On Franciscan Peace, the Introduction

Relief of Dove with Olive Branch from St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

“May the Lord Give you Peace!”

It’s now just a little over two months since this blog was launched.  The content of the posts has varied greatly, but it is important to keep in mind that one driving force behind this website is the provision of formation materials for Secular Franciscans.  As the introduction to the initial podcast about the site suggests, the underlying belief is that the Franciscan charism has something to offer the entire world, not just those who have made the commitment to profession.  The hope is that anyone who finds their way here will find something worthwhile, but that SFOs will find the content particularly useful.

So ever since the blog opened, I have been looking to start a second (and soon after, a third and a fourth) formation series to complement the Journey thru John series that is already being steadily published.  As I was editing and posting the second entry from website contributor Bill Schmitt, Let’s Talk About Communicating Better, I began to think that he was hinting at something that had the potential to be developed for formation.

When I edited the third post from Bill, I was sure that a topic for a series was inherent in what he was writing.  I found that the word “peace” seemed to fit in almost every paragraph Bill had written even if he was not using it that often.  So, I began to add “peace” in where it made sense to me and, when I was done, I wound up giving the post the title “On Peaceful Communication.”

Although this is the formal introduction to a new formation series on the centrality of “peace” in the Franciscan charism, these two posts from Bill are really the inspiration.  

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The timing of the launch of this series is propitious, but unfortunately not in a good way.  As I write the country is suffering through riots in many major cities after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota.  The death was unacceptable and senseless.  It never should have happened.  Protests are a reasonable and even necessary response.  But the protests can quickly become unacceptable themselves if they become violent.  The burning of cars, the destruction of property and the looting of businesses are also senseless and they do great damage to the cause of the protesters by giving cover to those who would like to change the narrative away from the tragedy of Mr. Floyd’s death.

The thing that seems to be missing in both the initial incident and in portions of the response is peace.  We often use the term “peace officer” as a synonym for policeman, but peace was definitely not at the forefront of the thoughts (or the training?) of those officers responsible for the death of Mr. Floyd.  Likewise, the protests do not have peace as a goal or guiding principle when they turn toward violence and criminality.  To the extent that both sides have acted separate from peace, they contribute to stereotypes that feed an unease that makes the problem feel uncurable. 

African Americans feel more and more afraid of the police, and rightly so.  Police find themselves backed into no-win corners where, on the one hand, they are publicly decrying what happened to Mr. Floyd, while, on the other hand, they find themselves required to enforce law and order in an atmosphere where opportunists can easily turn even the proper execution of their duties into accusations that have the potential to dramatically escalate the situation.  They too find fear to be a major factor in calculating how to execute their day to day lives. 

The only thing for certain is that we are all losing.

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The polarization that Bill writes about in his articles is front and center in what is happening.  Commentators continue to use polarization as a tool to further entrench the power bases that feed their worldly influence.  Politicians can be willfully complicit in the polarization if they expect to gain political ground, or they may simply be blinded or paralyzed by the polarization, afraid to act boldly from the middle ground that a call to peace from both sides might represent.  Either way, the polarization seems to make it impossible for opposite sides to act in concert even if the greater good would obviously be best served if all could find the will to cooperate.   

What would the outcome be if Donald Trump and Joe Biden, or Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, or even Barack Obama and George W. Bush would agree to set aside their differences and stand together to speak against the lack of peace on both sides of this incident? 

Do we think that such an approach has even occurred to anyone in power at the moment?  Is peace important enough to lay aside the politics of division long enough to address this crisis as it begs for the country to come together for a unified solution?  Or is the polarization of politics and the nation itself so deeply embedded, so utterly internalized, that cooperation on the issue is not even on the radar of any powerful force in the entire country?

If peace is not a priority and seemingly not even possible at the highest levels of leadership, at the places where examples of good will ought to be given and expectations of peaceful fellowship ought to be set, is peace possible at any level in our society?

Who has the ability, depth and courage to call for peace in this situation and be heard and respected?  Who can call us back from the quagmire of polarization into a place where differences can be calmly contemplated with an eye toward compromise?  Who even wants to take us to a locality of tranquility where we can converse without the escalation of fear being the primary motivation in our discourse?

Unfortunately, I do not have the answer to my questions.  I do not have a cure all that can bring us back swiftly from the place we find ourselves.  But, like Bill, I do believe that the Catholic Church and the Franciscan charism has “something to say” about these issues.

And I believe that “something to say” starts with the word “peace” and what the Franciscan charism means when it uses that word.

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In Chapter Eight of The Legend of the Three Companions, we get an introduction to St. Francis’ approach to peace.  Perhaps this can serve as the starting point where we can begin to discover what that “something to say” entails.  

As he later testified, he learned a greeting of this sort by the Lord’s revelation: “May the Lord give you peace!” Therefore, in all his preaching, he greeted the people at the beginning of his sermon with a proclamation of peace.

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Immediately, therefore, filled with the spirit of the prophets, the man of God, Francis, after that greeting, proclaimed peace, preached salvation, and, according to a prophetic passage, by his salutary admonitions, brought to true peace many who had previously lived at odds with Christ and far from salvation.

As both the truth of blessed Francis’ simple teaching as well as that of his life became known to many, two years after his conversion, some men began to be moved to do penance by his example and, leaving all things, they joined him in holy life and habit.  The first of these was Brother Bernard of holy memory.

The word “testified” in the first sentence is a direct reference to Francis’ own words in The Testament:

“The Lord revealed a greeting to me that we should say, “May the Lord give you peace.”  

The actual phrase “May the Lord give you peace” is accompanied by two citations in the text.  The first is from the Old Testament, the Book of Numbers, Chapter 6, verses 22:26.  This is The Priestly Blessing and it is very familiar to Secular Franciscans as it is the final blessing that is used in our Ritual to close our fraternity and council meetings:  

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’

The second citation is from 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 3, verse 16.  This is from the final greeting, the closing, of Paul’s letter:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

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As we might expect, St. Francis is firmly grounded in scripture in his use of this phrase.  I would like to suggest that the Catholic Church has the capacity to be the answer to my question. The Pope should be someone “who has the ability, depth and courage to call for peace in this situation and be heard and respected.”  He might very well have the ability, depth and courage.  But, in part due to the efforts of polarization itself, he may not have the ability to be heard and respected.  This does not mean that he should not speak and speak often on the topic.  But it does mean that the message of peace will also need to be carried forth on other fronts.  Given the current climate, the message might only be effective if it comes from the ground up anyway.  

As a Secular Franciscan interested in living out my profession actively in the world, the Rule, in Article 15, calls me specifically to “be in the forefront in promoting justice by the testimony of my human life and my courageous initiatives.”  I must attempt to find a way to bring the values I am continually learning from my spiritual father Francis to bear on the state of the world today.  In this instance, like Francis above, I am summoned to bring peace to the forefront of every conversation and interaction I have with my fellow man.  Peace must head my basic approach to the world.

So my answer is to initiate this new formation series entitled “On Franciscan Peace.”

That title is an ambitious one and is certainly beyond my ability and expertise.  I do not profess to have the wherewithal to be your teacher, guide and authority on this topic as it unfolds.  I will chime in where it seems appropriate, but for this effort to be truly successful, it will require many voices to come together in a peaceful conversation about the topic of peace itself.    

To this end, I have asked Bill to host podcasts with many different guests as the primary presentation format for this formation series.  As we experiment with the idea of doing ongoing formation in a podcast format, we will seek to bring varied and diverse voices to bear in order to hone in on just what the word peace means in a Franciscan context.  The first podcast featuring Bill and Sister Agnes Marie is already recorded and it will be the next post on this site.

There will also be written entries in this series.  We would be very excited to have guest contributors share their thoughts on peace within the Franciscan charism and how Franciscans might lead the way toward a harmonious future for this precious Creation of our God that is currently so troubled.

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I want to share with you how difficult I found it to write about the George Floyd situation.  I had to write, and rewrite, and rewrite and I am still not sure that I have written in a truly peaceful manner.  I am far from immune to the impact that the polarization of the world has had on all of us even at the subconscious level.  I hope that what I wrote about the opposing sides of this issue was truly peaceful and helpful and not further polarizing.   

African Americans are deeply injured by what has happened and continues to happen in our society.  But many good-hearted policemen who want to do the right thing are also injured by the fallout of what their fellows have done.  This means this topic of peace requires an extreme measure of humility as it is addressed.  It will be a challenge to all who engage in this discussion, whether as a contributor, a guest, or even someone who simply leaves a comment on a post, to be aware of and sympathetic to perspectives on all sides of the topic. 

Peace requires me to place others before myself.  It does not seek to dominate others, but to accommodate and embrace them first as beings created by the same Creator who created me.  God loves every other person on the planet just as much as He loves me.  This places us in a state of equality that is simply unassailable.  Yes, we must come to the discussion of peace with ideas about what the word means if our engagement is to be meaningful, but we must also approach the discussion with an acknowledgment of our own humanity and therefore our own fallibility.  We must be honest with ourselves, always examining our own conscience, if we are to respectfully approach our fellows, even our fellows who are inclined to oppose us, from a position of scrupulousness and unpretentiousness. 

To quote Article 13 of the Rule, we must “accept all people as a gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.”  This is most especially relevant when the person we are dealing with disagrees with us and is not inclined to extend us the same courtesy.

