A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 7 May 2010

Our Walking Is Our Preaching

Aparigraha is the Buddhist tradition of non-possessiveness, non-hoarding, non-attachment - taking only what you absolutely need, not coveting unnecessary, luxury items, not grasping at things greedily, not clutching on to things. St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) also practised this philosophy of taking only that which is necessary, and it became one of the precepts of the Franciscan Order he established in 1221.

Another book of my mother's, now on my own shelves, is the Everyman's Library edition of The Little Flowers Of Saint Francis. This was first published in 1910 as the 485th book in the Library, but my copy is the 1947 reprint on War Economy Standard paper. (In my former life as a book salesman I used to tout the Everyman's Library round the UK, a wonderful series which brought the classics within reach of the ordinary working man and woman. They were published at affordable prices in small-size formats. In their heyday nearly 1000 volumes were in print.)

The book contains three 'biographies' of St Francis, his life and teachings: The Little Flowers itself, translated into English from the Italian which in turn is translated from the Latin; The Mirror Of Perfection, based on documents and memoirs left by Friar Leo, one of the Franciscan brothers; and The Life Of Saint Francis by St Bonaventura.

In 1222 a certain Thomas of Spalato saw St Francis preaching in the piazza in front of the Palazzo del Podestá in Bologna, and described the effect his words had on the whole city which had assembled to hear him: ...he treated his theme so well and so wisely that many learned men who were present stood filled with admiration when they heard such words from the lips of an untutored friar. The whole matter of his discourse was directed to the quenching of hatred and the establishment of peace. His dress was mean, his person insignificant, his face without beauty. But with so much power did God inspire his words that many noble families, sundered by ancient blood feuds, were reconciled for ever.

These are are some of the words of St Francis:

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.

What we are looking for is what is looking.

Start by doing what's necessary; than do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.

Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love.

No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves.

True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.

I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

I hope to visit Assisi later this month.

The painting of St Francis at the top of this post is by the Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664). Zurbarán was born in the village of Fuente de Cantos in the region of Extremadura; I passed through this village on my recent pilgrimage along the Vía de la Plata.

Thanks to George at Transit Notes for the photo below, which was taken in a 'small hermitage near Assisi, Italy, where St Francis and his followers frequently meditated and broke bread together.'


George said...

A wonderful posting, Robert. On the wall next to my desk is a framed copy of the "Simple Prayer" of St. Francis. I purchased the copy on one of my first trips to Assisi some years ago, and it is one of the few possessions -- forgive me, St. Francis -- that I care about. Whenever I begin to feel a little anxiety or the tug of that implacable monster, the ego, I go to the wall and read this prayer again, and it always brings peace. Sometimes I think that these simple words of St. Francis would be sufficient wisdom for a lifetime.

A couple of years ago, my wife, my daughter's family, and I rented a place for ten days just outside of Assisi. That was when I took the photo at the hermitage, which can be reached on foot from Assisi. I also like the village of Gubbio to the north. In any event, have a great trip -- and thanks again for a great posting.

am said...

I was going to say what George said -- wonderful post!

The old book and quotes are quite beautiful!

Because I was born in San Francisco, California, I consider St. Francis to be my patron saint. One of my earliest memories is being just over 2 years old and standing next to a statue of St. Francis that was part of a birdbath near the door of the church that my family attended. St. Francis has made appearances throughout my life.

Most recently, I find myself editing clinic reports for a medical group in the Midwest that is part of a healthcare system which was founded by Franciscan monks in the 19th century.

I would love to go to Assissi.

Now that I have a job again, traveling may be an option in the future.

Tramp said...

If you ever visit Prague there is a Minorite monastery in the old town. Together with its church of St James it was established around 1230. The church was rebuilt after a fire in 1693 the baroque interior a bit ornate for me, and perhaps too for St Francis. His stucco relief is above the front entrance to the church.
Inside above the door there is a shrivelled arm, reputedly of a thief who tried to steal offerings on the altar next to a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Although it is the second longest church in the city after St Vitus Cathedral, people often miss it.
Nearby is the complex of St Agnes Convent which belonged to the order of the Poor Clares. Clare was from Assisi. This has retained its original gothic style.
If I have to visit the city this is a wonderful oasis from the tourist-packed Old Town Square...Tramp

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks everyone for such fascinating comments. I'll probably be posting more on St Francis later...