Journey thru John, Chapter 5: Obedience and Spiritual Poverty

For this chapter, it seemed to me that the best time to ask you to enter the scene was not at the beginning of my reflection, but at the end.  Hopefully that makes sense after you’re done reading.

If you already did your reflection based on your own, that’s great.  It’s what you are supposed to do.  Maybe you will decide to enter the scene again if my suggestion is different than your initial inspiration.

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John Chapter 5, Verse 30:

“I can do nothing on my own.  As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

When I think of Jesus conforming himself to the will of God, I generally think of Jesus at the end, in the garden, when He says to God, “take this cup from me, yet not my will, but yours be done.”  That scene appears in the three synoptic gospels, but not in the gospel of John.  Instead, in this gospel we hear about conforming to the will of God in the context of the theme of judgment which runs through this entire chapter. 

The chapter opens with “the Jews” judging Jesus.  They persecute Jesus because He is healing on the Sabbath and because He “was calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”  As Jesus responds, the table turns and by the end it is Jesus doing the judging.  The verse above is the pivot point, the foundation of Jesus’ argument.  Jesus is an able judge because He is executing the Will of God.  “The Jews,” on the other hand, make failed judgments about Jesus because their judgment is based not on the Will of God, but on their own human concerns.  What they want most is not what God wants, but to preserve what they want (their earthly power) from the threat that Jesus represents to it. 

This is the opposite of spiritual poverty.  They don’t accept Jesus for who He is, despite the clear signs He gives them, because to do so would require them to suppress the desire to act according to their own willfulness for their own comfort and gain. 

It is actually the first sentence of the verse that makes everything else possible.  In order for Jesus to do God’s will, he must first acknowledge the ineptness of His human side.  In the statement “I can do nothing on my own,” He is acknowledging the need for all humanity to rely on God instead of on itself.  Without acknowledging the need to set aside our own will and dwell in the desire of God, it is impossible for us to aspire to such lofty heights as just judgement.

The chapter is about the power of obedience.  Jesus is who He is because He is obedient to the Will of God at all times in all things.  That obedience is the essence of the perfection of Jesus.  His example informs us that obedience does not begin with an assent to the exterior Will of God, but rather by an embrace of poverty that manifests itself as a denial of our own often flawed human wills.  The declaration by Jesus that “He can do nothing on his own” is the font of His power.  As happens over and over again with God, it is the act of rejecting power that grants power.

The chapter is also about the power of spiritual poverty, a concept that is vital within the Franciscan charism.  The reality of human nature expressed by the words “I can do nothing on my own” makes spiritual poverty indispensable to a well ordered life.  Hubris is always in conflict with the reality that our weakness, ignorance and frailty define us.  Denial of our own will in favor of God’s Will and the rejection of the pretense of individual personal power is the essence of spiritual poverty. 

Obedience and spiritual poverty are intimately linked.  You cannot have one without the other.

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The SFO Rule grounds itself precisely in these two closely related ideals.  In article ten, we read this:

“United themselves to the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed his will into the Father’s hands,…………….”

And then in the very next paragraph, this:

“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.”

In other words, as a Franciscan I should act exactly the opposite of how “the Jews” acted in this chapter.  Instead of seeking to preserve my earthly desires by disputing with Jesus, I should instead embrace the example of poverty that Jesus gives not only in this verse, but throughout the gospels.  By setting aside “the tendency and yearning for possession and power,” I can do what the Jews refused to do, accept Jesus for who He really is and obey Him.

If I create space for God in my heart through that embrace of poverty, that acceptance of Jesus, this empowers my ability to obey.  I can imitate “the redemptive obedience” of Jesus by “placing my will into the Father’s hands” and thereby work my way toward becoming a better, more complete and truer disciple.  I am fully human, so my judgement will never be perfected as Jesus’ was, but if I am intentional about my pursuit of poverty and obedience, I can make steady progress.  That steady progress then fulfills a need and desire for conversion that is also crucial to the Franciscan charism.

Paragraph seven tell us that:

“Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.”

It is the Franciscan foundation of spiritual poverty and obedience as expressed by Jesus with the words “I can do nothing on my own” that makes this daily conversion possible.  If I embrace those words, I can reject earthly power and become powerful in the pursuit of conversion at the same time.

Such is the mystery, majesty, importance and force of a Franciscan immersion in the gospels. 

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Obedience was important enough to Francis that it has first priority in the Rules he wrote and had approved by the Pope for his brothers.  The Prologue for the Earlier Rule ends like this:

Brother Francis – and whoever is head of this religion – promises obedience and reverence to the Lord Pope Innocent and his successors.  Let all the brothers be bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors.

Chapter One then begins:

The rule and life of these brothers is this, namely: ”to live in obedience, in chastity, and without anything of their own,” and to follow the teaching and footprints of our Lord Jesus Christ, ………

 The Later Rule combines these two thoughts in its First Chapter:

The Rule and Life of the Lesser Brothers is this:  to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without anything of one’s own, and in chastity.

Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to our Lord Pope Honorius and his successors canonically elected and to the Roman Church.  Let the brothers be bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors.

Note that the chain of obedience is extended.  Jesus follows the Will of God, the One who sent Him.  Francis now instructs his brothers to follow Jesus in turn, but not just Jesus.  He also pledges himself to follow the Popes and the Church, and that pledge extends to his brothers as well in that chain of obedience, and ultimately to us as his heirs. 

Note also the presence of poverty right alongside obedience.  Hear the echo from the gospel.  Jesus said “I can do nothing on my own.”  Francis wrote “without anything of their own.”  They are the same statement, the same starting point that allows a man or woman to acknowledge his or her true human condition and thereby embrace an obedience to God that makes us whole.

How important was obedience to Jesus to Francis?  Read these words from A Letter to the Entire Order, written most likely on the occasion of the Pope giving the brothers authority to celebrate the Eucharist in their churches, not long after the Later Rule was approved:

Listen, sons of the Lord and my brothers, pay attention to my words.  Incline the ear of your heart and obey the voice of the Son of God.  Observe His commands with your whole heart and fulfill His counsels with a perfect mind.  Give praise to Him because He is good; exalt Him by your deeds; for this reason He has sent you into the whole world: that you may bear witness to His voice in word and deed and bring everyone to know that there is no one who is all powerful except Him.  Persevere in discipline and holy obedience and, with a good and firm purpose, fulfill what you have promised Him.