We must be humble enough to offer peace continually even if the person we have encountered does not seem to be seeking it.

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In closing, I want to call closer attention to the final paragraph from the initial quote from The Legend of the Three Companions.

Note first that it was not only Francis’s preaching on penance and peace that led to the conversion of many, but also “the truth of his life.”  As Franciscans we like to say, “preach always, if necessary, use words.”  Our example is every bit as important as our words as we seek to extend a message of peace into the world.  We must “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk” if we have any hope of success of influencing even one person.

Note also that it took two years of preaching and good example before the first convert, “Brother Bernard of holy memory,” joined Francis in his way of life.  Francis must have had many days when he wondered if he was having any impact at all.  We will no doubt experience the same.  We deliberately operate from a position of minority.  As such, we do not have platforms that reach masses of people as do those who seek to promote polarization.  But we do have platforms such as this and we must make use of them no matter how small our audience seems, believing that we are working at the behest of God and Jesus just as Francis did.  Our work is for their glory, not ours, and They will make of our work what They will. 

Like Francis, we must persevere in steadfast patience with our messaging.  And if, in two years, we have made just one convert to the Franciscan charism of peace, we can be happy to join the esteemed company of St. Francis on his timeline.  And we can hope that just as his efforts blossomed into a worldwide movement that we feel privileged to participate in 800 years later, so to will God make our efforts blossom in His own way and time according to His Will.

Consider how you might follow Francis’ example as you move through the world.  How could you start every encounter you have with a proclamation of peace, be it by using the same words as Francis, or in some other manner?  Is that the very first step you could take in elevating the status of peace in the world?

It is two days past Pentecost.  We have just been reminded that, while we may not have access to mass media platforms, we do have access to a powerful Advocate of our own. 

We should confidently pray to the Holy Spirit in the sure hope that our prayers will be answered according to His Will.  If our work is truly His bidding, it will be successful in His time whether we realize it or not.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your divine love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be recreated and you shall renew the face of the earth.”

Journey thru John, Chapter 8: Freedom and Love

Jesus Speaks Near the Treasury, James Tissot (between 1886 and 1894)

This entire chapter is a direct continuation of the previous chapter.  It is the next day and Jesus is once again teaching in the temple courts.  Stay in the scene and watch the various exchanges between Jesus and the Jews.  Continue your process of discernment about the message Jesus is conveying.  If He is taking two full chapters to talk about it, it must be important, right?

In verse 23 Jesus says:

“You are from below.  I am from above.  You are of this world.  I am not of this world.” 

The lessons from the last chapter about the “world” are continuing.  Leave the scene for a moment and refresh your memory about those lessons.  Now return to the temple and take a moment to observe your surroundings.  Then bring your focus back to Jesus and allow the two chapters to build one upon the other as you listen to His words.

Reflect on verse 23 with last chapter’s understanding of the definition of the word “world” in mind. 

Then read verses 42 to 47 in the same context.  Jesus accuses the Jews of being “children of the devil.”  It’s a harsh accusation.  If you place yourself in the role of one of the Jews, you’re likely to find yourself quickly angered.  What is it about the Jews that makes them resistant to what Jesus is saying?  Why do they fight him instead of embracing truth, penance and conversion immediately?

Is Jesus justified in His accusation? Is the very fact that the Jews are so much “of the world” what gives the accusation weight?

Again I ask you, are you arrogant, or humble?

Does reading this chapter in this context help you to be more ready now to distance yourself from the “world” than you were last month?  Have you experienced some conversion in the intervening time?

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John Chapter 8, Verse 31-34:

To the Jews who had believed in him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free?”  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, anyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

It happens that this chapter falls to me to reflect upon at the beginning of the month of July.  Perhaps that is why I felt so drawn to the word free as I read the chapter.  As an American, belief in the pre-eminence of freedom/liberty comes (or ought to come) to me as second nature. 

My oldest son’s middle name is Jefferson.  His brother’s middle name is Madison.  When they were born, I was very interested in the ideals that the founders of my country believed in.  Over time, my primary focus turned toward religion (my third son’s middle name is Augustine as I was not a Franciscan yet), but that early interest in revolutionary history never left me completely.

I could never forget, for instance, these words from the beginning of the Declaration of Independence:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Without getting too political here, I would just call out the inherent folly in our current understanding and interpretation of the separation of Church and State.  If Jefferson intended the utter separation that he has since been accused of, how could he have possibly built the entire argument for independence on two very distinct references to the laws of nature’s God and the self-evident unalienable rights granted to us by our Creator with a capital C?

That said, however, I would also suggest that our understanding of freedom has become skewed in other significant ways.  These words and our entire political heritage do, for instance, seem to set us free to consume and indulge and self-aggrandize at any level we like.  Over consumption and indulgence and self-aggrandizement, when carried to the extremes they are now often carried to, earn a new name, sin. It is no accident that Jesus closely associates slavery with sin in His teaching on truth and freedom in these verses.  

We must always remember that freedom entails responsibility.  When responsibility is severed from freedom, true freedom becomes unsustainable.  It is replaced by a pernicious false freedom rooted in sin that resigns us to a veiled slavery that is difficult and inconvenient to acknowledge.  It is instructive that the Declaration starts with references to God as justification for freedom because it is only by reference to God that the responsibilities of true freedom can be discerned and carried out.    

When God is removed from the equation, the resulting bondage is hard to see.  It wraps itself in the name of freedom and often we do not recognize that we have crossed the boundary and lost ourselves to the exact opposite of what we wanted.  Without detection we continue along never knowing that we forfeited what we thought we had due to our own shortsighted sinfulness. 

We find ourselves, just as the Jews in this chapter, bereft of freedom and slaves to sin without the wherewithal to recognize it.

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The SFO Rule itself actually contains the word free.  Because freedom is so often connected to politics, it’s not a concept that you would necessarily expect to find there, but Article 12 reads like this:

Witnessing to the good yet to come and obliged to acquire purity of heart because of the vocation they have embraced, they should set themselves free to love God and their brothers and sisters.

We’re supposed to love God and our brothers and sisters.  That’s pretty straightforward and uncontroversial. Try to read the instruction a little deeper.  Taken as a whole, the instruction is less straightforward.

Why is purity of heart mentioned at the same time as freedom?  There is no apparent link between these two ideas and yet they appear here together.

How exactly do I set myself free as the Rule suggests?  What actions must I take?

And what does freedom have to do with love?

The whole article is just this one sentence.  There are no further clarifications to be found.  I don’t know about you, but after thinking about it for a while, I feel like I need more information to know how to proceed.  I want to be pure of heart.  I want to be free.  I want to love God and my brothers and sisters.

But is it political freedom that is being discussed here?  If the result of freedom in America is the standard, the answer would seem to be no.  Americans might be nominally free, but they are often not particularly pure of heart and their love of God seems to have waned greatly in my lifetime.

The spiritual freedom that Jesus is talking about in the verse, the spiritual freedom that the rule is talking about, must be something else entirely.

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Let’s start with the first question.  How are purity of heart and freedom linked?

In the verse from Jesus, we see freedom and being a “slave to sin” juxtaposed against each other.  They are opposites.  It is also safe to say that we could juxtapose the phrases purity of heart and “slave to sin.”  Someone who is pure of heart would not be a “slave to sin” and vice versa.

Purity of heart and freedom become intimately linked and in some sense synonymous via this shared opposition to sin.  If “purity of heart” can be achieved, it seems freedom will be a fruit of the achievement. 

In Chapter 1 of the First Book of the Life of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano gives us a starting point.  He wants us to know who Francis was as his journey toward conversion began.  The chapter has this phrase as its heading: “How He Lived In The Clothing And Spirit Of The World.”

Here’s a couple selections from that first chapter that give a good indication of what that title means.  As you read them, you will quickly see that Celano is downright hostile to the “world” as Jesus used the word in the last chapter.

From the earliest years of his life his parents reared him (Francis) to arrogance in accordance with the vanity of the age.  And by long imitating their worthless life and character he himself was made more vain and arrogant.  A most wicked custom has been so thoroughly ingrained among those regarded as Christians, and this pernicious teaching has been so universally affirmed and prescribed, as though by public law that, as a result, they are eager to bring up their children from the very cradle too indulgently and carelessly.  

Note the word “indulgently.”  Is it all too familiar to you when you think about our own culture of freedom?  When I first typed this, I inadvertently typed the word “worldly” instead of the word worthless.  If I would have left the mistake, would you have found it out of context?  This is being written about Francis as a child more than 800 years ago.  But it could just as easily be written today and its meaning would suffer no dilution.

But when they begin to enter the gates of adolescence, what sort of individuals do you imagine they become?  Then without question, flowing on the tide of every kind of debauchery, since they are permitted to fulfill everything they desire, they surrendered themselves with all their energy to the service of outrageous conduct.  For having become slaves of sin ……

What Celano has done for us here is link in no uncertain terms the idea that being a “slave to sin” is the same as being devoted to worldliness in the worst possible way, the way that we hopefully rejected in the last chapter.

In Celano’s link we also see the continuity of Jesus’ teaching in these two chapters.  Jesus tells us in chapter 7 that the world hates Him, clearly a sinful action.  And then in chapter 8, as He continues the teaching, the link between “worldliness” and sinfulness is expounded upon and established even more definitively by the use of phrases like “slave to sin” and “children of the devil.”

