is shown by his dealings in Gubbio, Assisi, and with the Sultan in Egypt.