Note the link between obligation and obedience.  Francis is encouraging his brothers to bear witness but he is telling them that they cannot do so unless they are obedient.  If you pause and think about it for a moment, it makes perfect sense.  If I am to spread the Word and the Kingdom of God, how can I do so if my actions are not obedient to that Word and Kingdom?  Our success as disciples inherently requires us to be obedient.  There is no other way.

It’s not labeled an exhortation, but it surely is one.  That exhortation, that task laid on the brothers is directly relevant to us today.  If Francis walked into one of our meetings, he could say these exact same words to us without them losing an ounce of meaning.  The words are as significant today as they were in 1224.  We are persons who have or will soon profess to live according to the example of Francis.  Each one of us is bound by the words “bear witness to His voice in word and deed” as surely as if we were his brothers so long ago. 

Our rule, in paragraph six, supports this:

They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession.  Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.

We are called by our Rule to the exact same task that Francis called his brothers to in this letter.  It’s not something to be taken lightly.  It is a grave and wonderful and ominous and fantastic and scary and glorious responsibility that we have accepted.  I do not know about you, but I am grateful to have partners in the endeavor.  Partners in the fraternity, in the rest of the Franciscan family and in the entire Church.

It is not an accident that Francis called us to obedience to the Church at the same time he was told to rebuild the church directly by God.  The need to rebuild and be obedient at the same time might seem to be contradictory, but it is nothing of the sort.  This is because we need each other.  The church needs our obedient and faithful example to remind her of what she needs to be and encourage her to fulfill her destiny to the world.  We need the Church to support us in our poverty, to constantly remind us through the promulgation of the gospel and the beauty of the liturgy of who the poor, incarnate, crucified Jesus was and continues to be. 

Despite each being imperfect, we are meant to feed off each other, to support and uplift each other.  The best chance to battle those imperfections is to unite, not separate.  Do we think that we could, as individuals, without the assistance of the history and the present leadership of the Church, grasp and remember and witness to even the most basic things we need to know and teach about Jesus?  Would that be the position of a person who “can do nothing on his or her own?”  Francis knew his limitations, knew he would fail without the Church.  That is why he deliberately cast himself as minores, accentuating his dependence.  Obedience to the Church is a requirement of that minority. 

He knew we would need her as much as she would need us.  Francis knew that if we were to ignore the Church, to attempt to do this on our own, we would soon lose our way and become like “the Jews” in this Chapter of John.  Our hubris and our own willfulness would soon have us foundering.  We have to be both the renewers of the Church and obedient to the Church at the same time.  It is our unique role as Franciscans.   

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I would invite you to take on the role of “the Jews” as you read this chapter.  Place yourself in the scene as someone who stands in the way of Jesus, who disputes with Him, who judges Him, who thinks he knows better than Him.  Think about yourself as a person of power in the time of Jesus.  Think about the source of your power and why you desire so strongly to preserve it.  Why is Jesus a threat to you?  Why do you want to bring Him down and do Him harm?  See yourself as a person who wishes to preserve his own earthly desires in opposition to the will of God and the proclamation of the Kingdom.   

Is this who you want to be?

I would then invite you to leave the scene and come back to the present.  Acknowledge the present as a time when many act as those Jews did in the time of Jesus.  The world you live in does everything it can to distract you, to make you one of them.  Where is it succeeding?  Ask yourself, where in my life am I disputing with God, right now?  

Pay special attention to any differences you might have with the Church as you do your self-examination.  Recognize that as a Franciscan, you are pledged to obedience to the Church.  Take that pledge seriously.  Take the time to think the positions of the Church through clearly and completely.  Make sure you understand the reasoning behind the Church’s position.  Seek help understanding them from a spiritual advisor if you’re not sure.  Try and give the Church the benefit of the doubt.  It has thousands of years of experience to pit against your one lifetime.  Make sure that your difference with the Church is not an instance of you imposing your will over hers when hers is in line with the only Will that ultimately matters, the Will of God.

Somewhere in your life, you are holding onto something of your will that is not in accord with God’s Will for your life.  Identify it.  Whatever it is that needs attention, whether it be something to do with the Church or something else entirely, pray to God, to Jesus, to Mary, to Francis and Clare, to help you find the strength to let go of your willfulness and be converted.  Pray that they will help you embrace the spiritual poverty that goes along with letting go of your will.   Pray that they will help you embrace obedience.

Then ask Jesus, Mary, Francis and Clare to pray the Our Father with you. 

As you do so, link it to your Franciscan vocation. Note the word “Our” and the word “Us.”  It is a prayer meant to be said in community with your fraternity, your Franciscan family and your Church.  You support each other as you pray it.  Pledge yourself to be a full member of that community both in rebuilding and obedience.

Acknowledge that “on earth” means you have a personal role to play in bringing His Will forth.  Acknowledge that requests for daily bread and forgiveness are expressions of spiritual poverty.  Jesus could do nothing on his own.  Therefore you must need God to feed and forgive you both literally and spiritually.    

When you pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done,” allow this passage to remind you that this is not just a wide expression of hope for the world, but also a plea for your own personal conversion.  If you want to be led away from temptation, if you want to be delivered from evil, then embrace spiritual poverty and set aside your own will in favor of His. 

Resolve to obey His Will, and thereby keep daily conversion through spiritual poverty at the forefront of your personal awareness.      

Let’s Talk About Communicating Better

There’s a second kind of “climate change” happening in our world today — this one in our culture. It generates heat without light through conflict in civil society. It also causes personal pain through the abrasive erosion of the proverbial topsoil that otherwise allows dignity and hope to grow and thrive in a well ordered society.

Like the weather, we gripe about it, but we don’t know how to control it. We can’t agree on solutions to pursue together or even reach clarity on what problems are ripe for real discussion. You might say the mix of challenges constitutes a “perfect storm” summoning us to the need to reconstruct our societal modes of communication after this primal storm has damaged them in ways we could not foresee or prevent.

This multi-dimensional problem, which creates major hurdles against achieving goals of secular solidarity and missionary discipleship, has as its source a combination of social polarization and devolving conversation. It is building momentum these days, at the intersection where journalism and our changing news environment meet politics and our changing technological environment. It’s arising amid confusion and disagreement about values, approaches and purpose, fed by disenchantment with traditional ideas plus attempts to confront new, complex issues in the modern style of self-centered moralism and relativism.

