Benedict XVI to us Franciscans

No one could deny that our Father, Benedict XVI, has a deep and special love for the Franciscan ideal. His habilitation thesis as a university professor was on the work of the Order’s greatest theologian, St Bonaventure, whose thought, with that of Duns Scotus, has influenced some of his other writings. Benedict XVI’s personal affection for his Poor Clare daughters and sisters he has also made no attempt to conceal. We share these texts because they illustrate, better than any words of ours, the realities of our life in the heart of the Church.

My beloved Poor Clare Sisters, may St Francis, St Clare and the many Saints of your Order help you "to persevere faithfully until to the end" in your vocation. You are in special way, under the cloak of the Virgin Mary, whom today the liturgy leads us to contemplate at the foot of the cross, associated intimately to the mission of Christ and participating with a mother’s pain in the work of the salvation. On Calvary Jesus gave us his mother and has entrusted us to her as her children. The gift of virginal motherhood is also for you who follow her divine Son’s cross and embrace with serenity the difficulties and the trials of daily life.

Thus, beloved sisters, the Pope asks you to become burning torches of love, ‘hands joined’ vigilantly in unceasing prayer, totally detached from the world, to support the ministry of him whom Jesus called to guide his Church. You are poor sisters' who, following the example of St. Francis and St. Clare, observe ‘the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without anything of your own, and in chastity.’

Public opinion does not always acknowledge the silent commitment of those who, like you, try to put the Gospel ‘sine glossa’ into practice with simplicity and joy. But, be certain, the contribution that you make to the apostolic and missionary work of the Church in the world is truly extraordinary, and God will continue to bless you with the gift of many vocations, as he has already done.

Meeting with the Sisters of the Poor Clare Monastery of the Immaculate Conception,
Castel Gandolfo
15 September 2007


Dear Sisters, spiritual daughters of Saint Clare, our gathering here in this “Fazenda da Esperança”(Hope Farm, a drug rehabilitation community in Brazil which has a Poor Clare Monastery in its midst) is meant to be a sign of the affection of the Successor of Peter towards the cloistered Sisters, and also a serene manifestation of love, echoing through the hills and valleys of the Mantiqueira mountain range and spreading throughout the whole land: “No speech, no word, no voice is heard; yet their span extends through all the earth, their words to the utmost bounds of the world” (Ps 18:4-5). From this place, the daughters of Saint Clare proclaim: “Be praised, my Lord, for all your creatures!”

In their contemplative lives, the Poor Clare Sisters and other cloistered religious gaze upon the greatness of God and also discover the beauty of his creation; hence they can picture him as the sacred author indicates, caught up in wonder at his handiwork, his beloved creation: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good!” (Gen 1:31).

In this “Fazenda da Esperança”, the prayers of the Poor Clare Sisters are united with the demanding work of medicine and therapy in order to vanquish the prisons and break the chains of drugs that bring so much suffering to God’s beloved children.

Truly we discover here that the beauty of creation and the love of God are inseparable. Francis and Clare of Assisi also discover this secret and they propose to their beloved sons and daughters one very simple thing: to live the Gospel. This is their norm of conduct and their rule of life. Clare expressed it very well when she said to her sisters: “Love one another with the love of Christ and show your love outwardly by your deeds” (Testament).

My dear Sisters, make it your task to proclaim that “hope does not disappoint” (Rom 5:5). May the sorrow of the Crucified Lord, which filled Mary’s soul at the foot of the Cross, console the hearts of many mothers and fathers who weep with sorrow because of their children’s continuing dependency on drugs. By your silent prayerful self-offering, an eloquent silence that the Father hears, proclaim the message of love that conquers sorrow, drugs and death. Proclaim Jesus Christ, a human being like us, who suffers like ourselves, who took our sins upon himself in order to deliver us from them!

Meeting with the Poor Clare Community at Fazenda da Esperança, Guaratinguetá, Brazil
Saturday, 12 May 2007

 

Thank you for your most beautiful singing! It is singing to accompany the expectation of the Lord's coming. But the Lord is always coming! Therefore, this is precisely a welcome song for the Lord. We ourselves are going to meet the Lord!