Again, we can take comfort in the fact that Francis begins as one of us.  Just as the Jews in this chapter, just as me in my current circumstance (and you in yours?), Francis starts as a “slave to sin.”  Our comfort comes from the knowledge that if we can successfully embrace the example of Francis, we have a chance to be set free and leave that status behind. 

In Celano’s text, the words “slaves of sin” are in italics, which indicates that they are taken directly from scripture.  The reference is to Romans 6:20 but it could just as easily have been to our verses from Chapter 8 of the gospel of John. 

One can imagine that Francis read chapter 6 of Romans early in his conversion process and took inspiration from it.  We can do the same, because it holds out the possibility of a happy ending.  Here are verses 20-22.

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?  Those things result in death!  But now you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

Francis managed to fulfill these words from Romans.  He rejected the world as presented to him in his youth and in so doing also rejected being a slave to sin.  That rejection of the world, to use Paul’s words, set him free from sin and placed him on the path to holiness, sainthood and eternal life.

In other words, he obtained “purity of heart” and he gives us hope that we can do the same and thereby fulfill what the beginning of this article of the Rule is asking us to strive for.

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But how did he do it?  What action did Francis take to set himself free?

Recall again the end of the reflection on the last chapter, in particular the actionable steps on leaving the “world” that Francis modeled.

  • Wholeheartedly embrace penance.
  • Desperately long for conversion.
  • Mindfully live Poverty by leaving “the world” and all yearning for power and possession behind.
  • Tightly cling to Jesus.
  • Faithfully serve God by discerning and doing His Will.

Concentrate for a moment on the third step and read this passage from chapter 6 of The Second Book of the Life of St. Francis by Celano:

Francis saw many (of his brothers) rushing for positions of authority.  Despising their arrogance, he strove by his own example to call them back from such sickness……He held it was appropriate for some to take care of souls as long as in this they sought nothing of their own will, but in all things constantly obeyed God’s will……He maintained it was dangerous to direct others and better to be directed, especially in these times when malice is growing so much and wickedness is increasing……That is why he grieved over those who now sank to the level of what was low and cheap, although once they had striven for higher things with all their desire.  They had abandoned true joy and were running here and there, wandering through the field of an empty freedom.

In this passage we can directly equate the “worldly” behavior of “rushing to authority,” the clear equivalent of desiring worldly power and possessions, to times when sinful malice and wickedness are growing.  Again, the words are just as current today as they were then.  The behavior that Francis clearly viewed as sinful then we will hopefully condemn as sinful now. 

As Jesus indicates in the verses, that sinfulness makes one a slave.  That slavery then blinds one to his or her actual condition.  We think we are free when in fact we are anything but.  Our freedom becomes “empty” just as Celano describes the loss of freedom by the brothers who succumbed to this sin in Francis’ time.

Francis rejected this yearning for power and possession by embracing Poverty.  It was Poverty that allowed him to obtain purity of heart and thus the type of true freedom that Jesus is talking about in the quoted verses from chapter 8.

This next passage must be read slowly.  It comes from The Versified Life of St. Francis by Henri d’Avranches. 

Strive we must therefore to give mastery to our better self and bring our worse self to heel, and compel, not the spirit to serve the flesh, but the flesh to render service to the spirit.

The body has five attendants, and in their desires, reason, most loyal partner of the soul, hardly shows interest. It is hers to raise our downcast consciousness, not to pamper the taste of the senses, but drawn along is the body by the rope of poverty.

Once it loses its turgid fleshiness and adopts the soul’s vigorous gait: Once it sets its course on interests celestial and is not bound for things of the earth. For there is a freedom in poverty that makes her the seat of frugality: She is the untroubled rest where virtues lie.  She does not sink under weighty worries, nor fear the hand of the thief, nor does she hunt for vanities.

Take your time and read it again.  It’s not easy to get the first time through.  Make sure you understand the definition of Poverty here, how it is known by the rejection of the body in favor of the spirit and by a turning to “interests celestial” as opposed to “things bound to the earth.” 

Think about the modern understanding of reason.  Would most people today accept reason as the “most loyal partner of the soul?”  If so, would they also accept the notion that reason’s function is to “raise our downcast consciousness” from a pampered emphasis on sensual “worldly” matters to a pure and free desire for the graces of a heavenly focus?  Do we currently accept that the aim of reason is to turn the body away from “turgid fleshiness” in order to liberate it so it can adopt the soul’s vigorous but so often thwarted desire to pursue spiritual concerns?

Poverty does involve a rejection of the vanity of the material world, a rejection of the pursuit of power and possessions.  But that rejection is not enough.  It must be paired with an unfettered positive embrace of things celestial and a resolute yearning for heavenly virtue and the freedom that citizenship in the Kingdom of God brings.

We are ultimately called to embrace the “freedom of poverty,” thereby obtaining the full measure of joy that a mature and focused relationship with Jesus and God can bring us.  

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Read the selected verses from Chapter 8 again. Read the list from the last chapter again. Note the call to “tightly cling to Jesus” in the fourth step, and then read again the words “If you hold to my teaching.”  Is the correlation obvious? 

Jesus in these verses has given us Himself as the starting point.  He has given us Himself as the Truth.  And He has promised that the Truth will set us free! He will set us free!

Read then the final and fifth step above.  Read again the passage about Francis and his brothers and note the correlation there. 

Francis wanted his brothers to embrace not their own will but the Will of God.  He preached Poverty to them because this is also an essence of Poverty.  When we reject our will and embrace God’s Will we have also set ourselves free.  Read the passage from Romans again and find that statement confirmed in the words “slaves to God.”

The final question is, set free for what purpose?

Go back to the Rule and read the last question to get the answer.

We must be free because without freedom we cannot love!  The purpose of Creation is the expansion of Love, but Love is only expanded when we choose to love God and our brothers and sisters in an atmosphere of true and complete freedom!

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Let me say it again for emphasis.

The purpose of Creation is the expansion of Love.

This article of the Rule is easy to overlook.  Its meaning does not jump out and in some way it feels like a platitude.  It’s nice to read and easy to agree to but on the surface it’s not that directly inspiring.

I implore you not to take it lightly.

We are made free for a very specific, very compelling reason.  Recognize that employing true freedom to radically love God and your brothers and sisters is the very essence of fulfilling the Will of God and become determined to learn, from the example of Francis, how to do it consistently and well through the grace of Holy Poverty.

If you believe Celano, you easily reach the conclusion that the gift and grace of freedom was abused in the time of Francis.  If you look at the “world” around us today, despite the freedom that we Americans were blessed with by our founders, you reach that same conclusion.  Freedom today is often used not to love God and neighbor, but for purposes of consumption and indulgence and self-aggrandizement that lead many to become slaves to sin.

As Franciscans, we are called to a better path.

  • Wholeheartedly embrace penance.
  • Desperately long for conversion.
  • Mindfully live Poverty by leaving “the world” and all yearning for power and possession behind.
  • Tightly cling to Jesus.
  • Faithfully serve God by discerning and doing His Will.

And then, based on John Chapter 8, you can add this:

Accept Jesus as the Truth that sets you free and then love God and neighbor with all your heart and all your soul, for that is the ultimate fulfillment of His Will, the ultimate revolutionary act for a “world” that so desperately needs a revolution.

Churches Awaiting the Joy After Lockdown: Many Happy Returns

As more Catholics resume physical attendance at Mass in areas where governors and bishops have issued policies easing COVID-19 lockdown rules, pastors and parish ministers around the country will carry many concerns with them when they open their church’s doors.

Their rigorous attention to practices and protocols, focused on keeping worshipers healthy, will be right and just—the unquestioned top priority for an endless string of planning meetings. But let’s hope the agenda will leave room for one thing alongside the technical factors on everybody’s mind, namely a factor to be celebrated and nourished in everybody’s heart: Parishioners walking through those doors will carry with them a gift for themselves, for their Church family, and for God, in the form of joy.

It might help to recall the visit to Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42, so long as we realize Jesus was encouraging and advising his hard-working host, not scolding her. Martha, “burdened with much serving,” griped about her sister’s sitting transfixed at Jesus’ feet, her distraction from details of hospitality. He responded, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”

It’s as if Jesus was talking to us about the anxiety and worry associated with the pandemic. As we return to Mass, we can, for at least that little while, chose and concentrate on the better part and simply sit in peace at the feet of Jesus for a time.

That wonderful scene displaying the two women’s compatible forms of relationship with the Lord can help a parish appreciate the multiple dimensions of this day of reopening. People may experience, to one degree or another, a delight of reunion after a period of sorrowful, painful separation. This will be one of the times when those being dutifully welcomed, securely assembled, and carefully distanced can minister to their ministers. We all silently sing, Hallelujah.

Some folks may not feel the electricity, partly because their minds are still trapped in tedious memories, with masks on and emotions off. But others will kneel with new reverence, or sigh as they look up at Christ on the cross, or smile at their favorite Blessed Mother statue. Receiving the Body of Christ will be climactic, quite different from lining up for bureaucratic check-ins or grocery store check-outs.

