The Blessed Virgin Mary and Franciscanism by fr. Gerard Toman OFMConv
|The Blessed Virgin Mary and Franciscanism by fr. Gerard Toman OFMConv|
Mary and our Franciscan Origins
In his Testament, St. Francis unambiguously identifies the primary source of his vocation: “No one showed me what to do, but the Most High revealed to me that I was to live according to the form of the Holy Gospel.” As we know so well, that form of life chosen for and shown to Francis by the crucified Saviour had a dual purpose: to conform Francis perfectly to the crucified Lord, and to make Francis his instrument in sustaining and “rebuilding” his Church. In a word, Francis and his Order are the exclusive possession of Christ. Therefore, the Order is neither in origin, nor form, nor end, the product of merely natural historical forces – and so they must remain.
There is, however, one other factor at the source of the Franciscan phenomenon that stands on a par with the influence of our Lord. Francis writes: “Holy Virgin Mary, there is none like you born in the world among women” (Vesp. Ant., Office of the Passion). While a creature, Mary is simply in a class by herself, incomparable with other creatures, i.e. unique, and comparable as a person and in her influence as Mediatrix of all Graces only with her Son, who has bestowed on her a fullness of grace and love. To the question: Why did the crucified Lord choose Francis for and explain to him that specific, eschatological task of rekindling the love of the faithful for Himself and of heralding his coming, Francis gave but one answer throughout his life: because our Lady, the Mother of God and Queen of the Angels, asked her Son to do this.
Saint Bonaventure writes: “Francis, the shepherd of a little flock, led his band of twelve brothers to St. Mary of the Portiuncula – and the grace of heaven went before them – so that where the Order of the Friars Minors, by the merits of the Mother of God, had its beginning, it might develop with her help” (LM 4,5). And with more detail, Celano records the same: “Although he knew that the kingdom of heaven has been established in every place on earth, and he believed that divine grace can be given to the elect of God everywhere, yet he knew by experience that the ‘place’ of the Church of St. Mary of the Portiuncula was filled with more abundant grace and frequented by the visitation of heavenly spirits. Therefore, he often used to say to the brothers: “My sons, see that you never leave this place...for this place is truly holy and the home of Christ and of his Virgin Mother. Here when we were few, the Most High increased us. Here he enlightened the souls of his poor by the light of his wisdom. Here he inflamed our wills by the fire of his love... Therefore, my sons, hold this place worthy of all reverence and honour as truly a dwelling place of God which is uniquely cherished by Him and by His Mother” (I Cel 106)