by Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Structural and Personal Freedom
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Francis and Clare of Assisi were not so much prophets by what they said as in the radical, system-critiquing way that they lived their lives. They found both their inner and outer freedom by structurally living on the edge of the inside of church and society. Too often people seek either inner freedom or mere outer freedom, but seldom—in my opinion—do people seek and find both. Francis and Clare did.
Their agenda for justice was the most foundational and undercutting of all others: a very simple lifestyle outside the system of production and consumption (the real meaning of the vow of poverty), plus a conscious identification with the marginalized of society (the communion of saints pushed to its outer edge). In this position, you do not “do” acts of peace and justice as much as your life is itself peace and justice. You take your small and sufficient place in the great and grand scheme of God.
By “living on the edge of the inside” I mean building on the solid Tradition (“from the inside”) from a new and creative stance where you cannot be co-opted for purposes of security, possessions, or the illusions of power (“on the edge”). Francis and Clare placed themselves outside the social and ecclesiastical system. Francis was not a priest, nor were Franciscan men to pursue priesthood in the early years of the order. Theirs was not a spirituality of earning or seeking worthiness, career, church status, moral one-upmanship, or divine favor (which they knew they already had).
Within their chosen structural freedom, Francis and Clare also found personal, mental, and emotional freedom. They were free from negativity and ego. Such liberation is full Gospel freedom.
Today, most of us try to find personal and individual freedom even as we remain inside of structural boxes and a system of consumption that we are then unable or unwilling to critique. Our mortgages, luxuries, and privileged lifestyles control our whole future. Whoever is paying our bills and giving us security and status determines what we can and cannot say or even think. Self-serving institutions that give us our security, status, or identity are considered “too big to fail” and are invariably beyond judgment from the vast majority of people. Evil can hide in systems much more readily than in individuals. 
When Jesus and John’s Gospel used the term “the world,” they did not mean the earth, creation, or civilization, which Jesus clearly came to love and save (see John 12:47). They were referring to idolatrous systems and institutions that are invariably self-referential and “always passing away” (see 1 Corinthians 7:31). Francis and Clare showed us it is possible to change the system not by negative attacks (which tend to inflate the ego), but simply by quietly moving to the side and doing it better!
Gateway to Silence:
Live simply so that others may simply live.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 33-36.