Bearers of the Gospel: Franciscan Evangelization

Martyrdom: The Supreme Act of Worship


Francis forewarned his friars not to be troubled if the saving message of Jesus was not heeded, for its very proclamation was itself an act of worship.


If their efforts won for them the prize of martyrdom they should rejoice, because the martyr perfectly imitates and fully participates in that supreme act of worship by which the Son of God "humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2.8).

The highest form of obedience, he told his friars, in which flesh and blood plays no part is "to go among unbelievers under the inspiration of God, either to help one's fellow men or with the desire of martyrdom."9 To the five friars whom he sent to Morocco in 1219 he gave the counsel that they should ever keep the Lord's Passion before their eyes. "It will strengthen you," he assured them, "and dispose you for courageous endurance."10 When in the next year he learned that these friars had won the crown of martyrdom, he exclaimed: "Now I can truly say that I have five brothers."11

St. Bonaventure, in his Major Life of St. Francis, tells us: "He burned with love for God worthy of a seraph. Like Christ, he thirsted for the salvation of the greatest possible number of human beings."12

"…the Friars Minor (have) been sent by the Lord in these late days to give examples of light to those wrapped in the darkness of sin."
St Francis of Assisi

Francis' method of evangelization was that of "the only-begotten Son of God, who is Wisdom itself and who came down from the Father's embrace…to teach the world by His own example and to bring the message of salvation to the men He had redeemed at the price of His precious blood."13 Francis insisted that "the Friars Minor had been sent by the Lord in these late days to give examples of light to those wrapped in the darkness of sin;"14 and he insisted that "all the brothers are to preach by their works."15

Francis himself possessed such a marvelous ability to harmonize actions with words, and his words with his actions, that his exemplification of Gospel values rendered their explication superfluous. But he never tired of reminding his friars that mastery of this art demanded "unwearied application to prayer and the continual practice of virtue…”16

The Franciscan evangelizer, he insisted, must labor long and hard in order to cultivate a balanced sense of mission and mysticism; otherwise he will be incapable of inwardly experiencing that wonderful and redemptive love which Christ exemplified in His passion.

Mirror of Perfection, 48, trans. Leo Sherley-Price, in Omnibus, 1172-73.

"Ante oculos vestros semper habeatis dominicam passionem, quae vos roborabit et ad patiendum pro fortius animabit." Chronica XXIV Generalium Ordinis Minorum, in Analecta Franciscana [AF], 12 vols. (Quaracchi: Collegium S. Bonaventurae, 1895-1983), 3:581-82.

"Nunc possum veraciter dicere, quod habeo quinque fratres." Ibid., 3:21.

Bonaventure, Major Life, chap. 14: I, in Omnibus, 73 7.

Ibid., chap. 12:1, in Omnibus, 721.

Thomas of Celano, The Second Life of St. Francis, ch. 115: 155, in Omnibus, 486.

"Rule of 1221," chap. 17:3, in Brady, 77.

Bonaventure, Major Life, chap. 11: I, in Omnibus, 711.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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