We need to get back to basics about such values as the common good, the pursuit of peace and other “rules of engagement” among people—reviving ideas such as mercy, justice, patient accompaniment and personal accountability in the process—about which the Catholic Church provides time-tested insights. Pope Francis is one of the few world leaders and opinion-shapers who is seeking to spotlight these resources as relevant, connection-making remedies, not outmoded attacks on personal freedom. He talks about them, in compelling ways, through his messages for World Communications Day. He also addresses the dangers our “digitized” culture poses, especially toward young people and the future of communities, local and global.

My book, When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer? (available at Amazon), published in 2018, seeks to lay a groundwork for an effort to help all people of good will address this problem, tapping into Church wisdom and the unifying spirit of St. Francis of Assisi while remaining inclusive and attuned to today’s perspectives. This book, if combined with the transformative assistance of faith; public speaking; creative endeavors like blogs and podcasts; and ecumenical, non-partisan awareness-building, has the potential to establish and promote practical goals for peaceful and constructive modes of conversation in today’s society.

I would like to explain more about the prospects for renewal I see in communication and information. I’d like to start a storm surge of discussion—first at the grass-roots level, among people like you. Parishes and church groups will enjoy rediscovering the creative light of faith and reason, truth and love, not only to evangelize, but to cooperate with the secular world in preserving rights and responsibilities, debate and problem-solving.

That’s the essence of the #When Headlines Hurt project.

Invite me to bring my reflections and research, based in the messages of Pope Francis and Saint Francis among others, to your group today. I promise a sunny discussion as contemporary as today’s headlines and newsfeeds, but also a luminous dialogue much more inspiring then anything you might find on a typical mass media outlet in these blustery times.

This post was adapted from a post on my blog, OnWord.net.

Interacting in Community Despite the Pandemic

Oil painting on canvas, Saint Francis of Assisi (Giovanni Francesco di Bernadone) (1181-1226), Italian (Lombard) School, early 17th century.

One of the reasons for pushing forward to launch this website now was the express hope that it would provide a way for Secular Franciscans to interact with each other while we are all isolated and practicing social distancing in the midst of the corona virus pandemic.

As you can see by the email below, Frank Vargo, OFS, (the Formation Director for my local fraternity) was having related thoughts:

“Peace and Joy to all my brothers and sisters in Francis and Clare: This Saturday will make the second fraternity meeting that we will not have been together. I miss you all and our common joy and hugs and laughter. 

I was thinking that now would be a good time to reflect on this year’s Lent. As Francis would say, we are to be “Conformed to the death of Christ by sharing in His sufferings.”  It would be good to spend this week (off and on) writing down our thoughts – lessons – revelations. Next month when we meet (I hope) we can learn from each other’s trials and victories.

Some helps – starters:

What did you learn about yourself – others? How was your prayer life? Family life? Church life? What were your worries, your joys? Were you at peace? Why not? 

Shake us from complacency, O Lord, and give us a new spirit”. 

Peace and fraternal hugs.  Frank.”

Here’s a couple other potential starters:

We know Francis felt cave time was important. He struggled between being in the world and being isolated. Is the forced isolation of the pandemic actually a time of great opportunity? Can we copy Francis’ example of using isolation effectively to discern the will of God within this hardship? How might our experience of God expand if we use this time constructively?

We also know from the gospel reading last Sunday that Jesus does not abandon us in times of isolation. When the disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews, Jesus appeared in their midst and brought them peace. In your isolation, in your cave time, have you had an experience of peace that you might not have had were it not for your enforced isolation? If not, would you consider searching for that peace, asking for it directly within your prayer, as part of your isolation experience?

Use Frank’s starters or follow one of the links above and prayer over the material. (Don’t be afraid to create an account at the first link. It will give you access to the entire set of Francis of Assisi: Early Documents.) Then, as Frank suggested, consider writing down your thoughts.

But please consider pasting what you write as a comment at the end of this blog post. You can take credit by adding your name, or you can do it anonymously if you prefer, but consider the possibility that one of your brothers or sisters might be helped through this difficult time by something you might write and share below.

As our profession language says (see the home page of the blog), “may the fraternal bonds of community always be my help….”

Are you willing to offer a little help, a little fraternity, to someone that you might not even know by sharing your thoughts here? If you got comfortable doing that now, in this time of hardship, and then continued to offer that help even when things return toward normal, would that be in and of itself a blessing that could come out of this time?

I asked permission to post Frank’s note here in the hope that maybe we do not have to wait until the next meeting to share our thoughts. Maybe we can go ahead and live out our fraternal calling right now by simply posting comments at the bottom of this post. It’s not the same as being together and being able to share hugs with everyone. But at least it is a chance to know how everyone is doing and to provide some support to each other in this time of absence.

So go ahead, take a chance, and make a comment. It doesn’t have to be deep and mind bending. It doesn’t even have to be about Lent or one of the links. It can even be silly or just a quick hello and how are you. Share whatever the Spirit leads you to share.

I know I would appreciate seeing your comments and I bet others would as well. So give it a try. There’s really nothing to lose, and you might even learn a little something new about interacting with a blog as you do.

Journey thru John, Chapter 4: Encounter and Conversion

The Woman of Samaria at the Well

The first part of this chapter is one of my favorite stories from the gospels.  I think this is because it lends itself so well to placing myself in the location. 

We all probably have an image of a well in our head that originates in the fairy tales of our youth.  Mine includes a garden with plants in riotous bloom and a backdrop of shade-giving green leafy trees.  The well is circular and has stone walls a little less than waist high.  It has a wooden structure over it with a sloped and shingled roof above and a winch below.  The winch is wound with rope and the rope is attached to a wooden bucket sitting on the edge of the masonry wall, ready to be lowered into the well and then retrieved full of water. 

I doubt the well that Jesus sat next to looked much like that.  It was more likely on a barren hillside and not in the midst of a lush garden.  It probably did not have waist high walls or any structure over it.  But still, it’s relatively easy to see Jesus sitting on a low, stacked wall with an open stone lined cylinder behind him.  The sky above is a vast deep cloudless blue and a woman approaches the well with a container on her hip. She has one arm across her body so that she can hold the handles at the top of the jar with both hands.

You can be right there as Jesus says to her, “Will you give me a drink?”  You can watch her give him that drink of water and then follow the whole exchange that ensues. 