This is a great time for priests and pastoral staff members to accompany their people as they evangelize each other. Watch the Spirit bring a special gift to every soul. Just as profoundly, watch them embody the New Evangelization before Mass as passers-by observe them going to church. After Mass, hear them tell stories about how it felt to be back.

“If other people knew how many Catholics have spent time crying over not being able to go to Mass and receive the Eucharist, they would be impressed,” a friend remarked to me last week. We were discussing the news that the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend will allow the resumption of public Masses on May 23-24. May we all be impressed by sights of hunger and satiation, on that weekend or whenever.

Rev. Robert Garrow, pastor of Saint Anthony de Padua Parish in South Bend, witnessed to the dual significance of this time in a letter he sent to parishioners. He attached two pages reporting on the changes one would see—in the pews, at the ambo, etc.  He wrote about gradually “resuming our ordinary life” as a parish and moving toward “a more normalized schedule.” But to this rulebook motif he added more transcendent language, giving incarnational faith its due. He reflected on Communion as “a gift” to be anticipated: “What joy it will be to be able to come back together to show our veneration and love to God.”

This pent-up excitement seemed to set the stage for all ministers and parish members to be visionary. I wondered if someone in the Saint Anthony family might be moved to prepare a unique expression of happiness over this homecoming.

It occurred to me a family could bring to Mass a bouquet of flowers. Or a reasonable facsimile: A talented parishioner has previously posted the above free online art project that would yield crayon-colored paper flowers. Someone could bring a spiritual bouquet recalling acts of devotion performed for the Lord during self-isolation. Another returnee who typically wore tee-shirts might come dressed in his “Sunday best.”

The return to public Masses, after all,  will not be a time for show-off gestures. All the world is in a stance of humility, seeking healing after lockdown and obeying strict rules because we’re still vulnerable. But that need not preclude us Catholics from moments of spontaneous feelings  and romantic imagination. These are long-awaited blessings that must be shared with others—and affirmed by our ministers. The Lord wants the company of both Marthas and Marys. After a time of so much distancing, the joys of this reunion will not be taken from us.

Dancing in Heaven

Five Dancing Angels by Giovanni di Paolo (1436)

Hopefully, you will not find this too personal, but I am feeling a strong need (which will soon be clearer) to share it.

It’s Saturday morning.  I did not sleep well last night.  Sometimes this happens if I worked too hard physically the day before.  The soreness makes me restless and uncomfortable and we prepped and planted four beds in the vegetable garden yesterday.  It can also happen if I eat too much too late.  The nachos at 10:30 while we were watching The Voice finale is another possible culprit.

No matter how poorly I sleep, I always wake up at the same time.  This is a curse of getting older.  Sleeping-in no longer seems to be even possible.  The best I can hope for is a second sleep in the morning on days when my schedule allows.  If I am able to achieve that I typically wake up feeling refreshed.  So this morning I woke up at the usual time feeling exhausted and laid in bed a while, hoping I might fall back asleep.  When that didn’t happen, I grabbed the book off my nightstand and started reading, which will often help me get back to sleep.

Ever since reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien in the eighth grade, I have been a huge fan of the high fantasy genre.  I have a closet full of old paperbacks bought in used bookstores that have dozens of this style of story in them.  I am always looking for something new or re-reading something old.  This morning, I found myself at a compelling point in a new story (I’ll share an excerpt soon), so I did not fall asleep again.  But on the positive side, by the time I finished reading, I felt energized and positive.

I got up to get in the shower.  You need to know that the shower is a sort of spiritual cave for me.  I have a tendency to take very long showers.  My thoughts typically wander through many things spiritual and otherwise and I sometimes experience revelations while in the shower.  Yes, I believe that I receive epiphanies as the soothing hot water of a long shower pours over me.

In order to fully understand the rest of this, you also need to be aware that there has been some loss in my life recently.  A little more than two years ago, I lost my youngest son, age seventeen, in a car accident.  A little more than one year ago, I lost my sister, age forty three, to lung cancer.  And in the midst of that, my first spiritual advisor, Sister Gertrude Anne, also passed after a very full life.  I pray to all three of these people, along with my mother, who has been gone nearly twenty years, as part of my prayer routine in the morning.      

I have an Alexa device in the bathroom and I have assembled multiple playlists that I listen to depending on my mood.  Yesterday afternoon, I asked Alexa to play my playlist ………., hesitating before giving her a name.  She did not wait and started playing my “Current Country” playlist, which sounded good so I asked her to shuffle it again for me this morning.

(In my series Journey thru John, I often ask you to try and enter the scene.  A word of caution here about what follows.  Please don’t try that here.  I beg you, do not picture me dancing in the shower.  If you must, put yourself in my place and think about yourself dancing in the shower, assuming you do that on occasion.  If not, you should.  It’s very freeing and therapeutic.  You should also picture your own loved ones in place of mine, as I think that is part of the reason why this experience had to be shared.)

The music seemed especially powerful this morning and its positive energy was moving me.  I soon gave way completely and found myself bouncing and singing along to every song that came up.

And then this happened.

I saw my seventeen year old son Aidan smiling and dancing along with me.  To be more precise, he was laughing and I think it was as much at me as with me.  He was always a good natured kid, always quick with a smile, always quick to make fun of his dad when the opportunity presented itself.  His outlook was even a bit naïve.  He was still so very young and did not have enough experience in life for any jadedness to have taken hold.  He was laughing so hard, as was his wont, that it interrupted his dancing.

And then I saw my sister Christy with a huge smile on her face and she was dancing as well.  Not my sister at the end when she was drawn and thin and wearing a scarf over her head because of her hair loss.  Instead, she was the young and vibrant women in her twenties that did not smile as often as I would have liked, but, who, when you could coax it of her, had a smile that would light up a room and have you smiling right along with her whether you intended to or not.   

And then my mother was there.  She was dancing in a way I had never seen before.  It was if she had been young in the 1960s or 1970s, not the 1940s or 1950s.  While Aidan and Christy were mostly looking at me with mischievous gleams in their eyes, my mom seemed to be looking beyond all of us.  And it seemed that as she looked beyond, she saw something that gave her a great sense of contentment, and her smile intensified.  The pace of her dancing increased, and she glanced over at me sideways with her own gleam and then closed her eyes as she let the music carry her.  I was sure that her smile had somehow become permanent.  Something that had been amiss was no longer so.  Something that was unsettled was now finally settled and settled to her satisfaction. 

And then even Sister Gertude Anne was there, smiling and dancing.  She was still advanced in years, likely because that was the only way I knew her.  She started out sheepishly, seemingly embarrassed to be dancing in such an outlandish style, but her enthusiasm increased as the dance went on.  By the end, even if her movements were slower, she was also a fully gleaming participant caught up in the joy of the moment.

As this was unfolding, a realization hit me.  As I had prayed with each of these people in my morning prayer, I had images of them in my head.  But none of them were images of the type of joy that I was surrounded by in this moment.  There are pictures of my son, my sister and my Mom in my house.  They are smiling, often a little sheepishly and incompletely, certainly not with the freedom and joy that I saw in them now.  With Sister, I do not have a picture other than what is in my head, but it’s much the same.

Until now, I had not pictured any of them grinning unabashedly in the context of the joy of heaven, but now I was, and I knew that this was a true vision.  I knew these four persons who had impacted my life in such positive ways were actually dancing together in heaven.  And I could see in my mother’s reaction a turning point.  A transition where all was now as it should be.  Where the story, even if it is still unfolding, had found a moment of true peace and a spot where the hurt and pain of the recent past could be deposited and left to wither in the midst of a bright, hopeful future where any joyful possibility one could imagine could unfold. 

I found myself dancing and laughing and crying all at once.  And when it was over, as it had to eventually be, I found myself thankful and I found myself knowing right away that I had to share this experience.

Two last things I wish to add:

While I was reading, I encountered a passage in the story that left me in tears because of how powerful it was, and the thought came to me unbidden, “you could do that.”  I have dreamed of writing for a very long time.  I knew that I was called to it but “the world” always seem to be in the way.  Now I am even more certain of that call and I know I am in this for the long haul.  I think that contributed greatly to the positive energy I was feeling before I even turned the shower on.

I also recently made a comment on the blog Brandon’s Wisdom where I mentioned the loss of my son and sister.  When he thanked me for my comment, he thanked me for sharing of myself and my experiences.  I had been considering how to write back to him in order to express my opinion that this was how social media was meant to be used.  That the sharing I did and that he innocently acknowledged, if done widely, had the ability to have a long term positive, healing effect on a world sorely in need of it.   

I can’t help but think that this is how God would have the tools of social media used.  Not, as Bill Schmitt’s posts rue so effectively, for self-aggrandizement that so often relies on polarization and discord to achieve its goals. 

But instead to spread broad values like peace and unity through the sharing of experiences like this one even if, at first blush, they seem a little too personal, a little too risky, to place where they can be seen by anyone and everyone, completely out of one’s control. 

Journey thru John, Chapter 7: Defining the Word “World”

St. Francis by Albert Chevallier Taylor (1898)

Placing yourself in the scene for this chapter is perhaps especially important.  The tension between Jesus and the Jews is building throughout the chapter.  If you were a critic reviewing a novel, you would be congratulating the author on how superbly he uses this chapter to develop the main conflict of the story.

“The Jews were waiting to take his life.” 

