Did you read the full chapter on your own this month? Did you look for the verse or couple verses that spoke to you? Did you pray over them multiple times? Did you enter the scene and put yourself in direct contact with Jesus?
Did you ask for the intercession of Francis and Clare as you prayed in an effort to gain particular insight about your Franciscan vocation? Did you find yourself thinking about your prayer in the context of the Rule?
Was your prayer an effort to go “from Gospel to life and life to Gospel”?
Did you do your own reflection for this month?
Did you consider sharing that reflection with your brothers and sisters?
John Chapter 2, Verses 3 to 5:
When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Imagine yourself for a moment to be St. Francis of Assisi. You are still in the process of discerning your vocation. God has been calling you. He has gotten your attention but you are not sure what to do about it. You want to serve Him but you don’t yet know how. Harken back to the scene in the cave from last chapter. You have decided to pursue the treasure, the pearl of great price. You are in that cave, praying fervently, and this is the piece of the Gospel that you happen to be reading this day. You put yourself in the scene as one of the servants at the wedding. You hear the exchange between Mary and Jesus and then Mary looks over at you and says “Do whatever he tells you.”
Mary, just as John the Baptist in the last chapter, acts as a herald of Christ for you.
Can you imagine Francis experiencing the scene not as historical, but as current? Can you see, in the dim candlelight of the cave, the muscles around Francis’ eyelids, closed in desperate prayer, working as the realization dawns on him that Mary is talking not to some person one thousand years dead, but directly to him, right there and then. Can you see Francis “burning inwardly with a divine fire” as a result? Watch him fidget with anxiety, about to burst, unable to sit still and contain himself. See him reach the conclusion that if Mary is talking to him, right then and there, that he must devote himself to following the Gospels literally because that is the place where Jesus “tells us what to do!”
Then see him emerge from the cave “so exhausted from his struggle that one person seemed to have entered, and another to have come out.” This is the potential power of conversion that could result from living article four of our SFO Rule earnestly.
Can you bring yourself to hope for a prayer experience such as this with all your heart? Is it something you truly hope for, or something that scares you beyond the ability to hope because of the burden it would place on you? Could you include in your answer to last chapter’s question from Jesus (“What do you want?”) the hope that you might react to praying over the Gospels in such a way that it exhausts you and converts you to such an extent that it is apparent externally to the very next person you meet?
Can you recognize the value of learning the skill of putting yourself in the scene? I doubt I have ever experienced the fervor of being immersed in a Gospel scene the way Francis did. He was just gifted in ways that I am not. But I have experienced it to some degree. I have found myself unable to sit still after praying over a scene and gaining a particular insight from that prayer. I have found myself up and pacing, wringing my hands with the desire to drop everything in my life in order to pursue the outcome of that prayer as utterly and completely as possible. And I have experienced the frustration of trying to be productive at my everyday job afterwards and of wondering how to take the thrill of that realization and somehow incorporate into a very different way of living and not yet discerning how to do it.
At the beginning of chapter three of The Major Legend of Saint Francis by St. Bonaventure, we find this:
In the Church of the Virgin Mother of God her servant Francis lingered and, with continuing cries, insistently begged her who had conceived and brought to birth the Word full of grace and truth, to become his advocate. Through the merits of the Mother of Mercy he conceived and brought to birth the spirit of Gospel truth.
We don’t know from the record whether or not these exact verses from the Gospel of John elicited the hypothetical reaction from Francis that I asked you to consider above. But the heading of chapter three is “The Founding of the Religion and the Approval of the Rule,” so we do know from the above that Francis prayed insistently to Mary during his discernment process and that Bonaventure gives major credit to Mary for the path that Francis ultimately found. That is how powerful an advocate she became for Francis. Whether or not it was these specific words that caused his devotion to and reliance on Mary is not the point. The reality of the devotion, and how that gets passed down to us, is what these Gospel verses invite us to consider.
The SFO Rule, chapter Two, article Nine, reads like this:
The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to his every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.