Hopefully, you also found it easy to enter the scene and find a verse that spoke to you.  Hopefully, when you asked Francis or Clare for assistance, they readily obliged.  And hopefully, you encountered Jesus successfully while reading this Chapter of John.

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John Chapter 4, Verse 42:

“They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

This is the last verse in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  She has met and talked to Jesus and experienced her conversion.  She has also introduced Jesus to the people of her town.  Jesus stayed with them for two days and “many more became believers.”    

The story, at its core, is about encounter with Jesus and the direct conversion that results from it.

The SFO Rule, in article 5, makes it clear that encountering Jesus is central to the life of a Franciscan:

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 article goes on to emphasize liturgical activity by mentioning “eucharistic life,” but the language is clear that Jesus can be found in all these other places as well.  He is found in the smiles, and even frowns, of every person we encounter every day.  He is found in the Church, with the word Church having that broad meaning that includes you and me and all our merciful, charitable and loving work within its definition.  And He is found in the Sacred Scripture.  “Therefore” in the quote above refers specifically to the last sentence in the preceding article 4, which exhorts us to “careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel.”

The Gospel.  The Gospel.  The Gospel.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the gospel in how a Franciscan arranges his or her life.

Just two articles later in the Rule, the gospel is again prominent:

….motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of the radical interior change which the gospel itself calls “conversion.”

Chapter Two of the Rule, which encompasses articles 4 thru 19, is the meat of the Rule.  It has the overall heading “The Way of Life.” 

That “way of life” has many components, but none of those components is really possible without being committed to the principle contained in these two passages.

We have to encounter Jesus in the gospels!  And that encounter has to lead conversion!

In other words, we have to experience exactly what the Samaritan woman and the residents of her town experience. 

We have to meet Jesus.  We have to serve Him in whatever way He asks.  We have to accept that He wants to engage us no matter how much we (as proverbial Samaritans) think that He is distant and different from us.  We have to be ready to accept the Grace, the Living Water that He offers.  We have to listen to His words with an open heart and recognize, when He says to us the equivalent of “you are right when you say you have no husband,” that He knows us better than we know ourselves.  We have to worship in Spirit and Truth as He asks.  We have to be ready to give testimony to others when appropriate.  We have to invite him to stay with us.

And then, when all of this is done, we should find ourselves converted to such an extent that we can enthusiastically and energetically exclaim along with the Samaritans,

We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world!”

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It’s now time for me to confess that I am at least a little jealous of Francis.  This is because he came much closer to experiencing the actual presence of Jesus as the Samaritans did than I ever expect to.  Francis actually had a physical encounter with the voice of Jesus.  How spectacular, how joyful, how humbling, how transformative it would be if that somehow happened to me!

Chapter Five of The Legend of Three Companions describes the scene like this:

A few days had passed when, while he was walking by the church of San Damiano, he was told in the Spirit to go inside for a prayer.  Once he entered, he began to pray intensely before an image of the Crucified, which spoke to him in a tender and kind voice:  “Francis, don’t you see that my house is being destroyed?  Go, then, and rebuild it for me.”  Stunned and trembling, he said. “I will do so gladly, Lord.”  For he understood that it was speaking about that church, which was near collapse because of its age.  He was filled with such joy and became so radiant with light over that message that he knew in his soul it was truly Christ crucified who spoke to him.

You can already see the beginning of conversion here, but in the next chapter we have it definitively confirmed:

Overjoyed by the vision and hearing the words of the Crucified Christ, he got up, fortifying himself with the sign of the cross.  And mounting his horse and taking cloth of different colors, he arrived at a city named Foligno and, after selling there the horse and everything he was carrying, he returned immediately to the church of San Damiano.

After he found a poor priest there, he kissed his hands with great faith and devotion; he offered him the money he was carrying, and explained his purpose in great detail.  The priest, astounded and surprised at his sudden conversion, refused to believe this, and ……

The execution is not perfect, but the sentiment is pure.  This episode leads directly to Francis stripping himself bare as he rejects his earthly father in favor of his heavenly one.  After encountering His voice, there was no undoing the conversion that Francis experienced.

Thomas of Celano also speaks of this incident.  The words from Chapter Two of The Treatise on the Miracles of St. Francis are especially eloquent:

At the beginning of his conversion, when he had decided to take leave of the allurements of this life, Christ spoke to him from the wood of the cross while he prayed.  From the mouth of Christ’s image a voice declared: “Francis, go, rebuild my house, which, as you see, it is all being destroyed.”  From that moment the memory of the Lord’s passion was stamped on his heart with a deep-brand mark, and as conversion reached his deepest self, his soul began to melt, as his beloved spoke.

Again, the words of Thomas are spell binding.  Tell me you don’t long for your “soul to melt” from hearing the voice of Jesus, your beloved!

At first, when I read this, I thought “his deepest conversion” took place down the line.  I thought it took time for his conversion to unfold.  But as I reread it, I wonder?  I think that maybe that deep conversion happened immediately, just as it did for the Samaritans.  I think maybe the sound of Jesus’ voice caused deep conversion in Francis instantaneously.  How does it read to you?

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I want to be like the Samaritans.  I want to experience His presence and hear for myself and be sure.

I want to be like Francis.  I want to hear His voice, and I want to do silly things in an abrupt attempt to follow His instructions exactly, no matter how much I miss the mark to start with.

“His soul began to melt, as his beloved spoke.” 

I want that deep conversion to happen to me.  I want to encounter Jesus in such a powerful way that my soul melts.  I want to encounter Jesus in such a powerful way that conversion is no longer something to be decided upon and pursued in fits and starts, but something that is inevitable and unavoidable and immediate.

At the end of the first chapter of the first book of The Life of St Francis, Celano tells us just how important Francis is in the spectrum of conversion.

Then the Lord looked down from the heavens and for the sake of his own name He removed His own anger far from him, and for his own glory he bridled Francis’ mouth so that he would not perish completely. The hand of the Lord was upon him, a change of the right hand of the Most High, that through him the Lord might give sinners confidence in a new life of grace; and that of conversion to God he might be an example.

At some unconscious level, I think this feeds my attraction to Francis.  I think, without having read it explicitly before, I knew that Francis was an ultimate example of conversion.

