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The Franciscan Way

The Scandal of the Particular
Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Francis, like Jesus before him, overturned the whole honor/shame system that was the basis of his culture (and ours today, to a great extent). Francis’ identity came from within, from his core Christ identity. It was not dependent on what he achieved or possessed or on other’s opinions of him. Moreover, this was the lens through which he saw others and all of God’s creation. For Francis, Christ was in everything, so everyone and every part of creation was inherently deserving of respect because they all reflected a part of the image of the God who made them.

Because Francis was not an intellectual, he did not begin with universal philosophies and ideas and abstractions. He began with the specific, the particular, the concrete: this person, this squirrel. I believe love is always, by its very nature, particular. “Just this!” When you start with the specific, you have a beautiful doorway to the universal. On the other hand, when you start with universal theories, it makes it very hard to ever get back to respect for the particular. In fact, you tend to find a reason to see that the particular is never good enough. It is always flawed and imperfect. There is inevitably a reason why this particular person or thing cannot be included, because it is seen to be abnormal, poor, broken, leprous, sinful, or unorthodox. Look at our Christian history: it seems to have been a nonstop search for who is unworthy and who does not belong. What a horrible waste of energy.

Walter Brueggemann says the entire biblical revelation is built on “the scandal of the particular.” Get it in one ordinary, concrete moment. Struggle with it there, fight with it there, resist it there, fall in love with it there. It’s a scandal precisely because it’s so ordinary. What is true in one place finally ends up being true everywhere. This is especially clear in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The Eucharist offers one focused moment of truth, showing that the Christ and this ordinary bit of elemental bread are one, and therefore the spiritual and the material can apparently coexist. Struggle with that, resist it, fall in love with it, eat it. You can’t just think about it rationally in your mind. Spiritual things are known in a whole-body way. You know them with your body, heart, soul, and mind all operating together. In this mysterious sacrament of Eucharist, you eat the bread; it becomes one with you; you become one with all those around you who are the same Body of Christ. It’s a corporeal, cellular knowing. The bread is for the sake of the people, it is food for the sick and weary, a medicine for the soul to let people know that they are what they eat! Instead, as Pope Francis says, we made it into a distant “prize for the perfect,” and its transformative and healing power was lost.

Gateway to Silence:
“I am who I am in the eyes of God, nothing more and nothing less.” —Francis of Assisi

References:
Adapted from Francis: Turning the World on Its Head: Subverting the Honor/Shame System (CD, MP3 download);
and Franciscan Mysticism: I Am That Which I am Seeking, discs 1 and 3 (CD, MP3 download)

Image credit: Legend of St Francis: 5. Renunciation of Worldly Goods (detail fresco), 1297-99, Giotto di Bondone, Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi
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