The Holy Spirit continues to inspire Pope Francis to be “Franciscan” in ways that go deeper than just the name. He seems to have a penchant for tapping into “our” tradition. His visible simplicity, his ministry of gesture, and his simple and accessible way of re-proposing Jesus to our contemporaries gives him an almost magnetic appeal that crosses confessional lines.
Another aspect of our tradition he has touched upon is “informal preaching.” We might call this “street preaching” or “conversion conversations” where we engage on a spiritual level with people as opportunities arise. As Catholics, we are known for suffering from lockjaw, but our Franciscan tradition says otherwise. Since 1209, Francis and the early brothers received permission from Pope Innocent III to engage in “penitential” or exhortative preaching. Here’s how Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel,” reminds us of our duty as disciples: “Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” (n. 127)
This reminds me of Thomas of Celano’s description of Francis as always having “Jesus on the lips, Jesus in his ears, Jesus is his eyes, Jesus in his hands.” Where is Jesus, and the love He offers, in our daily conversations with people? Of course, it might not always be suitable to engage in “Jesus-talk” but it is always suitable, in word or gesture, to share the love of Jesus, the love of God, with others.
--Fr. Alex Kratz, OFM