My desire for conversion makes Francis the perfect spiritual father for me.  When I immerse myself in the life and history and charism of Francis, I have the best chance to experience the conversion I am longing for above.  In particular, when I focus on immersing myself in the gospels as that charism demands, when I encounter Jesus as a result of that immersion, I give myself a chance to experience conversion not as a choice I make, but as a natural and organic extension of living the precious life that God has blessed me with.

Maybe, just maybe, if I follow Francis closely enough, my soul will melt just as his did.

About, the Podcast

The Archangel Gabriel, Patron Saint of Communication

In a modern environment full of technological innovation, it is no longer enough to rely solely on the written word to be able to effectively communicate important messages to the world. Audio and video are elements that must also be integrated into any website if it is to reach its full potential.

With that in mind, Bill Schmitt and I recently set out to record a short podcast that would serve to introduce some of the goals that we hope to accomplish with OFSOngoing.

You can hear our conversation by simply clicking play on the bar below.

About, the Podcast

I think its safe to say that we were pleased with the outcome. More podcasts will definitely be something you can look forward to in the future.

Please be aware that this particular podcast actually had more than one purpose. While it was meant to provide an introduction to this site, it was also intended to be used on another site that Bill is a co-host of. That’s So Second Millennium is a site dedicated to discussing and discovering intersections between science, religion, philosophy and human experience.

To hear the version of this podcast that appeared on this website, just click here.

Pope Francis: When Distanced, Draw Near

From the Vatican News coverage of the Pope’s homily during Mass on March 18.

By Bill Schmitt, OFS (from OnWord.net | March 19)

Pope Francis has spoken out about our need to draw near to one another. He has done so from Rome, in the heart of a nation well-known for its current reliance on “social distancing”–the medically necessary phenomenon that tames contagions but challenges us in body, mind, and soul.

In his March 18 Mass at the Casa Santa Marta, Francis made valuable pastoral contributions to the growing conversation about how we all can use the mandate for social distancing to derive spiritual growth and wisdom for the future. The sadness of distancing and related COVID-19 containment strategies, which have grown in scope to include the heart-breaking cancellation of gatherings for Mass, is like a huge resolution to give up something for Lent; it demands to be accompanied by hope, trust, and the desire that a greater good will result from this sacrifice.

One splendid outcome would be greater awareness, among Catholics and all people of good will, that the “distanced” life we’re experiencing is the embodiment of an ongoing social trend we must resist. That trend is social polarization, the phenomenon that Pope Francis and many secular observers of public affairs are condemning as a dead-end for constructive communication, inclusive civic cooperation, the “dignitarian” principles of Catholic Social Teaching, and relationships with the Lord through missionary discipleship.

This most remarkable Lent must become a teachable moment when we wake up to the fact that we should not step closer toward the precipice. We retreat from the Kingdom of God by drifting into isolation, defamation, closed-minded outrage, relativism, and escapism through artificial realities. These and other contagions have been growing in the breeding grounds of politics, information media, the digital culture, and secular post-modernism.

Living through today’s experiences of interrupted togetherness, we need to find, and nurture, renewed preferences for the solidarity found in common pursuits, agreements about truth, and the joyful wholeness of a healthy human ecology. “Love always communicates,” the pope wrote in his 2019 message for World Communications Day.  Social distancing is an oddly unfortunate but welcome instrument of survival that combines practical wisdom with the impulse for charity–the humbled recognition that we’re all in this together.  It’s a taste of sacrificial love that should leave us wanting more and realizing that love deserves a brighter future.

If we’re willing to learn its lessons, this realization can strike us in new ways while we’re enduring the vulnerable suffering of man-made separation. Pope Francis captured this message of a fruitful attitude adjustment in his homily for the Mass he celebrated on March 18. Our uplifting pastor at the Vatican reaffirmed that we can learn lessons and skills now that will help pull us away from the precipice of polarization. The lessons come from a God who loves to be near to us even when we seem to have chosen isolation.

Here are a few points he made about the wonderful instinct to draw near to others, as reported at the Vatican News website:

  •   “The Lord gives His people the law by drawing near to them.” The laws he gave to Moses “weren’t prescriptions given by a far-off governor who then distances himself.” We should be drawn to seek a deeper relationship with this God amid our loneliness–the kind of loneliness that arises from social distancing, as well as from social polarization.
  • When God draws near, we too often pull away. “Sin leads us to hide ourselves, to not want nearness. So many times, we adopt a theology thinking that He’s a judge….” People want to be in control of relationships because they don’t want to be vulnerable. God knows this, so he makes himself weak in approaching us–with a weakness which was seen on a grand scale when Jesus came to earth in a manger and sacrificed himself through the shame of the cross.
  • “In this moment of crisis, because of the pandemic we are experiencing, this nearness asks to be manifested more…. Perhaps we cannot draw near physically to others because of the fear of contagion, but we can reawaken in ourselves a habit of drawing near to others through prayer, through help. There are many ways of drawing near.”

That’s the poignant challenge of this most remarkable Lent. How can we spend our moment of intense earthly separation–a separation that even extends to the cancellation of Masses–by bringing the heavenly Kingdom to ourselves and others? Not through physical nearness, but communication through our spirit and human senses–a smile we share, a song we sing, a thoughtful word, a period of listening, a tear we shed over someone’s pain. The March 13 post in this OnWord blog suggested some ways to refresh our talent for such nearness.

Thank God, we’ll see and hear many people offering an array of guidance for this act of repentance, a turnaround from isolation to fellowship, community, and communion. In addition to prayer and general acts of compassion to the elderly, sick, and otherwise troubled, we can resist the temptation to hoard material goods in a survivalist-style stockpile. Make a list of good alternatives. We can embrace our family and relearn its lessons of patient love. We can become more mindful of the meaning of everyday tasks that we might have performed carelessly, even hurtfully, during busier, distracted times. We can become more aware of, and thankful for, all the people who bless our lives–or other people’s lives–and then develop timeless ways to show that gratitude.

Since this is a teachable moment to remember later when social polarization is percolating, here’s one thing we might give up for this remarkable Lent: our habit of taking things for granted. It blinds us to lessons the Lord wants to teach us as He draws near. We can ask, What’s the Lord trying to teach me right now? During these days of social distancing, it’s perfectly understandable if we talk to ourselves.

Journey Thru John, Chapter 3: Proximity and Joy

Did you read the full chapter on your own this month?  Which verses spoke to you?  Did you make it a point to spend extra time with them?  Did you gain a little intimacy with Jesus in the process?

