At this stage, several weeks into the pandemic with who knows how many weeks yet to go, I find myself easily distracted. Despite my pensiveness, I can’t help but feel this time is full of opportunity. The practical secular in me thinks I should use this time to catch up on worldly things. But the capacious Franciscan in me sees it as a time for discovery. (It’s a never ending conflict. Will I ever reconcile the two?)
This morning, the Franciscan in me held sway. So I opened my Franciscan sources (Francis of Assisi: Early Documents) to do a little discovering. I looked up the word “Hope” in the Index and opened to the first page under the subheading “Christ.” I found myself in the The Life of St. Francis by Thomas Celano, The Second Book, Chapter VI. Francis is near the end, suffering from the stigmata and a serious disease of his eyes. The title of the chapter reads, in part, “The Way He (Francis) Decided to Live.”
“For nearly two years he endured these things with complete patience and humility, in all things giving thanks to God. But in order to be able to devote his attention to God more freely, he entrusted his own care to certain brothers, who with good reason were very dear to him. Thus he could more freely explore in frequent ecstasy of Spirit the blessed dwelling places of heaven, and, in the abundance of grace, stand in heavenly places before the gentle and serene Lord of all things.“
If I contract the virus, will this be my outlook? Will I endure it with “complete patience and humility?” Will I “give thanks to God in all things,” even my own suffering? Will I be able, in the midst of my distress, to “freely explore the blessed dwelling places of heaven in an ecstasy of Spirit?” Will I seek “abundance of grace” that I might “stand in heavenly places before the gentle and serene Lord of all things?”
I don’t know if I am up to it. The current uncertainty can’t help but make us aware of our mortality. Even if I avoid the virus, the time will come when I have to face what Francis faced. I think my distractedness is pointed at this. I am not ready, and perhaps this disruption in normal routine is manifesting itself to me as an invitation to gospel watchfulness and preparedness.
If I follow the lead of Francis in hardship, if I “devote my attention to God more freely” during this trying time, what will result? Celano, later in the chapter (quoted below), gives his answer, which I must admit, I find compelling! Victory over the enemy, true bravery, and the hope of eternal reward are the promised fruits of trusting in the example and intercession of our most holy father, Francis.
“With the Christ as leader, He (Francis ) resolved “to do great deeds.” And with weakening limbs and dying body, He hoped for victory over the enemy in a new struggle. True bravery knows no real limits of time for its hope of reward is eternal.“