This encounter makes me think of similar encounters in past times, very beautiful encounters which are deeply engraved in my memory. To see again this life of love for the Lord, this life of Mary - totally absorbed in listening to the Lord and thus listening to the Word of God for humanity today - is always a great inspiration to me, a great encouragement.

We are celebrating 800 years since the conversion of St Francis. Conversion is not only a moment, an instant of life: it is a journey. And you are going ahead, you go before us on the path of conversion, on this journey which is sometimes very arduous but is always accompanied by the joys of the Lord.

For me Assisi is always an interior reference point, because I know that it has a great power of prayer, a power for the Pope in his mission to be helmsman of the Barque of Peter, of the Barque of Christ.

Therefore, let us move ahead with the Lord! I pray for you and please pray for me! Thus, despite the exterior distance we will remain profoundly united. Thank you again!

Meeting with the Poor Clare Community of the Protomonastery , Assisi,
Sunday, 17 June 2007


I know that you say many prayers for me and for the whole Church. Knowing that I am backed by so many prayerful people, so many dear Sisters who pray and support my work from within, gives me constant strength. Hence, I also wish to say a word of thanks for this.

St Francis also shows us that in his life, beginning with his first deep encounter with the Crucified Christ of San Damiano, his communion with Christ developed increasingly until he became one with him in the event of the stigmata.

For this reason we seek the Lord, for this we fight: to listen to his voice with ever greater attention so that it may penetrate our hearts ever more deeply and increasingly shape our lives, and so that from within we may be conformed to him and the Church may live within us.

Just as Mary was in herself a living Church, through your praying, your believing, your hoping and your loving, you become a living Church and thus one with the one Lord. Thank you for everything.

Meeting with the Bavarian Community of Poor Clare Capuchinesses at Assisi
Sunday, 17 June 2007


This morning, being at San Damiano, and then at the Basilica of St Clare where the original Crucifix that spoke to Francis is kept, I too fixed my eyes on those eyes of Christ. It is the image of the Crucified and Risen Christ, life of the Church, that speaks also in us if we are attentive, as 2000 years ago he spoke to his Apostles and 800 years ago he spoke to Francis. The Church continually lives by this encounter.

Yes, dear young people: may we let ourselves encounter Christ! We entrust ourselves to his Word. In him there is not only a fascinating human being. Certainly, he is fully human and like us in everything except sin (cf. Heb 4: 15). But he is also much more: God is made man in him and therefore he is the only Saviour, as his very Name says: Jesus - "God saves" - means.

One comes to Assisi to learn from St Francis the secret of recognizing Jesus Christ and experiencing him. This is what Francis felt about Jesus, according to what his first biographer narrates: "He always carried Jesus in his heart. Jesus on his lips, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands, Jesus in all his other members.... Rather, finding himself travelling often and meditating on and singing of Jesus, he would forget that he was travelling and would invite all creatures to praise Jesus" (cf. 1 Cel II, 9, 115). Thus, we see that communion with Jesus also opens the heart and eyes to creation.

In a word, Francis was truly in love with Jesus. He met him in the Word of God, in the brethren, in nature, but above all in the Eucharistic Presence. Concerning this he wrote in his Testament: "In this world, I see nothing corporally of the same Most High Son of God except in his Most Holy Body and Most Holy Blood" (cf. 2 Test. 10).

Christmas at Greccio expresses the need to contemplate him in his tender humanity as a baby (cf. 1 Cel I, 30, 85-86).

The experience of La Verna, where Francis received the stigmata, shows the degree of intimacy he had reached in his relationship with the Crucified Christ. He could truly say with Paul: "For me to live is Christ" (Phil 1: 21). If he rids himself of everything and chooses poverty, the reason for all of this is Christ, and only Christ. Jesus is his all: he is enough!

