The Crucifixo of San Damiano
which spoke to Francis
<!--[if !supportLists]-->1. <!--[endif]-->Centrality of Christ. The lay hermit movement of the 13th century was Christocentric in its spirituality which is to say that they were focused exclusively on Christ as the organizing program of their spirituality. The Gospels provided them with a direct encounter with Christ who was the only path to the Father. There certainly was a tender love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and an admiration for the saints, especially the apostles, but it was Chris and Christ alone who was their model.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2. <!--[endif]-->In their love for Christ, they consciously copied the life of Jesus and his apostles and used the example of the early Christian Community as described in Acts 4 as their model for their own communal life.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->3. <!--[endif]-->Their identification with Christ was rooted in a deep appreciation of his humanity and in particular with his poverty and his suffering. Especially for Francs, but certainly for all the lay hermits of the time, the key to imitating Christ was to emulate his poverty. Poverty was not only the rejection of such luxuries as fine habits and the best of food and drink, but was a rejection of the privileges that came with being identified with the institutional Church. Francis and others rejected living in monasteries choosing instead only the shabbiest of dwellings. Clerical titles and honors were rejected in favor of all, even the priests, being called “Brother.” No distinction was made between the ordained and the non-ordained in their communities or in their ministries to the laity other than in the administration of the sacraments. In other words, they rejected the hierarchical aspects of the institutional Church and even when they were required to accept the office of bishop or cardinal they maintained the strictest marks of poverty and humility.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->4. <!--[endif]-->Their rejection of living in monasteries was also due to their commitment to be like the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head—homeless wandering was an essential characteristic of the lay hermit life. Francis insisted that the hermitages and simple “convents” (as opposed to monasteries) where his “lesser brothers” (Friars Minor) lived be owned by others and only given to their use so that, if others judged them unfaithful to their vocation, they could be expelled. They were to own nothing, either individually or collectively.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->5. <!--[endif]-->Lay hermits imitated Christ in their solitary prayer. While some lay hermit groups, and Francis’ brotherhood was one of them, prayed the Divine Office together, the heart of their prayer was solitary discourse with God in their cells or other abandoned places during the night. Jacques de Vitry, a Belgian Bishop met Francis and his hermits at the papal court in Perugia in 1216 and mentioned how they “retreated to their hermitages at night to spend the night in prayer.”
<!--[if !supportLists]-->6. <!--[endif]-->Lay hermits were not cloistered as were monastic hermits such as the Carthusians. They rejected most monastic practices because their vocation was quite essentially different than the monastic vocation. Rather they were expected to have a ministry among the sick and especially lepers, as well as widows, orphans, the disabled, and the poor. They also reached out to sinners and those alienated from the Church.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->7. <!--[endif]-->Finally, in imitation of Christ and the Apostles, Francis and other lay hermits preached the Kingdom of God—a life of discipleship, a new way of living out the Gospel in one’s daily life. The Kingdom of God is not about what happens after we die—and that was never the emphasis of Francis’ preaching—it is about living in this world under the authority of the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is putting into practice the teachings of Jesus in our daily lives. Francis understood this.
The Franciscans of the Immaculate carry on the Franciscan Charism in several respects. They live simply and without luxury. They reach out and encounter ordinary people and particularly those on the fringes of our economic structures. In their fervor as a new community they certainly reject many of the material comforts to which some religious have accommodated themselves. On the other hand there are significant ways in which they differ from Francis and the Franciscan tradition. Their approach to Christ is through his Immaculate Mother and their spirituality is more “Marian” than Chistocentric. In this regard they follow the example of Saint Maximilian Kolbe more than Francis. They also, while maintaining a fairly austere life, have kept many of the monastic trimmings that had crept into Franciscanism (and other mendicant orders) through the centuries after Trent and especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their prayer is primarily liturgical/ceremonial rather than solitary and contemplative and their liturgies are, despite their general poverty, given to some degree of splendor in ritual and the accouterments. Their emphasis is more on teaching the Church than preaching the Kingdom and they are considerably more enamored of the institutional model of Church than the kerygmatic model of Francis. All of this is perfectly acceptable of course but it indicates that they are more disciples of Saint Maximilian Kolbe than Francis of Assisi and their model of religious life is more based in 19th century romanticism than the 13th century evangelicalism of Saint Francis.What will happen, as it most usually does in religious life, is that as some of the Franciscans of the Immaculate study the Franciscan charism the group itself will make certain corrections of course to being them more into what we might call “Franciscan Orthodoxy.” Hopefully in that process they won’t lose the fervor and commitment to simplicity that marks them. If they can move beyond their attempts at a literal emulation Saint Maximilian to become disciples of Francis, they could be a real leaven for renewal in the Franciscan family.