Did you ask for the intercession of Francis and Clare as you prayed?  Did you find yourself thinking about the Gospel and St. Francis at the same time?  How might he have reacted to the verses that you chose to concentrate on?

What is it that you know about Francis that leads you to that conclusion?  Did you go into the historical documents in search of support for your conclusion?  Did you look at the SFO Rule and see how it might relate to the passage you chose?

Is your confidence in your ability to pray over the Gospels growing?

Are you getting excited about spending this time with John and Jesus?  Is there a fire building in you?

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John Chapter 3, Verses 29 to 30:

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.  The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.  Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The speaker is John the Baptist.  His friends have observed Jesus baptizing and they tell John “all are going to him.”  They seem to be concerned that Jesus is stealing John’s thunder.  They are maybe a little jealous that Jesus is displacing or overshadowing John.  John tells them just before this, in verse 28, “You yourselves bear me witness that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’”  Then he speaks the words above.  John recognizes that things are as they should be.

As Franciscans, our ears should perk up whenever we encounter the word “joy.”  Our Father Francis was a troubadour.  He devoted his life, even before he sought to imitate Christ, to the spreading of joy.  We are aware of the parties he threw for his friends in Assisi before he figured out how to follow the call of God.  After he figured out his vocation, he matured and became able to separate joy from fun.  Teaching the nature of true joy then became one of his passions.  His definition of joy matured through his exposure to Jesus in the gospels, and through it all, joy remained one of the highest priorities of his life.  One of the greatest gifts he left us was his teaching on joy, but it is not easy to grasp what he was getting at.

In a moment I will give you the entirety of his definition of perfect joy, but first consider this from The Second Life of St. Francis by Thomas Celano, Chapter 88.

St Francis held that the surest remedy against the thousand wiles of the foe is spiritual joy.  For he used to say:  “The Devil most exults when he can filch from a servant of God his joy of spirit.”  He carries dust that he may cast it into the conscience through even the smallest chinks, and defile the candor of the mind and the purity of the life; but when spiritual joy (he said) fills the heart, in vain does the Serpent shed his deadly poison.  Devils cannot hurt Christ’s servant when they see him filled with holy mirth.  But when the spirit is tearful, woe-begone, and grieving it readily sinks into gloom or else turns to vain enjoyments.  He strove therefore ever to be gladsome of heart, and to maintain the unction of Spirit and the oil of joy.  He avoided with the utmost care the wretched malady of spiritual sloth, so that if he felt it stealing ever so little into his mind, he flew immediately to prayer, for he said: “When God’s servant (as often happens) is troubled about anything, he ought forthwith to arise and pray, and remain persistently in his heavenly Father’s presence until He restores him the joy of His salvation.  For if he tarries in gloom, that Babylonian stuff will increase, and unless it be at length purged out by tears, will produce abiding rust in the heart.”

First of all, let’s acknowledge again the impressiveness of Celano’s language.  “In vain does the Serpent shed his deadly poison!”  Yes, sign me up for that!  I want to know how to thwart the plans of the enemy!    “Abiding rust in the heart” is an image that shouts at me.  I’m pretty sure I don’t want any part of that, nor do I want to be associated in any fashion with “Babylonian stuff!”  If you are not aware, know that Babylon is always associated with worldliness.  Babylon is the opposite of the City and Kingdom of God. 

I wonder, if you think about your own life, can you empathize with what Francis is saying here?  Do you recognize the points in your life where you lost touch with joy and thereby wound up in a not so great place?  Did your lack of joy drag other people to that place as well? 

Were you separated from God at that time?  Did you recognize the separation when it started and grew?  Did you ever really recover before you turned to prayer, maybe to the gospels in particular?  Was it anything other than prayer that, in the end, pulled you out of it and allowed you to work your way back to joy?

Do you know someone right now who is in that situation?  Maybe someone who refuses, no matter how hard everyone around them tries, to claw their way back to a remembrance of joy that would serve as the first step out of the dismal place they currently occupy? 

Think even on a larger scale.  Is a terrorist a joyful person?  How could they do what they do if they were?  And where has it led them?  Directly into “shedding the Serpent’s poison?”

Francis says near the end that anyone who is troubled should “remain persistently in his heavenly Father’s presence until He restores him the joy of his salvation.”  Is joy even possible without being in close proximity to God via a healthy and active prayer life?

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Francis, in his wisdom, gave us a definition of true and perfect joy.  It’s not an easy definition to grasp or embrace, but that does not mean it isn’t true.  Here is Chapter Eight of The Little Flowers of St. Francis in its entirety, because it’s that important.

One day in winter, as Saint Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to Saint Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: “Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy.”

A little further on, Saint Francis called to him a second time: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice: “O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of waters – write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy.”

Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: “Father, I pray thee teach me wherein is perfect joy.” Saint Francis answered: “If, when we shall arrive at Saint Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, `We are two of the brethren’, he should answer angrily, `What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say’; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall – then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy.

And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, `Begone, miserable robbers! to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ – and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy.

And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming, `These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve’; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick – if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.

And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, `What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? And if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’ But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, `I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”

Now, I am not going to assert that I can explain this adequately enough that the meaning will be eminently clear.  I doubt I am capable of that.  But I do want to draw some parallels between Francis’ definition of perfect joy and the verses that I focused on from chapter three of John’s Gospel.  Maybe reflecting on the source of John’s joy will do what I cannot and help us better grasp what Francis was trying to teach.

Note the following items from Francis’ definition that, contrary to what we might expect, do not constitute perfect joy:

  • The Friars Minor giving a great example of holiness and edification.
  • The Friars Minor making the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the dumb speak.
  • The Friars Minor raising the dead.
  • The Friars Minor knowing all languages, all science, all scripture.
  • The Friars Minor prophesying and knowing the secrets of all consciences and souls.
  • The Friars Minor knowing the tongues of angels and the course of the stars.
  • The Friars Minor knowing all there is to know about animals, men, trees, stones and water.
  • The Friars Minor being able to preach so persuasively that infidels convert to Christianity.

This is a pretty impressive list.  It contains not just earthly knowledge and accomplishment, but supernatural knowledge and even the ability to work some miracles.  And yet it does not constitute perfect joy.  If you gave just one of these qualities to any person in this world today they would be hard pressed not to celebrate it.  We celebrate much, much less in the name of joy when it comes to our worldly achievements. 