Exactly because he is of Christ, Francis is also a man of the Church. From the Crucifix of San Damiano he heard the direction to repair the house of Christ, which is precisely the Church. There is an intimate and indissoluble relationship between Christ and the Church. To be called to repair it certainly implies, in the mission of Francis, something that is his own and original. At the same time, this duty, after all, was none other than the responsibility that Christ attributes to every baptized person. To every one of us he also says: "Go and repair my house"

Meeting with young people in front of St Mary of the Angels, Assisi
Sunday, 17 June 2007


At the root of the different expressions of Consecrated Life there is always a strong Gospel inspiration.

St Francis of Assisi in his turn affirmed that it was God who revealed to him that he should live according to the form of the holy Gospel (Testament, 17). "Francis", wrote Thomas of Celano, "who heard that Christ's disciples were supposed to possess neither gold, nor silver, nor money, nor purse; were to have neither bread nor staff, were to have neither shoes nor two tunics... rejoicing in the Holy Spirit said: "This is what I want! This is what I ask! This is what I want to do from the bottom of my heart!'" (I Celano 83).

St Clare of Assisi imitated Francis' experience to the full: "The form of life of the Order of the Poor Sisters", she wrote, "is this: to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rule, I, 1-2).

Dear brothers and sisters, nourish your day with prayer, meditation and listening to the Word of God. May you, who are familiar with the ancient practice of lectio divina, help the faithful to appreciate it in their daily lives too. And may you know how to express what the Word suggests, letting yourself be formed by it so that you bring forth abundant fruit, like a seed that has fallen into good soil. Thus, you will be ever docile to the Spirit and you will grow in union with God, you will cultivate fraternal communion among yourselves and will be ready to serve your brethren generously, especially those in need. May people see your good works, a fruit of the Word of God that lives in you, and glorify your Heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5: 16)! In entrusting these reflections to you, I thank you for the precious service you render to the Church.

Address for the World Day of Consecrated Life, St Peter’s,
Saturday 2 February 2008


Benedict XVI's Address to the Franciscan Family, April 20, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Franciscan family!

With great joy I welcome you all at this happy and historic occasion that has gathered you all together: the eighth centenary of the approval of the "protoregola" of St. Francis by Pope Innocent III. Eight hundred years have passed, and those dozen friars have become a multitude, scattered all over the world and now here, by you, worthily represented. In recent days you have gathered in Assisi for what you wanted to call the "Chapter of Mats" to recall your origins. And at the end of this extraordinary experience you have come together with the "Signor Papa" [Lord Pope], as your seraphic founder would say. I greet you all with affection: the Friars Minor of the three branches, guided by the respective Ministers General, among whom I thank Father José Rodriguez Carballo for his kind words, the members of the Third Order, with their Minister General; the Franciscan women religious and members of the Franciscan secular institutes, and knowing them spiritually present, the Poor Clares, which constitute the "second order."

What should I tell you, dear friends? First of all I would like to join you in giving thanks to God for the path that he has marked out for you, filling you with his benefits. And as Pastor of the Church, I want to thank him for the precious gift that you are for the entire Christian people. From the small stream that flowed from the foot of Mount Subasio, it has formed a great river, which has made a significant contribution to the universal spread of the Gospel. It all began from the conversion of Francis, who, following the example of Jesus "emptied himself" (cf. Phil 2:7) and, by marrying Lady Poverty, became a witness and herald of the Father who is in heaven. To the "Poverello" [little poor man], one can apply literally some expressions that the apostle Paul uses to refer to himself and which I like to remember in this Pauline Year: "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And this life, I live in the flesh, I live by faith of the Son of God who has loved me and given himself for me" (Gal. 2:19-20). And again: "From now on let no one bother me: for I wear the marks of Jesus on my body" (Gal 6:17).

Francis reflects perfectly the footsteps of Paul and in truth can say with him: "For me, to live is Christ" (Phil 1:21). He has experienced the power of divine grace and he is as one who has died and risen. All his previous wealth, any source of pride and security, everything becomes a "loss" from the moment of encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus (cf. Phil 3:7-11). The leaving of everything at that point becomes almost necessary to express the abundance of the gift received. A gift so great as to require a total detachment, which itself isn't enough; it requires a entire life lived "according to the form of the holy Gospel" (2 Tests, 14: the Franciscan Sources, 116).

