Civil Disobedience in the Franciscan Tradition

by Sister Julie Ann on November 23, 2009

picture1.pngWith the U.S. Catholic Bishops and faithful urging change in the proposed Senate healthcare reform bill, and the Manhatten Declaration also gaining media attention in on-line national magazines and individual blogs, Franciscanized World steps back into a very different medieval age and reflects on the lives of Francis and Clare to find possible examples of civil disobedience, an active refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of an authority or a society for a greater good. This is Gospel in its best–a non-violent response of compassionate, respectful disagreement.  

francisclare-copy.jpgFirst, look at the life of a saintly woman. Lady Clare took fasting to its limits when Pope Gregory forbade any brother to go to the monasteries of the Poor Ladies without permission:

“The pious mother, sorrowing that her sisters would most rarely have the food of sacred teaching, sighed: ‘Let him now take away from us all the brothers since he has taken away those who provide us with the food that is vital’. At once she sent back to the minister all the brothers, not wanting to have the questors who acquired corporal bread when they could not have the questors for spiritual bread. When Pope Gregory heard this, he immediately mitigated that prohibition into the hands of the general minister.” Legend of Clare, 37

francisclare-copy1.jpgNext, read about the life of Francis, at a time of felt urgency, fortified with the sign of the cross:

“…he arose, and when his horse was made ready, he mounted it. Taking with him scarlet cloth to sell, he quickly came to a city called Foligno. There after selling everything he brought in his usual way, this successful merchant even left behind the horse he was riding, when he had obtained his price. Starting back, he put down his bags and pondered conscientiously what to do about the money. In a wonderful way, in an instant, he turned completely to the work of God. Feeling the heavy weight of carrying that money even for an hour, and reckoning all its benefit to be like so much sand, he hurried to get rid of it. Returning toward the city of Assisi, he came across a church on the side of the road. It had been built in ancient times in honor of St. Damian and was threatening to collapse because of age…[Francis]aroused by piety at such a great need he found a poor priest there, kissed his holy hands with great devotion, offered him the money he was carrying and explained his purpose in great detail.” I Celano, Chapter IV

Can you think of any other examples in the 13th century? any examples in our own day?

One thought on “Civil Disobedience in the Franciscan Tradition”

  1. When I think of an example of civility in its noble elegance, Lady Clare’s feminine graciousness to the lepers of her society is a shining example. Was it disobedience in the court of law in her day to reach out to them? No, but it indeed created a shadow of doubt in her respectability with others who feared contamination or just didn’t want to see or feel any sense of responsibility toward society’s outcasts. It is interesting to note that Clare did not die of leprosy.

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