Toward the end of his life, St. Francis told the friars who were devoted to him, “Let us begin again, for up to now we have done nothing.” They were to become his most quoted words.
I have plunged into the writings and teachings of St. Francis this year, and it’s been a rich swim.
His life (1182-1226) was about bringing hope to darkness, perhaps the true creative and spiritual challenge of his time and our time.
It is odd for me to be so connected to a Catholic Pope who took the name of Francis, and who reflects his teachings in so any ways. The rise of Christianity brought a great deal of hope into a dark world, as well as bloodshed and division, and today, so many of us are looking for hope in our Age Of Anxiety.
It is important for me to look backwards for the guides and inspirations that move and shape my life today, I tend to find them in the past rather than the present.
I think that quote of St. Francis is one of the most powerful of the many things St. Francis wrote and said. This iconic prophet’s sense of beginning again, towards the beginning, or the middle, or the end of my life, at the end of a passage, or an era, or a journey, in the middle of fair and failure, when I just want to rest, or shed the past, or let go of disappointment, is profound and inspiring.
I see this as a call to rebirth, renewal, a kind of personal reconstruction, for this what I said to myself just a few years ago when I came to see my choice was rebirth or a kind of living and loveless death. Let me begin again, because up to now I have done nothing.
I hope that is what I will say at every mark or passage of my life. This is the call to rebirth, to self-awareness. We are small, we don’t matter all that much.
Francis was described as a man of all seasons, especially in winter and times of darkness, and conflict and death, when many of us don’t know how, or even want, to begin again. But that, of course, is when it most matters, that is the very time to give birth to ourselves again: in this vast and complex world, and up to now, I have done nothing.
We cannot change the world, wrote Francis, except and insofar as we have changed ourselves.
We can only give who we are and what we are.
We can only offer to others what we have been given.
We can’t just pray, we must be the prayer.
We can’t only have questions, we must be answers.
Francis, wrote Richard Rohr in his book “Hope Against Darkness,” had no real agenda for social reform or compassion. He “just moved outside the system of illusion,” wrote Rohr, ignoring it rather than fighting it, just doing good better.
Francis said the best criticism of the bad and the hateful is the practice of the good and the better.
I live in the system of illusion today, and I believe the best answer to the hatred and argument bubbling all around me is to do good, better. I rallied myself to begin again, for up to now, I had done nothing.
And this is what I can say to myself today, and at every turning point of life. This is my call to life.
Francis, I believe, discovered the gift of reconstruction. He knew how to begin again, and again and again.
He practiced doing good, better.