“……the Jews were watching for him……”

“At this they tried to seize him.”

“……the Pharisees sent temple guards to try and arrest him.”

“Some wanted to seize him,……”

“You mean he has deceived you also?”

As the chapter unfolds, try and occupy each location.  Observe the attitude of the people toward Jesus.  Observe Jesus himself.  There is confusion surrounding Jesus.  Some give Him the benefit of the doubt.  Some do not and are quick to condemn Him.  What are their motivations?  Why are so many so prone to assume the worst?

Try and let go of what you know as an observer looking back from the future.  Watch Jesus in the moment.  Which side do you fall on?  Is He a prophet?  Is He the Christ?  What is your criteria?  Is your mind open, or closed?  Are you arrogant, or humble?

The context indicates that Jesus does not seem to fulfill the prophecies correctly because he comes from Galilee.  Is that a conclusive argument or do His works and His teaching leave you wondering?  Is there something you don’t know, a piece of the puzzle that you must be missing? 

Are you one who has made up his mind, or are you one who is still discerning?

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John Chapter 7, Verse 7:

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.”

Read the verse again.  Do you recognize something odd about it?  What does the word “world” mean in this verse?

As Franciscans, we view creation in an entirely positive light.  Article 18 of our Rule tells us to “strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.”  We believe the Creator is present in every aspect of His Creation.  Creation speaks to us about the nature of the Creator, about His Goodness and the Love that motivated His decision to create.  Because the Creator is present in His Creation, it would be sinful to exploit that Creation for our own purposes.  Kinship means that as we move through Creation and take what we need from it, we do so with an attitude of respect.  The Will of the Creator informs us as we interact with His Creation.

The word “world” is often used as a synonym for Creation in this context.  In everyday discussion we would be more likely to say “we move through the world with an attitude of respect” than “we move through Creation with an attitude of respect.” 

But when Jesus uses the word “world” in this verse, the context is surely changed.  He has given the “world” human qualities.  The “world” hates.  The “world” takes actions that are evil.  The Creation of article 18 of the Rule would be incapable of doing this.  It is solely positive.  Hate and evil are negative, alien to its nature. 

Something different is happening here.  The word “world” means something else entirely as Jesus has used it here.   

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Article 11 of the Rule says this:

Trusting in the father, Christ chose for himself a poor and humble life, even though he valued created things attentively and lovingly.  Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs.  Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God’s children.  Thus, in the Spirit of “the Beatitudes,” and as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the home of the father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.

First, note that a form of the word “Creation” appears here.  The response to Creation is consistent.  Jesus “values” and “loves” Creation.  

The word “world” does not appear, but a synonym for it does.  I had to read the Rule several times before it struck me.  If, like me, you did not catch it the first time through, I would invite you to read it again.

The word we are looking for is temporal.  Substitute the word “worldly” for the word “temporal” in the second sentence and we begin to get our first glimpse into the context in which Jesus used the word “world” in this verse. 

It’s a little unfortunate (at least for my purposes) that the word “temporal” is followed by the word “goods.”  I say that because, after reflecting on this verse, I think that the word “goods” unnecessarily limits our detachment.  But the good news is that our detachment is expanded by the end of the article.  I would suggest you insert the word “temporal” or “worldly” into that last sentence and read it like this:  “…… they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for worldly possession and power.”    

Now, perhaps, we begin to get a more complete understanding of where Jesus is coming from.  Goods still do not possess the ability to hate or be evil.  But men, when they yearn for possession and power, not only possess that ability but forcefully tend toward it.  The word “world,” as used by Jesus in this verse, has to be understood in reference to human beings and their sinfulness, particularly when that sinfulness is associated with the yearning for possession and power.

This article is actually a little odd on the surface.  There is the potential for contradiction in the instructions it gives us.  It asks us to value and love Creation.  We are expected to be attentive to it.  Clearly the impetus for a positive embrace of Creation as defined above is there.  But at the same time, we are also expected to move through Creation as pilgrims and strangers.  It is not our destination.  Our home is elsewhere, with the Father.  We are expected to keep a certain distance, a certain detachment.  Interaction with Creation in the wrong way can cause the need to purify our hearts.   

That potential for contradiction is resolved when a clear distinction between Creation and “world” is established.  Creation is understood in reference to God.  The “world,” as it is used by Jesus in this verse, is understood in reference to men and their capacity for sinfulness when respect for Creation is forgotten.

We are meant to embrace the goodness of God during our journey through Creation.  We are meant to reject the sin of the “world” during that same journey.

—————————-

This context for the word “world” is also apparent in the source materials on the life and history of St. Francis.  In fact, if you were to review Volume 4 of the Early Documents, the Index, you would find that nearly two full pages are devoted to the word “world” in the Index of Subjects.  Not all the references apply specifically to this context, but many do.

The opening paragraph of The Testament says this:

The Lord gave me, Brother Francis, thus to begin doing penance in this way:  for when I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers.  And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them.  And when I left them, what seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.  And afterwards I delayed a little and left the world.

When Francis says he “left the world,” does he mean that he left Creation?  Of course not.   His entire life from this point forward speaks to how much he valued and loved Creation. 

So, what does it mean then for him to say he “left the world?”  If he said instead that he “delayed a little and left behind all yearning for possession and power,” does that make more sense?  Of course it does, because that is exactly what he did. 

Note the overall Franciscan themes that are present.  As the prologue to the Rule says, we are called to be people who “produce worthy fruits of penance.”  Francis begins The Testament by using penance in the very first sentence.  As Seculars, we are asked to start our commitment with penance because that is exactly the starting point that Francis identified for his journey. 

Paragraph 7 of the Rule tells us to ”conform our thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls conversion.”  Francis relates his own profound experience of conversion as he tells us his “bitterness turned into sweetness.”    

This idea of leaving the “world” is distinctly tied to the greater Franciscan charism.  When we embrace penance, this leads to conversion, which leads to a leaving of the “world.”  The reason this is true is because leaving the “world” is an expression of the Spiritual Poverty that is at the very core of a Franciscan way of life.

In chapter one, I gave you the entire The Praise of Poverty, which is found in Celano’s The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, chapter 25.  Here is the beginning again, to the place where the word “world” occurs, which suits the needs of this chapter.

Placed in a vale of tears the blessed father scorned the usual riches of the children of men as no riches at all and, eager for higher status, with all his heart, he coveted poverty. Realizing that she was a close friend of the Son of God, but nowadays an outcast throughout the whole world, ……………..

Would it makes sense for Francis to be asserting that Poverty was an outcast throughout the entirety of Creation?  Again, of course not.  But it does make sense to say that Poverty is an outcast among men who have as their first concern a sinful “yearning for possession and power.”  Whenever the context endows the “world” with the ability to be hateful or evil, or whenever the context has to do with ‘leaving the world,” the words and ideas must be associated with the sinful acts of men who place “worldly concerns” before the Will of God (as revealed in part by His Creation) in their decision making process.

To let our will go in favor of God’s Will is the culmination of Franciscan Spiritual Poverty.  Remember that the goal of Francis (and thus our goal) is to draw as close to God as we can and to serve Him by doing his Will as ably as we can.  We do this first and foremost by setting our will aside while embracing His. 

There are multiple places where the documents put leaving the “world” exactly into this context.  Often, when the “world” is left behind it is associated with coming closer to God.

At the very end of Chapter 6 of The Anonymous of Perugia, we find this:

They were constantly rejoicing, for they had nothing that could disturb them.  The more they were separated from the world, the more they were united to God.  These men entered upon a narrow and rough trail.  They broke up the rocks, trampled down the thorns, and so have left us, their followers, a smooth path.

First there is Poverty, both in terms of goods and desires.  “They had nothing that could disturb them.”  This Poverty becomes synonymous with separation from the world.  Leaving the world is an embrace of Poverty which involves leaving behind the yearning for both power and possessions.  That separation from the world, that embrace of Poverty, then leads to unification with God.

The same theme occurs in chapter three of The Legend of the Three Companions

From that very hour he began to consider himself of little value and to despise those things which he had previously held in love.  Since he was not entirely detached from worldly vanities, this change was not yet perfect.  He retired for a short time from the tumult and business of the world and was anxious to keep Jesus Christ in his inmost self, and, after selling all he had, he desired to buy the pearl, concealing it from the eyes of mockers.

Francis is working on rejecting the things of the “world” he previously embraced.  He yearns to retire from the “world” to spend time with Jesus “in his inmost self.”  Note that Francis is in a state of transition here.  His imperfect detachment means imperfect conversion.  It’s heartening to me to know that his conversion took time.  I still have a chance. 

Do you see the equivalency between “selling all he had” and embracing poverty?  Do you recognize the pearl to be closeness to God?  Do you recognize the mockers as those sinful men of the world who yearn for power and possessions?

At the opening of chapter seven of The Legend of the Three Companions, directly after Francis strips himself naked in order to give even his clothes back to his earthly father (who expresses a certain yearning for worldly power and possessions in how he deals with his son), Francis is farther along.

Therefore, Francis, the servant of God, stripped of all that is of the world, is free for divine justice and, despising his own life, he gives himself to divine service in every way he can.

