Dying to Live

In light of the recent Pew survey that highlights the seeming death of the Church, I thought this was an appropriate piece from Fr. Richard Rohr. Neither St. Francis, nor Paul, nor Jesus cared too much for the trappings of religious tradition, and neither should we. If the old model is dying, all it means is that it’s time to embrace something new.


Dying to Live

Francis was at once very traditional and entirely new in the ways of holiness, and he is still such a standing paradox. He stood barefoot on the earth and yet touched the heavens. He was grounded in the Church and yet moved instinctively toward the Cosmos. He lived happily inside the visible and yet both suffered and rejoiced in what others thought was invisible. Again and again, he was totally at home in two worlds at the same time, and thus he made them into one world.

Francis, like all saints, delighted in both his Absolute Littleness and his Absolute Connection in the very same moment, knowing they depended on one another. Francis and Clare, his friend and follower, died into the life that they loved instead of living in fear of any death that could end their life. They were both so very eager to love, and they somehow knew that dying to the old and unneeded was an essential part of living this love at any depth. Most of us do not seem to know that–and we resist all change.

Jesus himself, Paul (Jesus’ iconoclastic interpreter), and both Francis and Clare made room for the new by a full willingness to let go of the old. This is quite a rare pattern in the history of formal religion, which is too often a love affair with small and comfortable traditions. Each of these game-changing people had the courage and the clarity to sort out what was perennial wisdom from what was unreal, passing, merely cultural, or even destructive, which is exactly how Jesus describes the way “a disciple of the kingdom” behaves. He says that such disciples are “householders who bring out from their household things both old and new” (Matthew 13:52). John the Baptist describes Jesus as a “winnowing fan” within religion itself–that separates the grain from the chaff (Matthew 3:12) instead of presuming that religion is all “grain” and the outsiders are all “chaff.”

Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. xvii-xix

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