By Rev. Br. John-Paul Markides
When I was young my mother used to read to me every evening, and we would always start with the lives of the saints. One saint who stood out was saint Francis of Assisi: a guy who didn't fit in, who was different, but who changed the way the church responded to the poor in the middle ages.
Francis allowed his experience of God in the life of the marginalized frame his entire lived reality. There were moments that affected him most profoundly, like the day he decided not to run from lepers, but instead, embrace them, cleaning their wounds. He kissed a man whose lips and cheeks had been eaten away by disease. Imagine the sight of that (in our pandemic-informed time!).
He later reflected on the experience: "When I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and left the world."
This reference is what made Francis become a friar (a homeless traveling preacher).
Franciscans are purposely not called monastics; we are a reaction to the comfort and privilege of monastic dwellings. We live a life of active contemplation, as opposed to reflective meditation.
I think when I was young I felt ashamed about living a Franciscan life as an Anglican. I was ashamed to wear my habit. I was ashamed to wear the Tau (a cross in the shape of a "T"). I think now, however, I have come to understand my "brotherhood" as my highest vocation. Being a brother is what frames the way I see the world.
For instance, I'm challenged to see my grade 4 student not as an entitled snot-nosed kid; instead, my student is Christ himself, asking not for bread, but for understanding. My students require the same care that Francis gave the lepers, because they too cry out for care, respect, and a whole lot of patience.
The Franciscan life is a life devoted first to living the gospel, reading the words of Christ and living them in their radical reality. This looks different in the life of each Franciscan. For some this is the life of a hermit praying and seeking spiritual union with God ("theosis"). But wherever you find friars, you see people of service, prayer, and spiritual simplicity.
Franciscans have always been the sort of people who don't put on airs; we swear, we are vulgar... A Franciscan comes into a house of a grieving family and does the dishes, cares for the kids. We can offer many things.
I feel we offer the ministry of Friar Tuck from Robin Hood, or even Friar Laurence from Romeo and Juliet. We are there for those who are on the margins... because that's where we find Christ.
So what do we offer the church? We serve the Christ in your midst. Everything else is just dressing.
Rev. Br. John-Paul Markides is a priest assistant under the direction of the Territorial Archdeacon.
Below: A selfie with St. Francis and... the rest of the world: "Francis teaches us the world is our cloister, and all we see, was not just made in the image of Christ, it reveals Christ to us in a real and meaningful way."