The embrace of poverty is complete.  “Stripped of all that is of the world,” he is therefore stripped of all yearning for power and possession.  The culmination of this path then is not just proximity to God, but the ability to love and serve God freely.  In an echo of the gospel call to give up one’s life in order to save it, “despising his own life” is understood to be the equivalent of a full embrace of Spiritual Poverty. 

Once again there is a bit of paradox.  We do not despise our creation.  Just as we value and love and respect Creation as a whole, we respect our own individual creation as the most astonishing act that a loving God could undertake.  We are grateful beyond measure for the life that God has graced us with.  What we despise is that part of our life that leads to separation from the loving God who created us.  We despise our tendency toward sin, our tendency to yearn for the power and possession that we now know as the definition of the word “world” as Jesus uses it in the verse we started with.

The trail through the Franciscan charism is a little clearer now.  Penance leads to conversion.  Conversion leads to leaving the “world.”  Leaving the “world” is an embrace of Poverty on both the material and Spiritual levels.  That Poverty leads to closeness with God.  That closeness empowers us in the battle to leave sin behind so that we might become more flawless servants of God.

But, of course, we are imperfect in fulfilling these steps.  We move back and forth, sometimes gaining, sometime losing, but hopefully always filled with a different kind of yearning, a yearning that is centered on becoming more like Jesus and more like Francis.  The yearning for worldly power and possession is replaced by a yearning for perfect and complete Poverty so that we might do His Will as completely as we possibly can.

—————————

Go back to the scene, but this time, instead of trying to forget the future and dwell in the past, do the opposite.  Bring the scene into the current culture that we live in.  Read the quotes again.  Can you hear them being spoken now?  Read the verse from Jesus again.  Can you hear Him speaking now?

Does the confusion about Jesus still exist today?  Are there still many people trying to decide if He is a prophet, or the Christ, or someone who should be arrested and put to death?

Are the Jews who wanted to reject and arrest Him still essentially present today in different guise?

Does “the world” still hate Jesus today?  Is Jesus still testifying today that “those who yearn for worldly power and possessions” are doing evil?  

I asked if your approach to answering the questions from the scene would be open or close minded, if you would be arrogant or humble.  I would guess that you knew the right answers to those questions when I asked them.  We have to be open minded and humble when we approach these kind of questions.  There is always more for us to know, more for us to discern. 

But did you understand that the questions were not hypothetical?  They weren’t being asked about a situation from ancient history.  That situation is present to us today and we have to decide how to react to it now, in our lives.

Just as those questions are current now, they were also current at the time of Francis.  Maybe he didn’t address them consciously, but he did address them in “the religion” that he established.  His way of life was a proper response for him then and it is a proper response for us now.

What are we to do?

To recap one final time in closing:

As Franciscans, our charism calls on us to reply to this never ending tension between “world” and Creation and the Will of God by following the example of our Father Francis, who in turn was following the example of Jesus.  We should:

  • Wholeheartedly embrace penance.
  • Desperately long for conversion.
  • Mindfully live Poverty by leaving “the world” and all yearning for power and possession behind.
  • Tightly cling to proximity to Jesus and God.
  • Faithfully serve God by discerning and doing His Will.

We cannot say when the tension might end.  That time is only known to God.  But if we succeed in following the example of Francis, we might at least hope to play some small role in making that end possible.

One Click to the Rule

Luchesio and Buonadonna, the first Secular Franciscans

The OFS Rule is the heartbeat of who and what we are meant to be as Secular Franciscans. As is noted in the page “About Formation,” it is one of three key resources that we must have available to us at all times if we are to thrive in the life we have professed. In order to fully embrace the continuous conversion we are called to, it should always be at our fingertips.

For most of us, that means carrying the little red book that almost all of us received during our initial formation period or at our profession. I think you would find that at any meeting of my local fraternity, well over 50% of the people there could produce a copy of that book if you asked them to.

One great thing about this blog format is it can be used to make the Rule available on your phone with just a single click. I know that many Secular Franciscans are older and may not be completely savvy when it comes to technology, but this is very easy to do. (Even if you do struggle to accomplish it, you can always use that as an excuse to get your children or grandchildren to visit the site with you when you ask them to set it up!).

You can do this for not just the Rule page, but for any page you find on the web that you want easy access to. (You could just as easily set the home page of the blog as the first click page, thus getting access to the most recent posts in one click. If you did that, you would be all of three clicks to get to the Rule.)

For an Android Phone:

Go to your search engine and enter ofsongoing.com. When the site comes up, click the menu button at the top and that will give you a drop down menu with an option for the “OFS Rule of Life.” Click on that option and you will be taken to the Rule.

Once on that page you will see dots in a column in the upper right corner of the screen. Tap on the dots and you will get another drop down menu. In that menu is an option that reads “Add to Home Screen.” Tap that option and a link for the page you are on will automatically be added to the home screen of your phone. From then on, at any time, you can tap that link and it will take you directly to the OFS Rule page of the site, making the Rule always only one click away.

For an I-Phone:

Again, go to the search engine and type in ofsongoing.com. Again, tap the menu button at the top of the page, select the “OFS Rule of Life.” Then, in the bottom center of the screen there is a sharing button. It’s a box with an arrow out of the top. Click that and then drag the menu that just opened up from the bottom. Again, you will see an option that reads “Add to Home Screen” with a box with a plus sign inside it. Click on that and an icon for the page will be added to your home screen.

Just be aware that your home screen actually comprises several screens which can all be accessed by swiping to the left on your phone. If you do not see the icon on the first screen, swipe until you find it. Then click it to make sure it works. If you want it on the first screen, you should be able to drag it there.

Its as easy as that.

Now you have no excuse for not reading the Rule on a regular basis. You can just pull out your phone, click once and read it whenever you have just a few minutes to kill.

Free Resource for May Crowning

Just received this in my email yesterday from my good friend and fraternity sister Patricia who works for the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

It is a free resource meant to facilitate the celebration of a May Crowning in the home.

Thought it might be something that many Franciscans would find useful.

Click the link and fill out the information form on the right and submit it and you will receive an email that allows you to access the download at any time.

Journey thru John, Chapter 6: Francis’ Passion for the Eucharist

The Ruins of the Synagogue at Capernaum

I know that as a Franciscan, I should say Assisi.  But in all honesty, if there was one place in the world that I could go, I would pick Capernaum.  The archaeologists (some of them Franciscan friars, who are the caretakers for the site) say that the ruins of the synagogue that stand there today lay atop the ruins of an older synagogue, possibly the one that Jesus preached in.  The second half of this chapter of John’s gospel takes place at that site.  I would cherish the opportunity to visit that place, stand in those ruins, and read Jesus’ words about being the “Bread of Life” in the location where they were actually spoken. 

The only thing better than walking in the footsteps of Francis is walking in the footsteps of Jesus Himself? 

Putting yourself in the scene couldn’t get much better than that.

I had more difficulty than usual choosing a verse to concentrate on for this reflection.  The section of this chapter entitled Jesus, The Bread of Life, lasts a full 35 verses.  The difficulty comes because John feels the need to repeat himself over and over again in order to convey the importance of his theme.  It’s almost as if John can’t help himself.  He seems to know instinctively that he can’t adequately convey the depth of the mystery he is presenting.  Maybe, just maybe, if he repeats the same thing over and over again, in slightly different words each time, one of the phrases will take hold.

I’ll leave it to you to pick the one that works best for you.

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John Chapter 6, Verse 33:

“For the Bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives Life to the world.”

John Chapter 6, Verse 35:

“I am the Bread of Life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

John Chapter 6, Verse 40:

“For my Father’s Will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have Eternal Life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John Chapter 6, Verses 48-50:

“I am the Bread of Life.  Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  But here is the Bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.”

John Chapter 6, Verse 51:

“I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this Bread, he will Live forever.  This Bread is my Flesh, which I will give for the Life of the world.”

John Chapter 6, Verse 54:

“Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has Eternal Life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

John Chapter 6, Verses 55-57:

“For my Flesh is real food and my Blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me, and I in him.  Just as the Living Father sent me and I Live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will Live because of me.”

John Chapter 6, Verse 58:

“This is the Bread that came down from heaven.  Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this Bread will Live forever.”

Three things linked together essentially the same way eight different times in the space of 35 verses. 

Jesus as Son.  Jesus as Bread.  Jesus as the source of Eternal Life.

There must be something very important going on here even if it’s not quite revealed and explained by the words themselves.

If we have difficulty understanding, we are not alone.  Scattered in these verses we find the Jews grumbling a couple times about Jesus claiming to be “the Bread of Life that came down from heaven.”  Then later they argue about “how can this man give us his Flesh to eat?”  And then the section after this is entitled Many Disciples Desert Jesus.  They leave because “this is a hard teaching, who can accept it?”

As in Chapter 5, John is again out of sync here with the three synoptic Gospels.  Each of those give us a version of the Last Supper.  But John does not.  He gives us Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, but he skips over the meal itself entirely.  His teaching on the Eucharistic occurs here, in this chapter, and it is much different than what is presented in the synoptics.  They give us the institution of the Eucharistic without much reference to the mystery.  John is focused on the mystery, but even his words can’t seem to do it justice. 

I can’t just read it, understand it and move on. 

I am left to ponder in prayer and meditation.  What does it mean to consume the Body of Christ?

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So, at this stage I find myself in need of making a confession.

