Francis of Assisi & Addiction
Francis of Assisi is known now for his love of all of God’s creation, his desire to rebuild and restore the church, his humble life, rooted in poverty, chastity and obedience, but that wasn’t always Francis’ way. He was, in fact, quite the rabble rouser as a youth. Son of a wealthy merchant, he spent many years living a prideful life, not giving much thought about God, charity, or faith.
One could even hazard a
guess that if St. Francis were alive today, he might have struggled with
addiction of some kind.
St. Francis and his
teachings reflect some key aspects of meaningful recovery from addiction. We
can learn much from this revered Saint about renewal and rebuilding – the very
things we are often called upon to do in the course of our recovery.
Let’s take a closer
look at some of St. Francis’ teachings and how we can use them to support our
Simply. Francis took on a vow of poverty – quite the change of gears for the
son of a wealthy merchant. Francis renounced his worldly possessions – and his
Does this mean we have
to get rid of everything we have to secure our recovery? No! The lesson here is
that we don’t have to burden ourselves with concerns of the world. That’s the
key: burden. When we take on too much – be it possessions or responsibility –
it can become a burden – something we have to carry with us, and something than
can slow us or even drag us down.
The important thing to
remember is we do have duties and responsibilities – they are unavoidable. But
when these things start to take over our focus – when they block our forward
vision – they become a burden. This is where Francis’s teaching about
simplifying life comes in.
When things become so
complex that we expend energy – physical, emotional, or spiritual – to keep
track of the various threads of our life, it’s time to assess where we can
reduce the number of threads – or even better, weave them into a single, simple
cloth that doesn’t call on us to be distracted by complexities.
St. Francis teaches
that when we become burdened by possessions and complex plans and processes in
our lives, we are held captive by those very things. What will it take for you
to unburden yourself – of physical possessions and the overwhelming burdens of
life, while still finding balance and meeting your needs?
your Faith. It’s a well-known 12-step maxim that we can’t keep what we have
unless we give it away. In Francis’ time, this was a much different idea. Evangelizing was seen as part and parcel of
life in the Italian countryside. Church,
faith, religion was an intimate part of the fabric of daily life.
That is not so much the
case today, and people who outwardly evangelize are viewed a bit askance. There
is a famous quote attributed to Francis – “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary,
use words.” Francis may never have said
this – there is little evidence to suggest he would have said anything like
this, but the premise itself is sound.
When we live our best
lives, when progress becomes evident in our journey, we are giving subtle, yet tangible,
signs of our commitment to a life of faith. How others respond to our good life
is up to them. We shared our success, our joy, our happiness. We shared how we
got here. It is now in the other person’s hand to do with how they choose.
We don’t have to go to
the lengths that Francis did to spread the Good News… There is an account of
Francis, during the Crusades, that is a powerful testament to how far our
beloved Saint would go to spread his Faith.
It is known that St.
Francis went behind enemy lines during the Crusades to preach to the Sultan of
Egypt. The accounts vary on how the Sultan reacted, but one thing is certain, Francis
was there, preaching the Faith which he loved.
That is what we are called
upon to do as people of faith and people in recovery: Share what we have. We can share it by our
actions, by our words, by any expression that suits us. When we reach out to
addicts still suffering, we are taking a step like Francis, reaching out beyond
our own safe haven in recovery, stepping into a dangerous zone and giving of
ourselves – out of love and faith.
Love. Love can come in many forms. But whatever form it takes, love is a
conscious decision we make. Rather than define love or label it, I will let a
story – one of many – about St. Francis showing what love is.
Francis was riding his
horse through the countryside. He came upon a leper. The leper did not smell
good – in fact, one of the early versions of this story said the smell coming
off the leper was “revolting.” But Francis got off his horse, walked up to the
man and gave him the kiss of peace.
Our call is to love. That
is the message of Jesus and that is what Francis is demonstrating in this
story. Love can manifest itself in countless ways, from kinship love, to the
love two friends share, to romantic love to love that cannot be described, but
is felt and known. We can decide to love by sharing a hug or a kind word. We
also love when we challenge another to do better, to change their ways from
something harmful, like addiction.
By making the decision
to love, we are also making the decision not judge, not to separate the other. We
are making the decision to treat a person with respect, with kindness, with
integrity. St. Francis, in his Rule, calls upon us to love “with all of our
power, with every effort, every affection, every emotion, every desire, and
Letting go of our
resentments, letting go of judgment, letting go of all manner of barriers are
cornerstones of recovery. St. Francis teaches us that when we love fully, there
is no room for these things – the things that draw us away from authentic love.
4. Prayer and Relationships. St. Francis would not have the legacy he has today without developing a profound prayer life and commitment to God. Today, we might call this “conscious contact with God as we understand God.” No matter where you are in your journey, God calls us to deepen our relationship with God. How we answer, if we answer at all, is the key.
Through prayer, Francis
was told by God not to fight in the Crusades. Francis heeded this and did not
go. Imagine for a minute if he had ignored God and went to fight. We may not
even be having this conversation. I might be sharing this as a Dominican or
some other order that came about because Francis made the choice to not listen.
But our beloved Saint did listen, and we have nearly a thousand years of
Franciscan teachings to guide our lives; the benefit of being open to listening
The source and
sustenance of our recovery is the God of our understanding. I heard it taught
once that God ought to be referred to in a way that gives us comfort, that
reflects the love and grace of the Deity. If you have a terrible relationship
with your father, maybe referring to God as “Father” is not the best way for
you to seek connection and contact with God. If you have been subjugated or
oppressed, perhaps referring to the Deity as “Lord” may not feel right or safe
God is, after all, our
protector, our refuge. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope
and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) But it is only after we place our trust in the
God of our understanding. St. Paul, in writing to the Colossians reminds us
that God permeates all of creation - every idea, perception and thought. This
is precisely the reason we can rely on conscious contact with the God of our
Recovery is not easy. We make changes that are not easy. We come from a
place entrenched in the habituation of addiction. And we climb out of that
trench – and like Francis rebuilding the chapel at San Damiano, that trench
becomes the place where we build our foundation.
I hope that your foundation is built up a little more today, that through the Grace of God in the Merit of St. Francis, you find something here that you can take away, that will help you live your life – sober, happy, at peace.
Fr. Dylan Littlefield, CFA