But according to Francis, only the ability to maintain patience, joy and charity in the face of hardship leads to perfect joy.  Only the ability to contemplate the sufferings of our Blessed Lord through the lens of our own sufferings, out of love and gratitude for our Blessed Lord, constitutes perfect joy.  This is so because the only glory that is our own is a glory embraced as we share the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Any other glory is gift from God that does not rightly belong to us, was not created by us, and thus is not valid as a source of joy for a humble and righteous person. 

Francis is telling us that in the end, perfect joy has nothing to do with this world.  Joy is, in essence, proximity to God and Jesus, and there is no worldly achievement, no matter how grand, that allows us to gain that proximity.  We could never hope to approximate Jesus’ achievements while He sojourned here on earth.  Even Francis’ list of things that are not perfect joy pales in comparison to dying on a Cross in order to redeem all of mankind. 

We can never imitate, or experience or understand the God side of Jesus that makes our salvation possible.  It is only the human side of Jesus we can identify with.  And we are able to best connect to His Love when we experience suffering.  We draw as close to Him as possible only when we reject worldliness, embrace poverty, and acknowledge that the human suffering He endured while on earth (a suffering we made necessary) is the very thing that we have most in common with Him.  He came to us and lovingly partook in our condition (on our behalf) and thus established an intimate link with us.  Our suffering is our guaranteed bond with Him, a profound experience that unites us to Him in ways that nothing else compares to.

Paradoxically, suffering, because of the proximity it grants to Jesus, is the path to true and perfect joy if, as Francis says above, “we would share out of love for Him” the torment He endured to assure our salvation.  Perfect joy is the proximity we gain to Jesus when our suffering allows us to make an intimate connection to Him as we thankfully acknowledge His distress and, in the best way we can, join in His suffering with Him.      

Think of St. Francis at the end, enduring the never healing wounds of the stigmata for more than two years.  Now read again his definition of perfect joy.  It hardly makes sense, but the stigmata, with all the worldly pain and suffering that it brought to Francis, must have quite literally been a dream come true for him, the ultimately earthly experience that he could have hoped for, an ultimate connection with Jesus.  Put yourself in that place.  It’s not likely your first instinct, but look for the joy in Francis at the end!  He had to have been ecstatic despite (or because of?) his physical suffering. 

How else could he have given us such a pure expression of hope and joy as The Canticle of the Creatures while enduring such hardship?

Would it have been possible for Francis to receive the stigmata if he had not first defined true and perfect joy as he did?  Does not one lead directly to the other?  Is the stigmata not evidence that Francis was right about the nature of joy?

And then, would you be willing to do what is necessary to occupy that same place?  Would you actually pray that you might identify so fully with the suffering of Jesus that you would be granted the blessing of the stigmata? 

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Read again the verses spoken by John the Baptist with Francis’ outlook on joy in hand.  Are there parallels? 

John’s friends want him to claim the honor of his worldly achievements, but he is not interested.  He was chosen by God to be the herald of Christ.  To quote the first item on Francis’ litany of things that do not equal perfect joy, he gave “a great example of holiness and edification.”  And yet, like Francis, he desires no glory for a job well done because that assignment and his success is all made possible by God, all gift from God.  To glory in it would, in the end, lead to the opposite of joy.

You get the impression that if John was never mentioned in the Gospels, if his name never appeared in history, that would be fine with him.  He is content that Jesus will be the focus of everything going forward because that is the role that he (we, as well) was (are) meant to play.  All are going to Jesus because that is how it is supposed to be!  And John, to his credit, revels in Jesus’ prominence and success as a harbinger of an unbounded joy destined to spread well beyond his own personal being. 

Jesus has not yet experienced the cross, so John does not identify with His suffering.  Nonetheless, what John desires most of all is to be in close proximity to Jesus.  As the verse says, if he is simply close enough to Jesus to hear His voice, the voice of the bridegroom, then this is cause for great rejoicing. 

When John rejects the need for his worldly successes to be acknowledged, he is accepting the very argument that Francis was making.  The only thing he needs to experience joy is to be in close proximity to Jesus.  Although his own suffering is on the horizon, he doesn’t accomplish his joy through suffering like we do.  Instead, his timing allows him the privilege of actually being in close proximity to the human person of Jesus, and this is enough for him.  It is all he desires.  He can diminish in contented joy, knowing that his experience of proximity can never be taken away from him.  

John said, “This joy of mine is now complete.”

If he had paraphrased Francis and said, “This joy of mine is now perfect,” would that make the parallels easier to find?

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Article 19 of the SFO Rule says this:

“Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others.”

How does this relate to Article 4 and the call to go from “gospel to life and life to gospel?”

We must be joyful before we can spread joy.  If we seek joy through proximity to Jesus, is suffering the only path?  Or, perhaps, can that path be enhanced and supplemented by pursuing other proximities as well?  In the above passage from Celano, Francis exhorts us to prayer as another way to gain proximity to Jesus and God.  And, of course, immersing ourselves in the gospels is another wise path to proximity.

At the beginning of this reflection, I asked if you were getting excited about spending this time with Jesus and John?  I’ll ask again.  If joy is the likely outcome, does that get you even more excited about spending time in close proximity to Jesus by immersing yourself in the gospels?

Sister’s Message of Easter Hope

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We’ve just completed both the Lent we didn’t choose and the Holy Week, also not of our preference and choosing.  We’ve been forced by circumstances beyond our control to fast from the companionship of our neighbors, friends and relatives, co-workers, and most painful of all — the celebration of the Eucharist and from the reception of Holy Communion with our parish communities. Though we’re not out of the woods and darkness yet, our Christian Faith and the example of Jesus and of our Holy Father Francis give an assurance and spirit of confidence to our Hope. “Behold,” Jesus said, “I am with you all days even to the end of the world.”

In Genesis we read, “. . . there was darkness over the deep . . . “ A few lines later, “God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light. God saw that light was good (Genesis 1: 1-  4).‘ ”

In His last moments on the cross, Jesus asked His Father, “Why have you abandoned me?” Yet, a few minutes later, we hear Him say, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Jesus moving from the darkness of his Passion and Death into the peaceful presence of the Father. But for his disciples, still the darkness of Holy Saturday rules until . . .

. . . three days later, in the joyful brilliance of the Resurrection, He emerges from the tomb!  Matthew tells us, “His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow.” The guards so shaken by what was happening that they became as dead men — unable to move.

