Let the whole of mankind tremble

by Francis of Assisi

English version by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP & Ignatius C. Brady, OFM
Original Language Italian

Let the whole of mankind tremble
     the whole world shake
     and the heavens exult
when Christ, the Son of the living God,
     is on the altar
     in the hands of a priest.
O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
That the Lord of the universe,
     God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself
that for our salvation
He hides Himself under the little form of bread!
Look, brothers, at the humility of God
and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves, as well,
     that you may be exalted by Him.
Therefore,
     hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves
so that
He Who gives Himself totally to you
     may receive you totally.

-- from Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality, Translated by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP / Translated by Ignatius C. Brady, OFM

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This poem by St. Francis of Assisi is a beautiful exploration on the power of "sublime humility" and "humble sublimity" -- the mystic's path of being completely naked and present to the Divine.

..hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves...

But, of course, this is fundamentally a meditation on the bread of communion, which is understood to be the flesh of Christ during the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist. When the communion wafer is on the altar and in the hands of the priest, it is Christ who is present on the altar and in the hands of the priest. This is why St. Francis speaks of Christ as humbling himself, becoming simple bread for the faithful to consume. If "the Lord of the universe... so humbles Himself" then it is an example for the faithful to follow, in utter humility to offer oneself up in harmony with God for the needs of humanity.

When the deep mystic follows this practice what is lost is the ego-self. And what is gained is an "exalted" selfless sense of self, an inexplicably boundless self that resides outside of time and beyond physicality.

But why the bread in the first place? Why, during the Last Supper described in the Christian Gospels, does Jesus exhort his disciples to eat the bread he gives them as if it was his flesh? Why such a gruesome metaphor?

Think of it this way: The food we eat is the most tangible exchange we make with our environment. Our food is what most immediately connects us with the physical world around us. When you take in food, you temporarily negate the illusion of separation between your body and the rest of existence. Food is a breach of the boundary where we normally perceive separation to begin.

In other words, food is communion. It is an affirmation of interconnection and unity with our environment. What we take in becomes, in a very visceral way, a part of us. And we increasingly become composed of it. Remember the common saying, You are what you eat.

So when Christ tells his followers that, if they don't eat his flesh in the form of the sanctified bread they have no connection with him, he is saying that his essence must be taken into their being in the way that food is taken into the body. Divine substance must be taken in so that it becomes a part of us, and we a part of it. Our thoughts, feelings, our very cells, our total identity must be built of that divine substance -- until finally no boundary is seen between one's individual being and the eternal Being which sustains us. That is holy communion.

I hope it's obvious that you don't have to be a Catholic or a Christian to commune with the Divine in this way. Similar esoteric principles are found, with greater or lesser emphasis, in all world traditions, such as Hindu traditions of prasad. Food is inherently communion with the physical world. It just requires that you peer a little deeper to recognize the more sublime communion with the wider reality, as well.

Something to chew on...



Recommended Books: Francis of Assisi

Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West
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