The weekend just past has been something of a Francis fest. On Saturday I attended a gathering of Franciscans from across the west of Scotland for a commemoration of the transitus of St Francis at Blessed John Duns Scotus Church in the Gorbals. Although primarily a Roman Catholic event, the organizers kindly invited members of the TSSF to take part. And yesterday the TSSF held its own Francistide service at St Mary’s, Hamilton. In different ways, both events reminded me very strongly that when Francis founded the Order of Friars Minor and, later, the Third Order, he saw them as orders of penitents.
Penitence must be one of the most unfashionable words in the vocabulary of the Christian Church at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It conjures up images of people who dwell morbidly upon real or imagined wrongdoing in their past, who indulge in guilt trips or in self-flagellation (literal or metaphorical).
But genuine Christian penitence does not dwell on the past. On the contrary, it looks to the future; it focuses on the vision of God’s peaceable kingdom as presented by Jesus (and, for Franciscans, echoed in the life of Francis). And the penitent’s approach to that vision is neatly summed up by Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’