It is in Giving that We Receive

One of the reasons I love the Franciscan way of life is its willing acceptance of the paradoxes of Christian life. Followers of Francis have that seemingly odd spiritual sense of embracing what the world finds absurd. It's a quality of finding what you're not looking for by searching for the wrong thing. For instance, striving to become the leader and discovering that a true leader is really the servant of all the rest. We grow by becoming small, rather than lording it over others. We receive by giving, not taking. We discover a rich life through spiritual poverty or we find true greatness in holy humility. (Note: I count this uncommon quality as an authentic sign of a Franciscan vocation; conversely someone who resists this inclination is applying at the wrong door.)

Of course Franciscans don't own this quality, it's basic to Christian spirituality; but it is a hallmark of our spiritual family. Other paradoxical traits include simplicity and pardon. Simplicity disarms cunning and overcomes worldly wisdom (which is really foolishness). Forgiveness and love have the power to sting a wrongdoer and may ultimately transform a heart to goodness (see Article XIX of the SFO Rule). To follow Francis is to necessarily enjoy the paradox of finding our strength (which comes from God), in our weakness.

This quality is heralded in The Prayer of St. Francis: (an excerpt)

For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

We could easily misunderstand or limit our understanding of the above passage. We might conclude that when we give, we begin a chain reaction that results in our receiving something in return. This is the world's rationale. Or again, when we pardon, we're setting a good example, and therefore we might hope it will be contagious and spark a return. Indeed, sometimes this is the case. Nevertheless, whether we receive anything back, or are pardoned in return, is actually irrelevant to the greater good of uniting with the Will of God.

Sadly, our experience teaches us that our gifts are often spurned and our forgiveness is usually trodden underfoot. As bad as that seems it gets worse, because we foolishly translate this into disappointment in others, and sometimes in God. We often judge our own uncharitable ways as justified, because we gave but did not receive in return. But here in the world's disappointing behavior St Francis finds an inverse response to the situation; he shows us joy, something Francis referred to as 'Perfect Joy'. (If you're unfamiliar with 'Perfect Joy', click here.)

What the Prayer of St. Francis says to me is that when we give of ourselves, we do as God has shown us in the giving of his Son Jesus; and we simultaneously receive the gift of the Son. When we pardon from our hearts unconditionally; we pardon others in the manner God has pardoned us; and in doing so, we receive our own eternal pardon. Finally, and perhaps most paradoxical, we must hasten our death to our own unhealthy inclinations. When we're ready to immerse ourselves in a baptism of death to the old man, only then are we ready to rise to new and glorious life.

For those of us who are professed into the Order, we have the responsibility to live out these inverse qualities of poverty, humility, simplicity, chastity and all the rest, in manner appropriate to our state in life. In doing so to make it clear that Jesus is present in us and to not obscure his image in any way. If we fail to show this life we're squandering precious time (Mea Culpa).


MikeF said...

Wonderful post - thank you, TS!

There are some truly memorable sentences here: "One of the reasons I love the Franciscan way of life is its willing acceptance of the paradoxes of Christian life. Followers of Francis have that seemingly odd spiritual sense of embracing what the world finds absurd."

Nothing like a good start - terrific stuff! Thanks again, truly...

Lee Strong said...


KAM said...

Thanks, PJ, I need to read this about once a month.

Melissa said...

I'm working on a worship service on the "Golden Rule" (Luke 6:31, Matt 7:12). As I was preparing, God reminded me of St. Francis' Prayer "for it is in giving that we receive". As I began to search the web, I came on this blog post. What a blessing! Thank you.