The last years of St. Francis’ life also give us his example of moving from darkness to light.  Rejected as leader of the community he had founded, blind with cauterized eyes, suffering from other bodily weaknesses, he writes the “Praises of God” and “The Canticle of the Creatures” — both hymns of adoration and praise without one bit of self pity or complaint or despair. 

During the last weeks, our entire planet has been bathed in the horrendous darkness of the Covid 19 virus with uncountable numbers of deaths, painful illnesses, loneliness, and devastations to national economies in every nation from giant corporations to mom-and-pop businesses. We’ve all experienced things we could not have imagined. No one has been exempt from the pain — nor are we at the end of this pandemic. Our pain, grief, and suffering is not over!

As Christians and Franciscans, however, we can offer to the deeply suffering world the gift of undying and unquenchable Christian Hope. Why? As one writer used to say, “We know the end of the story.”

During the Easter Proclamation (Exultet) we sing “ . . . let the earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King . . .”  And further, “This is the night of which it is written, . . . the night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night and full of gladness.” And, “May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star; the one Morning Star who never sets, CHRIST YOUR SON . . . who has shed his peaceful light on all humanity.”

Jesus, our Morning Star has gone before us; He IS risen from the darkness of death and shows Himself, the brilliant Light that He IS on us. He IS the way, the truth, the life, and the LIGHT that takes away all darkness of every kind and form.  We need not fear! We need only “ . . .to keep our eyes fixed on Him (Hebrews 12:2).”

He IS risen!  He IS risen indeed! Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Indeed, we do know “the end of the story”! Let us rejoice and be glad!

Opportunity in Hardship: The Example of St. Francis

At this stage, several weeks into the pandemic with who knows how many weeks yet to go, I find myself easily distracted.  Despite my pensiveness, I can’t help but feel this time is full of opportunity.  The practical secular in me thinks I should use this time to catch up on worldly things.  But the capacious Franciscan in me sees it as a time for discovery.  (It’s a never ending conflict.  Will I ever reconcile the two?)   

Laverna

This morning, the Franciscan in me held sway.  So I opened my Franciscan sources (Francis of Assisi: Early Documents) to do a little discovering.  I looked up the word “Hope” in the Index and opened to the first page under the subheading “Christ.”  I found myself in the The Life of St. Francis by Thomas Celano, The Second Book, Chapter VI.  Francis is near the end, suffering from the stigmata and a serious disease of his eyes.  The title of the chapter reads, in part, “The Way He (Francis) Decided to Live.” 

For nearly two years he endured these things with complete patience and humility, in all things giving thanks to God. But in order to be able to devote his attention to God more freely, he entrusted his own care to certain brothers, who with good reason were very dear to him. Thus he could more freely explore in frequent ecstasy of Spirit the blessed dwelling places of heaven, and, in the abundance of grace, stand in heavenly places before the gentle and serene Lord of all things.

If I contract the virus, will this be my outlook?  Will I endure it with “complete patience and humility?”  Will I “give thanks to God in all things,” even my own suffering?  Will I be able, in the midst of my distress, to “freely explore the blessed dwelling places of heaven in an ecstasy of Spirit?”  Will I seek “abundance of grace” that I might “stand in heavenly places before the gentle and serene Lord of all things?”

I don’t know if I am up to it.  The current uncertainty can’t help but make us aware of our mortality.  Even if I avoid the virus, the time will come when I have to face what Francis faced.  I think my distractedness is pointed at this.  I am not ready, and perhaps this disruption in normal routine is manifesting itself to me as an invitation to gospel watchfulness and preparedness.

If I follow the lead of Francis in hardship, if I “devote my attention to God more freely” during this trying time, what will result?  Celano, later in the chapter (quoted below), gives his answer, which I must admit, I find compelling!  Victory over the enemy, true bravery, and the hope of eternal reward are the promised fruits of trusting in the example and intercession of our most holy father, Francis.

“With the Christ as leader, He (Francis ) resolved “to do great deeds.” And with weakening limbs and dying body, He hoped for victory over the enemy in a new struggle. True bravery knows no real limits of time for its hope of reward is eternal.

Sister’s Message for Holy Week 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We’re about to move into the holiest week of our Christian year  — Holy Week.  Like Lent, this year it promises to be one we would not choose.  But in God’s providential plan, it’s one He’s chosen for us.  In his last hours, Jesus prayed three times, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will (Matthew 26:38).” Yet, it was not the Father’s will for Him at that time.

I suspect that all of us, including our Holy Father Pope Francis, have pleaded with our Father in Heaven to relieve the world of the painful virus that has taken so many lives and has caused so much pain, loss of life, disruption, and depression in so many people in every nation on our planet.  Like Jesus, we too must pray, “not as I will” and patiently await God’s deliverance which will come at the time He chooses.

In the wonderful phone calls I’ve shared with most of you (just a few more of you to dial up!), I’ve learned how resourceful each of you is about use of time:  more time for prayer, watching Masses streamed from various sources, painting your kitchen walls, phoning friends and relatives, sewing masks, knitting gloves and scarves for those living on winter cold streets, planning beautiful gardens in your yard when weather permits, reading books that have been on your bucket list forever, watching reflective programs on saints lives, walking the dog, organizing drawers and closets, trying new recipes, writing, etc., etc., etc.

The hardest part of this not-chosen-Lent for all of you has been the inability to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion with your parish communities.  It is painful indeed and it is a pain our Heavenly Father knows.  Please use whichever form of “Spiritual Communion” draws you closer to Jesus until the day when our heavenly Manna in the Eucharistic celebration and reception of Communion is again possible. The Chosen People in the Old Testament wandered in the desert for 40 years, and God never abandoned them nor did He ever not feed them each and every day. He will do the same for us and this pandemic will not last 40 years. As Third Order Brothers and Sisters of Penance, we can handle this! The TAU we put on each day reminds us of the strength that is ours through the Cross we carry as did Jesus. “I will be with you all days . . . “ Jesus said.

As we enter into Holy Week, I would like to offer you this thought from the Letter to the Romans:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ: will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (including Covid 19)  will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35, 37—39).”

May your Holy Week be filled with many, many blessings and graces and may the Lord give you love, peace, joy, and all good things in abundance! And don’t forget to “ . . . wash your hands, and when you’re finished washing them place them in the hands of Jesus.”