Franciscan Spirituality (2) – The Compassion of the True Self

There is a wonderful story of Francis of Assisi well before the founding of the Franciscan order, running after a poor man that he had first refused to give to:

“On one occasion … contrary to his custom, he sent away emptyhanded a certain poor man who had begged alms … As soon as he came to his senses, he ran after the man and gave him a generous alms, promising God that from that moment onward, while he had the means, he would never refuse those who begged from him for the love of God.”

Life of St. Francis, St. Bonaventure

This compassion was a characteristic of Francis, and led to him being honoured by a simple man of Assisi, who “used to take off his cloak and spread it under his feet”.

‘St. Francis Honoured By a Simple Man’, Giotto

There is nothing particularly religious about compassion and love, though compassion and love are maybe the most religious qualities in the world.  Francis seems to have felt them as powerfully as other natural instincts.

Modern psychology has shone a light on the quality of compassion as a primal quality of the True Self:

“We all have a core part of us that is our true self, our spiritual centre … The Self is relaxed and open, and accepting of yourself and others …. When you are in Self, you come from a depth of compassion, enabling you to be loving and caring toward others as well as yourself … The Self is like the sun – it just shines.”

Self-Therapy, Jan Earley, p.29

Jesus’ story about The Good Samaritan is also about the power of compassion to reach out beyond cultural barriers and “traditional” norms.

‘The Good Samaritan’, Van Gogh

Jesus’ two greatest commandments are about love: loving God and loving neighbour. He even extended this to love for enemies, in the controversially exaggerated drama of his advice to turn the other cheek.  This is not about encouraging abuse.  This is about a radical teaching about the power of reacting to violence with peace – as Jesus himself, and other great proponents of peaceful activism like Gandhi, and Martin Luther King showed.

Compassion is not an easy virtue. Some, like Francis, seem to have it in bucketloads. For others, there is a struggle to get over the barriers of “otherness”: culture, ethnicity, gender…(If you look back at Van Gogh’s painting you will see the two figures who have walked past the victim before the Samaritan arrived and helped him).

But compassion is certainly a central part of Franciscan spirituality.

2 thoughts on “Franciscan Spirituality (2) – The Compassion of the True Self

  1. Beautiful story of St. Francis. It reminds me of one time several years ago, during Christmas shopping, when I gave some money to a young man begging on the sidewalk, sitting with head down as many beggars tend to do out of shame. He looked up at me with so much gratitude that I was almost in tears as I walked away with my packages of expensive shopping. As I walked away, I was troubled by the contrast of the money I had given him and how much money I had spent on the bags I was carrying. So I turned around to go back and give him more, but he had already moved on. The memory of his face remains after several years.


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