I wrote the first draft of this reflection and did not like it at all.  I let it sit for a day and pondered it while I was out and about.  And I discovered, after thinking about it for not very long at all, that I had very little understanding of what the words “Bread of Life” mean.  And I have even less ability to write words that conveyed what I might think I understand.

After thinking a little more, I decided that it was very audacious of me to suggest in the opening that I knew what John was thinking as he wrote.  I left my introduction as it was just so you can see how ridiculous I was being.  Who am I, after all, to think that I might be able to read the mind of John?  All I really have done is project my shortcomings on him, most likely a very unwise thing to do. 

And then after thinking about it just a little longer, I decided that John probably knew exactly what he was writing.  The failure in understanding is not with him, but with me.  If I was not such a grand sinner, which I will I expound on some before I finish, then maybe I might have a chance to grasp the meaning of this Gospel.  Perhaps someday, when I am much wiser and older, I might have a chance.  But today, being the sinner that I am, I have to admit that it is beyond me.

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Of course, that leaves me with a bit of a predicament.  I still have to write something for you to reflect on.

So I turn to Francis.  I remember how he was prone to taking the gospel quite literally and how that worked for him.  And then I look again at the selections from Francis’ writing that I had picked to share.  And I decide to let Francis speak for the both of us. 

I am sure that Francis understood much better than I do what John was trying to convey.  But in his wisdom what he hands down to us has very little explanation in it.  Instead of trying to explain anything, Francis just embraces the instruction of Jesus wholeheartedly and then gives way to his passion.  His passion then gives understanding separate from intellectual exercise.  It’s a grace that’s largely absent in the world I occupy, a grace that I can easily envy, a grace I desperately need to balance out my need to analyze and know. 

Is Francis more passionate about any other subject anywhere in his writings?  I’m not sure he could be.  Read these beautiful words from A Letter to the Entire Order about Jesus present on the altar a couple times and just try and keep your soul from stirring!

Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exult when Christ, the Son of the living God is present on the altar in the hands of a priest! O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, So humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers, look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him! Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!

The beauty and the sincerity are simply astonishing, aren’t they?  My need for explanation just melts away.  If a Saint like Francis can believe so passionately, then I no longer even want to know the theological arguments and details.  I just want to experience enough grace to believe unconditionally as he did.

Hear the echo from his disciple, Thomas of Celano, in chapter 152 of The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul.  Note him following the example of Francis as he also emphasizes the merciful nature of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Over and over and over again, Jesus comes to us unconditionally, never holding anything of Himself back, always available to reinforce, enhance and achieve our redemption.  As with Francis, Thomas calls on us to give back the same, to hold nothing of ourselves back in response to the generous and abundant mercy of Jesus. 

Toward the sacrament of the Lord’s Body he burned with fervor to his very marrow and with unbounded wonder of that loving condescension and condescending love. He considered it disrespectful not to hear, if time allowed, at least one Mass a day. He received Communion frequently and so devoutly that he made others devout. Following that which is so venerable with all reverence he offered the sacrifice of all his members, and receiving the Lamb that was slain he slew his own spirit in the fire which always burned upon the altar of his heart.

How could a passionate giving way of our own not be a proper response to Jesus present on the altar?

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If you are versed in Francis just a little bit, you know that he held priests in special regard.  This is precisely because of the special role they play in making Jesus present for the rest of us.  In his Testament, he goes so far as to call them “his lords.”   

Afterwards the Lord gave me, and gives me still, such faith in priests who live according to the rite of the holy Roman Church because of their orders that, were they to persecute me, I would still want to have recourse to them ……….. And I desire to respect, love and honor them and all others as my lords.  And I do not want to consider any sin in them because I discern the Son of God in them and they are my lords.  And I act in this way because, in this world, I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and they alone administer to others.

And yet, there is one situation where Francis does not hesitate to call them to task.  Francis feels so strongly about the Eucharist that, when he perceives a lack of reverence on the part of some priests, he is compelled to write an Exhortation to the Clergy, which is one part admonishment and one part encouragement for those priests who are guilty of a lack of care and/or respect in how they handle the Eucharist.

Let all of us, clergymen, consider the great sin and the ignorance some have toward the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ ……….. Let all those who administer such most holy mysteries, however, especially those who administer them illicitly, consider how very dirty are the chalices, corporals and altar-linens upon which His Body and Blood are sacrificed.  It is placed and left in many dirty places, carried about unbecomingly, received unworthily, and administered to others without discernment ……….. Let us, therefore, amend our ways quickly and firmly ……….. And whoever does not do so, let him know he must render an accounting on the day of judgment before our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Francis may think of priests as “his lords,” but Jesus supercedes.  Once He is corporally present on the altar, once He is actually physically present to us in the Eucharistic, then nothing else really matters, does it?  The priest who brings him to the altar should be aware of the great miracle that he has been privileged to help accomplish.  That task should make him reverent beyond all other considerations.  He holds Jesus Himself in his hands!  In the face of that, it’s not surprising that Francis does not hesitate to upbraid “his lords” on behalf of “The Lord” when they become complacent about caring for “His most Holy Body and Blood.”

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If you are aware of the patterns of these reflections, you know that I am always looking for a way to tie the SFO Rule to the reflection.  As usual, I went looking in the Rule for what it has to say about the Eucharist, but I must tell you that in this instance I was a little disappointed.

Francis is so passionate in the above.  And yet the Rule does not even devote an entire article to the Eucharistic.  Read again the passage that starts with “Let everyone be struck with fear.”  Then read article Five from the Rule and see if you agree with me?  Is the passion of Francis conveyed here?  Is this an adequate indication of how we should approach the Eucharist?

Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity.  The faith of St. Francis, who often said “I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except his most holy body and blood,” should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life.

Most High is capitalized, but Most Holy is not?  Body and Blood are also not capitalized even though they are in the original?  There just does not seem to be the same punch in the Rule as there is in the direct writings of St. Francis, at least to me.

Thankfully, there is one spot in the Rule where the importance of the Eucharistic to Francis comes through.   In the Introduction, Francis’ Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance is given to us verbatim.  There we can again glean the passion of Francis on the subject.  It has two chapters, one about “Those Who Do Penance,” the other about those who do not.  (Note that “Body and Blood” are back to being capitalized.)    

From Chapter One:

All those who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with their whole strength and love their neighbors as themselves, who hate their bodies with their vices and sins, who receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who produce worthy fruits of penance.  O how happy and blessed are these men and women while they do such things and persevere in doing them……..  

From Chapter Two:

All those men and women who are not living in penance, who do not receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who practice vice and sin and walk after evil concupiscence and the evil desires of their flesh, who do not observe what they have promised the Lord, and who in their body serve the world through the desires of the flesh, the concerns of the world and the cares of this life.  They are held captive by the devil, whose children they are, and whose works they do.

At first, the references to “the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ” almost seem out of place. 

Francis mostly gives generalizations about what constitutes good and bad behavior.  What does it mean to “produce worthy fruits of penance” or to “in your body serve the world through the desires of the flesh?”  You have to go into the details to make decisions about what to do and what to avoid if you want to follow the advice that Francis is giving.

But not so where the Eucharist is concerned.  Here is a very specific action to take. “Receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ!” if you want to be “happy and blessed.”   And if you decide not to, then expect to be “held captive by the devil,” even if you do everything else right.

Here again, Francis is not caught up in the theological arguments about the meaning behind the “Bread of Life.”  Jesus said “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  What else do we need to know?  Isn’t that enough in and of itself, separate from whatever deeper meanings might be found, to get us to act?

The core writings by and about Francis may not record any detailed theological explanations of the mystery of the Eucharist.  They may not contain the word transubstantiation or any synonyms for it.  But there can be no doubting Francis’ position and passion when it comes to the Eucharist.

Jesus is made physically present on the altar.  And we better consume His Body and Blood, no questions asked, if we know what’s good for us.  As gospel followers and people of penance, it really is that simple. 

First, do what Jesus said to do!

Then, if you are prone as I am to making things complicated by searching for the deeper hidden meanings behind what He said, that’s ok.  But, as we discussed last chapter, don’t let it distract you from the simple and humble need to be obedient.

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I have to end with another confession, this one much more serious and grave.  You see, the harsh words that Francis had for the priests who become complacent about the Eucharist apply to my entire Eucharistic life as I remember it.  I can never recall being properly reverent as I hold the body of Christ in my hands before I consume it.  It’s as if my hands are as dirty as the linens Francis was complaining about.  This is why I described myself above as a great sinner.  It’s why I should not be surprised at my lack of enlightenment as I read this chapter of John.

I read the words of Francis and I know they condemn me.  I know that I have no choice but to be immediately converted by those words.  My approach to the Eucharist has to improve, has to become more reverent, has to become more celebratory and has to become more life receiving.

I don’t want to accuse you, but I invite you to look deep into your heart.  If you find yourself guilty as I find myself guilty, please give serious thought to the passion that our father Francis displays in the words I have quoted above.  Think about whether or not your approach to the “Most Holy Body and Blood” might not be a spot where you can make a deep conversion in your life straight away.

Other than the introduction and the verses and the passages I quoted, my entire first draft of this reflection was discarded from the point where I made my first confession.  I am grateful that I was able to accept the inadequacy of that first draft and that I did not let it pass as it was.  I am, as always, deeply caught up in my worldly responsibilities and I could have easily let this go.  I could have increased my sinfulness by following the path in the second portion of Francis’ Exhortation.