And here we come to the point that surely lies at the heart of our meeting. I would summarize it as follows: the Gospel as a rule of life. "The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, to observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:" this is what Francis writes at the beginning of his Rule (Rb I, 1: FF, 75). He defined himself entirely in the light of the Gospel. This is his charm. This is his enduring relevance. Thomas of Celano relates that the Poverello "always held himself in the heart of Jesus. Jesus on the lips, Jesus in his ears, Jesus is his eyes, Jesus in his hands, Jesus in all the other members [...] In fact finding himself often traveling and meditating or singing about Jesus, he would forget he was traveling and would stop to invite all creatures to praise Jesus" (1 Cel., II, 9, 115: FF115). So the Poverello has become a living gospel, able to attract to Christ men and women of all ages, especially young people, who prefer radical idealism to half-measures. The Bishop of Assisi, Guido, and then Pope Innocent III recognized in the proposal of Francis and his companions the authenticity of the Gospel, and knew how to encourage their commitment for the good of the Church.

Here is a spontaneous reflection: Francis could have also not gone to the Pope. Many religious groups and movements were forming during that time, and some of them were opposed to the Church as an institution, or at least didn't seek the Churches' approval. Certainly a polemical attitude towards the hierarchy would have won Francis many followers. Instead, he immediately thought to put his journey and that of his companions into the hands of the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter. This fact reveals his true ecclesial spirit. The little "we" that had started with his first friars he conceived from the outset inside the context of the great "we" of the one and universal Church. And the Pope recognized and appreciated this. The Pope, in fact, on his part, could have not approved the project of the life of Francis. Indeed, we can well imagine that among the collaborators of Innocent III, some counseled him to that effect, perhaps fearing that his group of monks would end up resembling other heretical groups and pauperisms of the time. Instead the Roman Pontiff, well informed by the Bishop of Assisi and Cardinal Giovanni of St. Paul, was able to discern the initiative of the Holy Spirit and welcomed, blessed and encouraged the nascent community of "Friars Minor."

Dear brothers and sisters, eight centuries have passed, and now you have wanted to renew this gesture of your founder. You are all sons and heirs of those origins, of that "good seed" which was Francis, who was conformed to the "grain of wheat" which is the Lord Jesus, died and risen to bring forth much fruit (cf. Jn 12:24). The saints propose anew the fruitfulness of Christ. As Francis and Clare of Assisi, you also commit yourselves to follow the same logic: to lose your lives for Jesus and the Gospel, to save them and make them abundantly fruitful. While you praise and thank the Lord who has called you to be part of such a great and beautiful family, stay attentive to what the Spirit says to it today, in each of its components, to continue to proclaim with passion the Kingdom of God, the footsteps of your seraphic father. Every brother and every sister should keep always a contemplative mood, happy and simple; always begin from Christ, as Francis set out from the gaze of the Crucifix of San Damiano and from the meeting with the leper, to see the face of Christ in our brothers and sisters who suffer and bring to all his peace. Be witnesses to the "beauty" of God, which Francis was able to sing contemplating the wonders of creation, and that made him exclaim to the Most High: "You are beauty!" (Praises of God Most High, 4.6: FF 261).

Dear friends, the last word I would like to leave with you is the same that the risen Jesus gave to his disciples: "Go!" (cf. Mt 28:19, Mk 16:15). Go and continue to "repair the house" of the Lord Jesus Christ, his Church. In recent days, the earthquake that struck the Abruzzo region has severely damaged many churches, and you from Assisi know what this means. But there is another "ruin" that is far more serious: that of people and communities! Like Francis, always start with yourselves. We are the first house that God wants to restore. If you are always able to renew yourselves in the spirit of the Gospel, you will continue to assist the pastors of the Church to make more and more beautiful the Church's face, that of the bride of Christ. The Pope, now the same as then, expects this of you. Thank you for coming! Now go and bring to all the peace and love of Christ the Savior. May Mary Immaculate, "Virgin made Church" (cf. Greetings to the Blessed Virgin Mary, 1 FF, 259), accompany you always. And may my Apostolic Blessing, which I cordially impart to all of you here present, and the entire Franciscan family, support you as well.