Pope Benedict has spoken several times of the beauty of Franciscan spirituality. He sees the essence of this Gospel vision as captured in the life of St Francis.
“It has been said that Francis represents an alter Christus, he was truly a living icon of Christ. He was even called ‘Jesus’ brother.’ Indeed, this was his ideal: to be like Jesus; to contemplate the Christ of the Gospel, to love him intensely and to imitate his virtues. In particular, he wished to give a fundamental value to interior and exterior poverty, teaching it also to his spiritual sons. The first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount — blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3) -found a luminous fulfillment in the life and in the words of St. Francis.
The saints are the best interpreters of the Bible; they, incarnating in their lives the Word of God, render it more than attractive, so that it really speaks to us. Francis’ witness, who loved poverty to follow Christ with dedication and total liberty, continues to be also for us an invitation to cultivate interior poverty to grow in trust of God, uniting also a sober lifestyle and detachment from material goods.
From the love of Christ is born love of people and also of all God’s creatures. Here is another characteristic trait of Francis’ spirituality: the sense of universal fraternity and love for Creation, which inspired his famous Canticle of Creatures. It is a very timely message. The only sustainable development is one that respects creation and does not damage the environment, the building of a solid peace is linked to respect for creation. Francis reminds us that in creation is displayed the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator. In fact, nature is understood by him as a language in which God speaks with us, in which reality becomes transparent and we can speak of God and with God.
Francis was a great saint and a joyful man. His simplicity, his humility, his faith, his love of Christ, his kindness to every man and woman made him happy in every situation. In fact, between sanctity and joy there subsists a profound and indissoluble relation. A French writer said that there is only one sadness in the world: that of not being saints, that is, of not being close to God. Looking at St. Francis’ witness, we understand that this is the secret of true happiness: to become saints, close to God!”