The Franciscan way: then and now

Eager to Love: the Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr OFM

The adoption of Francis as his papal title by the new Pope has brought about a wider focus on the life and ideals of Francis of Assisi. 

Richard Rohr is an American writer within the Franciscan tradition, the author of many books and articles. He may be familiar to readers already as the author of Falling Upwards and Everything Belongs.

His opinions have proved controversial in the past, but he would argue that what he believes and what he does is more important perhaps than a merely verbal conformity, which after all is the easiest of things to do. At home in New Mexico, he is involved in a Centre for Contemplation and Action, which to many people would seem to be distinctive trends. But Rohr sees them as complementary. He teaches what he calls “an alternative orthodoxy”. This is not so much “new age” as “ageless”.

The alternative way is one that disregards power and privilege, the things that Francis himself gave up as his family heritage. Grounded and motivated by the Gospels this remains he says, a radical, life changing, indeed revolutionary reacceptance of the actual teachings of Christ.

This book contains 13 chapters, supported by three appendices which might as well be read as chapters. They are built around individuals, who over the centuries followed the Franciscan way. But the discussion is not based on what happened in the past, but what it can mean to us in the present, and how it may change our futures.

Rohr is a wonderfully appealing writer, making past ideas and future hopes open to all. The language uses new concepts, but is everywhere present in an approachable and easy style.

I mentioned the three appendices. These are also compelling if advanced ideas. These are very important, and not just tacked on. The appendix dealing with God as a person for instance will provide many people with fruitful thoughts, but may also change them. Here many whose kindergarten notions of God as a benign old man will be challenged, but such a notion actually reduces rather than enlarges our idea of God.

We are confusing an artistic convention with a cosmic reality. But what Richard Rohr writes will enrich our pilgrimage along the way. Reading him is a rewarding experience.

All of this seems to be immensely vital and appropriate to what many see as an emerging trend in the current papacy.

But as power and privilege are not the preserve of only the wealthy and the powerful of the world, but also of the Church as an institution, the call to change may prove as difficult for some as it did for the rich young man in the Gospels.