Five reasons why St. Francis is a model of synodality

September 26, 2023 at 12:24 p.m.
A hunter's moon rises behind a statue of St. Francis of Assisi on the grounds of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion in Champion, Wis., Oct 8, 2022 (OSV News photo/Sam Lucero, CNS)
A hunter's moon rises behind a statue of St. Francis of Assisi on the grounds of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion in Champion, Wis., Oct 8, 2022 (OSV News photo/Sam Lucero, CNS) (Sam Lucero)

Father Patrick Briscoe

Chesterton once wrote, “Newspapers not only deal with news, but they deal with everything as if it were entirely new.” There’s a lot of new talk surrounding synodality. But, insofar as synods have been an ancient model for Church governance, there’s something quite old there.

Which is why I propose an old model for us to emulate: St. Francis of Assisi. The October Synod of Bishops will open on St. Francis’ feast and there’s much from the life of this beloved man of God that can inspire how we approach the synod.

–Humility and charity

First, consider St. Francis’ humility. At the heart of synodality is the recognition that our traveling together in faith requires putting up with one another as we carry our raggedy faults and dear sins in our slouch toward the Truth we seek. St. Francis epitomized humility, stripping away worldly attachments to embrace a life of poverty. In his “Admonitions,” he writes, “Blessed is the servant who does not regard himself as better when he is esteemed and extolled by men than when he is reputed as mean, simple, and despicable: for what a man is in the sight of God, so much he is, and no more.” In a synodal Church, humility opens the door to genuine dialogue, with preconceived notions and politics being cast aside.

St. Francis also has a remarkable vision of fraternal charity. He writes, “Blessed the servant who loves and respects his brother as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him, and who would not say anything behind his back that he would not say with charity in his presence.” A synodal Church acknowledges the struggles and joys of our fellow Christians, recognizing their unique perspectives. With respect and charity, we move as brothers pursuing the Lord’s will; if we can remember that none of us are getting it all just right, humility and charity are with us.

St. Francis was humble and charitable because of his vision of Christ. St. Francis taught, “Let all of us, brothers, consider the Good Shepherd Who bore the suffering of the cross to save His sheep.” St. Francis’s life was entirely centered on following Jesus Christ. The synodal way must be the way of Christo-centric discipleship. We should be disciples like St. Francis, striving our best to imitate our master, he who was poor and willing to lay down his life in reparation for our sins. And who loved the people we’d probably dislike.

–Conversion

St. Francis’ spirituality was fundamentally Eucharistic. St. Francis says: “As He revealed Himself to the holy apostles in true flesh, so He reveals Himself to us now in sacred bread.” By embracing the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Jesus, St. Francis emphasized not symbolic ritual but an encounter with the living Christ. This is what it means to be a synodal Church: to have met the living Christ and fervently long to share that experience with others.

Finally, having met the Risen Christ, St. Francis underwent an extraordinary conversion. Conversion means “to turn.” Francis himself modeled what it meant to continually turn. Conversion is circular in that respect, and never ending. Most people think they’ve turned and that’s that. But it’s more like ascending in concentric circles, because we have to keep turning. We turn and turn in the hopes that — as with encircling a mountain — each turn brings us closer to the goal. St. Francis’s radical transformation of life reminds us that synodality calls us to ongoing conversion (ongoing “turning,” ongoing surrender) and growth in faith.

“But as St. Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ,” writes Chesterton. In the end, the most important consideration for synodality is that it would help us become saints: men and women who love not their own ideas, but the Lord Jesus.

Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is a Dominican friar of the Province of St. Joseph. He is the editor of Our Sunday Visitor.


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Chesterton once wrote, “Newspapers not only deal with news, but they deal with everything as if it were entirely new.” There’s a lot of new talk surrounding synodality. But, insofar as synods have been an ancient model for Church governance, there’s something quite old there.

Which is why I propose an old model for us to emulate: St. Francis of Assisi. The October Synod of Bishops will open on St. Francis’ feast and there’s much from the life of this beloved man of God that can inspire how we approach the synod.

–Humility and charity

First, consider St. Francis’ humility. At the heart of synodality is the recognition that our traveling together in faith requires putting up with one another as we carry our raggedy faults and dear sins in our slouch toward the Truth we seek. St. Francis epitomized humility, stripping away worldly attachments to embrace a life of poverty. In his “Admonitions,” he writes, “Blessed is the servant who does not regard himself as better when he is esteemed and extolled by men than when he is reputed as mean, simple, and despicable: for what a man is in the sight of God, so much he is, and no more.” In a synodal Church, humility opens the door to genuine dialogue, with preconceived notions and politics being cast aside.

St. Francis also has a remarkable vision of fraternal charity. He writes, “Blessed the servant who loves and respects his brother as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him, and who would not say anything behind his back that he would not say with charity in his presence.” A synodal Church acknowledges the struggles and joys of our fellow Christians, recognizing their unique perspectives. With respect and charity, we move as brothers pursuing the Lord’s will; if we can remember that none of us are getting it all just right, humility and charity are with us.

St. Francis was humble and charitable because of his vision of Christ. St. Francis taught, “Let all of us, brothers, consider the Good Shepherd Who bore the suffering of the cross to save His sheep.” St. Francis’s life was entirely centered on following Jesus Christ. The synodal way must be the way of Christo-centric discipleship. We should be disciples like St. Francis, striving our best to imitate our master, he who was poor and willing to lay down his life in reparation for our sins. And who loved the people we’d probably dislike.

–Conversion

St. Francis’ spirituality was fundamentally Eucharistic. St. Francis says: “As He revealed Himself to the holy apostles in true flesh, so He reveals Himself to us now in sacred bread.” By embracing the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Jesus, St. Francis emphasized not symbolic ritual but an encounter with the living Christ. This is what it means to be a synodal Church: to have met the living Christ and fervently long to share that experience with others.

Finally, having met the Risen Christ, St. Francis underwent an extraordinary conversion. Conversion means “to turn.” Francis himself modeled what it meant to continually turn. Conversion is circular in that respect, and never ending. Most people think they’ve turned and that’s that. But it’s more like ascending in concentric circles, because we have to keep turning. We turn and turn in the hopes that — as with encircling a mountain — each turn brings us closer to the goal. St. Francis’s radical transformation of life reminds us that synodality calls us to ongoing conversion (ongoing “turning,” ongoing surrender) and growth in faith.

“But as St. Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ,” writes Chesterton. In the end, the most important consideration for synodality is that it would help us become saints: men and women who love not their own ideas, but the Lord Jesus.

Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is a Dominican friar of the Province of St. Joseph. He is the editor of Our Sunday Visitor.

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