|......only those who have stripped themselves and taken on a profoundly human relationship with Christ become followers of Francis and receivers of his prayer of protection.|
Exhortation of Saint Francis to the Brothers and Sisters in Penance
Concerning Those Who Do Penance
All who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with all their strength (cf. Mk 12:30), and love their neighbors as themselves (cf. Mt 22:39) and hate their bodies with their vices and sins, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and produce worthy fruits of penance.
We are spouses, when by the Holy Spirit the faithful soul is united with our Lord Jesus Christ; we are brothers to him when we fulfill "the will of the Father who is in heaven" (Mt 12:50).
We are mothers, when we carry him in our heart and body (cf. 1 Cor 6:20) through divine love and a pure and sincere conscience; we give birth to him through a holy life which must give life to others by example (cf. Mt 5:16).
Oh, how glorious it is to have a great and holy Father in heaven! Oh, how glorious it is to have such a beautiful and admirable Spouse, the Holy Paraclete.
Even before we can follow Francis, we must be willing to follow Christ. Francis is about Jesus. We must follow Christ’s command and example and love. We must be one with Him in the Eucharist. We must turn from sin and repent. We must mortify ourselves with discipline and offer sacrifices of love through a life of penance. In doing this we die. In doing this we are stripped as Francis was. Necessary to following Francis is being stripped with him before the bishop. Then and only then can we look to God as our Father. Only by these five traits does the Holy Spirit come to dwell in our hearts, do we becomes sons of the Father, and kindred of Christ.
Notice how much family language is used in these paragraphs. Our starting principle is a real relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A relationship that is profoundly human. We carry Him, We become pregnant with Him, We are born of Him. Francis uses human terms because the God he loves became Human. The Newness of our Franciscan vocations must be Christ-centered and human. We must live our radical detachment or “stripping” and the radical gift of relying on the Father. We must look and find Christ in our human relationships and express our love for Him in our human relationships. Then and only then, do we fall under the protective tunic of Francis, under his paternal blessing.
At his death, Francis blessed his followers. At the end of the letter to those who do penance, only those who have stripped themselves and taken on a profoundly human relationship with Christ become followers of Francis and receivers of his prayer of protection.
Father Adam Streitenberger, OFS