A few years ago friars from Killarney were invited to preach at Sunday Masses in a rural parish in County Cork, and to return a few days later to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance with the people of the parish. I think it is fair to say that we friars were not well known in that particular parish and as we walked from the car park towards the church we caused a bit of a stir! We were met on our way by a group of puzzled and slightly giddy teenagers. Seeing this band of three friars, dressed in brown habits, tied around the waist with a cord, and with sandals on our feet, one of the group asked half-joking ‘who are you supposed to be?’ The late Fr. Philip Deane had an immediate answer: ‘we’re supposed to be ourselves!’

His answer was a bit tongue in cheek, as was the question! But it is a very good answer, and a very Franciscan answer. One of the early Franciscan saints and scholars, Blessed John Duns Scotus developed an insight called haecceity (literally ‘this-ness’ in Latin). Drawing on his Franciscan intuition Blessed John taught that we are not merely copies of one another, we are not even copies of some ideal human being.

Each one of us is a unique, once ever, creation.

As Pope Benedict XVI said each one of us is the result of a thought of God. Think of it this way: You look at a tree, or a stone, or a new-born lamb taking its first faltering steps. According to the thought of Blessed John Duns Scotus each tree, each stone, each new-born lamb is praising God precisely by being this individual tree, or stone, or lamb. When we lose our focus on the haecceity or ‘this-ness’ we tend to trees, or stones, or lambs, or people, in the round. Their differences and individuality tends to withdraw into the background and they all become ‘types’ of the same thing.

That may be how we see them, but according to Blessed John, that is not how God sees them! This tree, bending a little too much over the road, with gnarled, speckled bark of different shades of brown is giving God perfect praise just by being itself! This stone, with its smooth surface from being rubbed along a river bed for centuries, is praising God, just by being this stone! That little lamb, taking its first clumsy steps, making its first high-pitched bleat, is declaring God’s glory in its own perfectly unique way!

God didn’t mass produce creation!

Everything in creation has its own particular beauty and its own particular way to give glory to God. This should make us think twice about the time we waste envying one another, and provoking one another to envy. Once I find myself envious I know that I have lost sight of the glorious, God-given, this-ness of who I am. Who are you supposed to be? It is obvious; you are supposed to be you! While a tree, or a stone, or new-born lamb have no problem being themselves, it is different for human beings.

Made in God’s image and likeness, our true selves are hidden in Christ, the New Adam. God’s Only Son came to show us who we are, and to help us to become ourselves fully. It might sound strange but we will never be our true selves until we encounter Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and come to know Him and love Him as the Father’s greatest gift to creation.

It is through Jesus that we are set free to be who we’re supposed to be.

At the beginning of his journey St. Francis prayed: ‘Who are you Lord, and who am I?’ St. Francis came to see that the more God reveals Godself to us, the more we come to know who we really are, who we are supposed to be. Our true selves are hidden in Christ, waiting for us (Col 3: 1-11). We don’t become who we are supposed to be through envy and competition. We relax, more and more, into our true selves when we begin to realise that we are loved unconditionally for who we are.

So, try looking with a loving regard and a sense of wonder at that tree, at that stone, at that new-born lamb; each one praising God.  And as you consider these, consider that you too are loved by God for being you.

If you are interested in the Franciscan way of life please contact:

Friar Liam Kelly OFM
Phone:  087 396 0262 
Email: irishfranciscansofm@gmail.com 
Postal address: Franciscan Friary, Ennis, Co Clare.