Instead, as part of this reflection, I was led to reading that Exhortation and I managed to follow the first track for at least this little while.  For that I am grateful.  Maybe there is hope for me after all.

Buy only if I give credit where credit is due, and say:

Thank you, Jesus!  Thank you, Mary!  Thank you, Francis!

One of you, or maybe all of you, made sure that I got the message and got this reflection somewhere close to right.

For that I am humbly indebted.

On Peaceful Communication

Pope Francis, Pentecost Homily, June 10, 2019

By this point, Catholics listening to Pope Francis’ ongoing messages to the world can feel comfortable that renewing social communication in all its forms, but especially in the digital realm, is one of his priorities. This applies to the Church and the secular sphere, to faith-embracing people and “nons” alike. He spoke about it in his Pentecost homily for 2019, connecting it to the Holy Spirit’s work of peace building, and also to some key themes he raised in “Christus Vivit” (his 2019 exhortation to young people) and his 2018 and 2019 messages for World Communications Day.

I believe he’s saying we need to help bring the basic Christian value of peace back into our understanding of what constitutes fruitful communication. So many people are playing the journalist, not only consuming news but generating news through their social media, often without a sense of accountability for toxic thoughts they’re soaking in and emotions they’re promulgating. Pope Francis offers pastoral advice regarding the lively cyberspace exchanges of information, our dual roles as news consumers and news generators, the spirit of purpose, pleasure and peace we must bring to community conversations, and the respect for complex human dignity and the sense of receptivity we should bring to encounters in the public square. Defaming others without accountability, short attention spans that jump to conclusions, oversimplified labels dismissing people, and the manipulation of truth are reducing our mutual trust and our sense that peaceful communication will lead to the solutions we need to properly preserve the common good.

In his homily Pope Francis cautioned that, “in the age of the computer,” we feel more distanced and isolated from each other, and “the more we use social media, the less social we are becoming.” We are at risk of spreading “a culture of lies.”

In that same timeframe, he also spoke about the particular dangers our digitized culture present to young people, a message that applies just as well to people of all ages. In “Christus Vivit,” his exhortation drawn from the Synod on Youth that took place in Rome in 2019, he said this (paragraph 216).

“Today’s media culture creates a deep sense of orphanhood. We need to build “fraternal environments” in our parishes, as well as in our communities and families, where young people can rise above isolation and experience a sense of belonging and shared purpose. Rather than being distracted by video games, they deserve to be in places of multigenerational dialogue, memory, aspirations and action attuned to the things that matter most in life.” The sense of belonging and shared purpose the Pope calls for here can only flourish if it has a commitment to peaceful communication as its foundation.

These messages align with Pope Francis’ 2018 and 2019 messages for World Communications Day (an annual pause for reflection, initiated by the Second Vatican Council and its document Inter Mirifica).  

In the 2019 message, he cautioned that the “community” model practiced in social media is too often one of excluding people and ideas with which you differ. The Church idea of community, he said, is based on communion with Something higher that brings us together in humility via similar beliefs and motivations. The Eucharist and other sacraments increase our awareness of our shared identity as a Body of Christ that is one although comprised of many parts, all of which have unique, beautiful, God-given gifts to be shared.

The pope’s 2018 message called for a “journalism of peace” that proactively asks deeper questions in order to help us find areas of common ground while pursuing an “education for truth” that springs from journalists valuing absolute truth and inspiring others to desire it. A relativism that allows us to define our own truths on the basis of emotion and individually-defined primacy combined with an urgent personal moralism where one unilaterally judges right and wrong functions as an evil force that often winds up promoting the opposite of truth.

A growing body of work by the Pope is asking us to offer peaceful communication as the tool that will heal our culture and reunite us after the separation our initial experience of social media has caused. Peace is rooted in a personal, receptive relationship with the Lord and is manifested through the Holy Spirit’s everyday influence on our lives. It gives us the love and forgiveness by which we can communicate with others as merciful fellow sinners, fellow seekers of truth who can find great joy and encouragement in local avenues of discovery. We are to embrace the Truth, the Way and the Life as we actively follow Him rather than sitting on the beach in judgement of others or marching off to war against them. (Enter here the as yet undefined secular equivalent of relationship with the Lord, etc.)

Pentecost comes at the verge of summer, a time when we can be more reflective and receptive about the best ways to work together. The Paraclete will help us to speak in peaceful ways that others understand. Our faith in Christ and our communion through the sacraments and the “Amen” we say together at every liturgy will help us to focus on the things we can accomplish as a diverse mix of old and young, rich and poor, robust Catholic and open-minded “non,” so long as we stay in a steady motion that supercedes the vacuum of laziness and distraction that summer often invites us to. Such a void will inevitably be filled by popular culture’s tendencies toward narcissism, isolation and escape from painful realities.

Pope Francis reminded us in his 2018 World Communications Day message that we must be instruments of peace and stewards of the “Good News,” sharing a sense of sacrifice, wonder and duty that brings us together, rather than driving us apart. He even ended the message with a version of the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis to remind us that communicators fully engaged in peace have to put our lives where our words are. “Love always communicates.”

I’m committed to encouraging fellow Catholics in the power of inclusive peaceful conversation. Our use of digital media can produce great fruits if we understand that it entails both rights and responsibilities, has room for both faith and reason, and can reconcile all minds and hearts. The use of these remarkable communication tools should carry us toward a flesh-and-blood community where “many parts” all enjoy freedom and authenticity in recognition of the infinite worth of each and every soul.

As Francis said in his homily, ”the Spirit is far from being an abstract reality; He is the Person who is the most concrete and close.” He is the one who changes our lives by immersing us in the Love and Grace of God if we allow Him in between the latest video games and our summertime distractions. Self-satisfied temptations to lounge around, ignorant while others are defamed, excluded, and orphaned, make our summer vocations unsustainable. We must actively accompany all persons “toward a life worthy of a people redeemed by Christ” (SFO Rule article 13), for they are all of indescribable worth.

The story of us doing this should be, as the pontiff describes it, “the heart of the news.”

This is the story that should be trending.

(The above was adapted from a page from my blog, Onword.net. It was written last year, shortly after the 2019 World Communications Day. For more on the Pope’s 2018 World Communications Day message, see my book, When Headlines Hurt.)

Sister’s Reflections on the 3rd and 4th Sundays of Easter

Reflection on the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter (Luke 24):

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way . . . (Luke 24:32).”  This is one of my favorite Gospel passages, and it always reminds me to consider how many times as I was “on the way” through life, that my heart was “burning” within because He was there.  But I was too busy fretting over the ever present kitchen chores like the frenzied Martha to stop long enough to listen to what He had to say. 

The second point in this Gospel that gives me pause is the phrase, “It is nearly evening, and the day is almost over.”  The older one gets, the more you realize that, indeed, one is in the “evening” of life and the God-given gift of time is slowly ebbing toward Eternity.  Time to slow down, settle down, and sit with the Master more and more away from the glitz of life and the never-ending frenzy of the younger generation.

It’s time to let our eyes be opened, as never before, and recognize him not only in the “breaking of the bread” but in the burning of our hearts where Father, Son, and Spirit have been at home since the waters of Baptism washed over us.  They are waiting to stay with us and show us from the inside outward that, indeed, He is risen and burning from within — “ . . . the Evening Star that never sets.”

The Magi were not the only ones called to follow a star. At the Easter Vigil, we too, were called to follow that Evening Star . . . who is, of course, Jesus!

Reflection of the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10):

One of St. Francis’s favorite images was that of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Francis knew that to follow in the footsteps of Jesus was to “pass through the narrow gate”. Living the Gospel as literally as he did is not for the fainthearted. As Franciscans we promise “to live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” but anyone who has taken those words seriously knows it means following Jesus even to the Cross. Regardless of the rockiness of the pathway, following in the sure footsteps of Jesus makes it possible.

In this month’s National Geographic Magazine (May 2020), there is a fascinating article about the groups of shepherds in Italy still monitoring their flocks in the same region as their ancestors several thousand years ago.  The pathways are worn, the travel from winter pastures to the cooler summer summits of Italy are grueling, yet being a shepherd is rooted deeply in their familial traditions.  Even their canine companions know their responsibilities and protect the flocks from anything even faintly threatening to their charges. Having read this article earlier this week, it certainly gave me a different view of the image Jesus used regarding the care of a shepherd and the loyalty of his/her sheep. Jesus in the Gospel tells us, “ . . . the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.”

In our contemporary world, we are bombarded from morning until night by conflicting voices all vying for our attention, our money, our loyalty, our commitment.  Today’s Gospel on this “Good Shepherd Sunday” reminds us that sheep recognize and know only one voice, that of their master.  They follow only that one voice. Perhaps a question we might reflect on today is: whose voice do I follow? The media? Sports figures? Hollywood idols? The popular guru of the moment? 

Or the voice of the Good Shepherd who says “Come, follow me”? 

The present pandemic certainly provides us with some quality time to consider: 

(1) Whose voice do I follow?  

(2) Do I need to “retune” my ears to hear the voice of Jesus more clearly?

(3) What mid-course corrections would make my following of the Good Shepherd lead to a deeper relationship with Him?