Thursday, July 5, 2012

Francis Gets to Heart of Matter, Keynoter Notes

Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF
CHICAGO -- Franciscan theologian Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF, reminded attendees at the 18th Quinquennial Congress that St. Francis of Assisi had wanted to be a famous knight until he smashed into the reality of battle, ending up as a prisoner of war and ill. But it's often when times are tough that God speaks to us, she noted, and touches our heart.

"The key to Francis…is not the mind, but the heart," said Sister Ilia, whose two keynote talks highlighted day 2 of the "Q". The morning presentation addressed the conference theme, "Why Francis? Claim the Gift." The afternoon talk zeroed in on a Franciscan view of God.

After each presentation, attendees broke into small groups, or "fraternities," to reflect on and discuss a series of questions related to Sister Ilia's topics.

Francis demonstrates, she said, that "the way to search for God begins within… begins with the heart."

Reflecting back on what the Lord meant when he told Francis to "go and repair my house, which has fallen into ruin," "we realize 'go repair my house' starts with an inner house," she said.
Small groups discuss keynote message.
By going within himself and experiencing an on-going conversion, Francis couldn't help but to go out and impact the church and world around him.

Francis didn't choose an apostolic life, or focus on a mission. He simply chose the whole Gospel and focused on the life of Jesus Christ.

"That’s what marks Francis' life," sister said. It was a whole-hearted dedication to the life of Christ, with a focus on joy and hope in the risen Christ.

Contemplating Christ, he saw that the Incarnation, with God coming among us, was an incredible gift of love. "Francis understood this…and he lived in that thankfulness of the gift." Sister Ilia imagined Francis getting up in the morning and saying "thank you," recognizing "everything is gift."

Small groups discuss keynote message.
Because of Francis, Franciscans carry "fundamental values that we can offer the world today."

One is the spirit of poverty. Not poverty from material things. But a realization that, as Christ showed, we are dependent on one another and that all of creation is good. Francis grasped, she said, that the world is not poor. Rather, it is rich in God's goodness.

Francis would say goodness is in the heart of the world -- the treasure hidden within. Franciscans aren't about bringing good where it is not, but about discerning the good already there.

Francis shows that "what fills us inwardly must express itself outwardly," and it requires on-going conversion. "It's not what we pray," she said, "but how we experience the presence of God through Christ."

Small groups discuss keynote message.
The interior journey, the on-going conversion, leads to becoming an "authentic human person" and a change that can't help but express itself. Franciscan life is not a life of work, she noted. "It's a life of example, of how we live as brothers and sisters."

It's a life-long process of shifting from self-centeredness towards God-centeredness, and it "let's us be open to grace."

Another way of looking at it: "Conversion is a coming home to oneself…to realize that the God of the universe is the God of my heart." Conversion is also realizing that "the God in you is the God in me."

Another aspect of poverty is letting go of the need to control and of being possessive. "Possessive power makes true communication between persons and with creation impossible," sister noted. In addition, without letting go, "there is no room within us to receive God."

Small groups discuss keynote message.
A second fundamental value Franciscans offer the world is humility. In fact, sister describes poverty and humility as sisters. "Humility recognizes the earthly limits of our humanity" -- especially in the face of a God whose love inexorably gushes forth.

God's incredible act of humility through the crucified Christ and the Holy Eucharist allowed Francis to be taken up into the goodness of God and begin to develop a new relationship with nature, with creation… to begin to see Brother Cricket and Sister Star. "Everything in creation 'spoke' to Francis of God."

Yet another aspect of poverty is prayer and contemplation. "Without poverty, true prayer is hard to nourish," she said.

Small groups discuss keynote message.
Prayer and solitude were an essential part of Francis' life, as the saint contemplated the "living Word of God," which led to him "going out into the marketplace" with the fruits of that prayer. "Contemplation really begins with ourselves" -- accepting oneself in the inner journey towards God. With Franciscans called to be active contemplatives, "contemplation is not a way of prayer, it's a style of life."

In fact, she said, "the whole of Francis' life is outward moving." And it's a combination of inner and outward love. "There is not true love of God and neighbor without the love of self."

Sister Ilia added: "We live in a culture that is dying, is dying for identity as a human person. This is what we have." The audience erupted into applause.

Small groups discuss keynote message.
So what is an Evangelical person to do ? The first thing is pray and be a living witness. And remember, "whatever happens in our life, God is there."

In other words, "we are called to celebrate the gift of God's goodness" and "bear witness to the Gospel."

In the afternoon session, Sister Ilia went on to elaborate on the concept that God is love, that the Son expresses the Father, and that the Holy Spirit is the bond of love of the Trinity. The Father is the ultimate source of goodness. "We're talking about a fountain of gushing goodness." Like Niagara Falls, only infinitely greater.

"Love is what God is." And "one of the greatest contributions of Franciscans to the 21st century" is that we "understand love as the deepest form of knowledge."

Small groups discuss keynote message.
In spite of the fact that "God is ineffable, beyond what we could grasp," God bends down in love "to embrace this tiny fragile creation." God is so outward-moving in love, He doesn't leave anyone out of the picture.

This leads to two different schools of thought about why Jesus came. One tradition is that because mankind sinned, Christ came to provide salvation. The Franciscan view is that Christ would have come whether mankind sinned or not -- an inevitable result of the goodness and love of God expressing itself in Christ.