This section of our Rule echoes closely chapter 150 from The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul by Thomas Celano:
He embraced the Mother of Jesus with inexpressible love, since she made the Lord of Majesty a brother to us. He honored her with his own Praises, poured out prayers to her, and offered her his love in a way that no human tongue can express. But what gives us greatest joy is that he appointed her the Advocate of the Order, and placed under her wings the sons to be left behind, that she might protect and cherish them to the end.
Oh Advocate of the Poor! Fulfill towards us your duty as protectress until the time set by the Father!
The reference to the Praises above is then traced into The Office of the Passion, which is contained in The Undated Writings section of Book I: The Saint. The Antiphon to be used throughout the Office reads like this:
Holy Virgin Mary, among the women born into the world, there is no one like you. Daughter and servant of the most high and supreme King and of the Father in heaven, Mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us, with Saint Michael the Archangel, all the powers of heaven, and all the saints, at the side of your most holy beloved Son, our Lord and Teacher. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, Amen.
Francis has specifically assigned Mary the roles of Advocate and Protectress. And he has specifically taught us to ask her to pray for us. Is he just honoring Mary within in the long tradition of the Church without consideration, or did he maybe find something in the Gospels that caused him to recognize her as uniquely suited for this role?
Read the passage from the Gospel again in light of that question. Do you find, in this Gospel passage, justification for Francis asking Mary into these roles?
This interchange between Mary and Jesus is fascinating. Mary, perhaps because of her unique role as Mother, accomplishes something that Jesus’s disciples fail at later in the Gospels.
When Jesus tells Peter that he must die and then be raised on the third day. Peter says to Jesus, “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus tells Peter “Get behind me, Satan!” and that is the end of the discussion. Peter has been taught authoritatively and his own desires are quashed.
When James and John ask for seats at either hand of Jesus, he tells them “You do not know what you are asking for,” and instructs them to seek the role of servant, not Lord. It’s not as harsh as with Peter, but still, the discussion ends with the instruction. Their desires are also quashed.
But in this scene, Mary actually gets her way. Jesus tells her no, but she goes right by that and gives instructions to the servants to do as Jesus says, and Jesus then does what she wants despite originally telling her no.
Doesn’t this scene establish Mary as the ultimate intercessor? I am not sure she actually changed Jesus’ mind. There is something deeply mysterious about why an omnipotent God responds to intercession. I don’t think he needs the advocate on His end, but perhaps there is something about me, about us, that needs someone in that role. Jesus, perhaps for his own purposes, chooses to appear as if Mary changed his mind. He has taken this opportunity to establish Mary in a special way in the role of the prototypical advocate.
Perhaps, in seeing her as the model, perhaps in asking for her help, we ourselves learn to become an advocate for others? Perhaps the model of her total submission in accepting the words of the angel is tied to her role as model advocate in a deeply mysterious way? If we learn total surrender, then the means to be an advocate is unlocked within us? We can then aspire to actually being competent at serving others?
I am not sure. I am guessing. I haven’t prayed over it long enough to reach a conclusion. Perhaps, when we meet as a group, you can help me discover more about how to think about it.
But Jesus does acquiesce to the wishes of Mary in this scene. And there must be something profound in that, something that enhances her stature as His Mother even further. Something that establishes her beyond doubt in that role of advocate. And something in turn that Francis saw in her that caused him to call upon her in his time of need, and then, when she proved to be responsive, to designate her the advocate and protectress of our needs as well.
I think, perhaps, I have made a mistake by not involving Mary enough in my prayer life. I spoke above about the frustration of experiencing productive prayer and then not being able to translate it well into my everyday life. I wonder now, as I see the reliance that Francis had on Mary, if I ought not cultivate that same reliance?
Is the component that is missing in my quest for conversion a lack of having a tried and trusted advocate on my side? Do I need Mary in ways I do not even realize?
What would happen if I, like Francis, “insistently begged her with continuing cries to be my advocate,” to help me in my conversion process?
Might I make some progress that I have heretofore been unable to make?