Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zacchaeus ~ out on a limb!

As I was pondering the story of Zacchaeus, I played around in my head with idiomatic phrases about trees. What came to mind are the following phrases: “barking up the wrong tree”; “money doesn’t grow on trees”; “a tree is known by its fruit”; “up a tree”; and “out on a limb” – do any of these phrases touch into your own stories of your relationship with trees?

I leaned back into my memory when I was a “wild child” of about eight years old.  I had a fondness for climbing, especially trees. I would often climb telephone poles, rock formations, backyard swing sets, tree houses, swinging ropes, and all sorts of trees in my neighborhood.  When my father got wind of my desire to climb objects, especially trees, he warned me not to do it in case I would fall.  Was this warning heeded?  Maybe my future was to be the pioneer that initiated artificial wall climbing, or a mountain guide as a companion of the Sherpa people! However, the warning was not heeded, as you could have guessed.  One day I found myself at the very top of a neighbor’s cherry tree. It was not too sturdy for climbers like me.  In fact, I was not able to make my way down with ease for I would break a few significant branches in my decent as well as possibly an arm or a leg.  So I had to shout to the nearby neighbor and have him bring his ladder to dislodge me from the “twisted hands” of the branches that were holding me in place. Once I reached the ground, I asked my kind neighbor to not tell my father.  No luck.  How did I know that fathers had a secret code to snitch on the exploits of their children? But what I’m failing to tell you is that it was sheer joy that I felt when I reached the top of that tree. You could gain a whole new perspective of your environment, spy on your friends or bullies of the neighborhood, and it offered a vision that ground level would never provide.  

So what does this have to do with Zacchaeus?  My thoughts are these:  that when there are murmuring mobs, critical crowds, or individuals who stand in our way of our potential, then maybe we have to be risk takers with curiosity and creativity so as to pursue a new perspective about ourselves and take up the challenge to “go out on a limb” seeking new possibilities. That is, maybe we have to take leave of the space and time that is our comfort zone and to be willing to know ourselves differently from what others assume, expect, or judge us to be.  

As a chief tax collector for the Romans, we know that this position did not “gain points” for Zacchaeus.  Being in this work made him eligible for the same snubbing, rejection, and ridicule as widows, children, and blind beggars.  He was not liked by his fellow Jews for he was not about anyone’s potential, only his own. Having heard that Jesus was passing through he was determined to see him. Word must have traveled (without the aid of Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or Pinterest) and made him interested in Jesus. Being vertically challenged did not help him get a clear view of the itinerant preacher entering his city. So why not rise above the crowd and gain a new way of seeing this Jesus.  However, it was Jesus that spied him first “up a tree” and truly “out on a limb.”  

Everything about this story has a sense of urgency.  Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, but he has the time to notice and be totally present to this little man with potential. This is how I believe that God truly sees us – in our potentialness! Jesus sees him as he is – and says, “Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”  God doesn’t desire worthiness, only willingness and this is what Jesus experienced with Zacchaeus.  Jesus peered into his heart and invited him to see himself as standing tall in his authentic self – his entire self was then open to trust and have faith in Jesus. Now Jesus has made himself an “outsider” once again since he entered the home of a tax collector – a “sinner.”  However, he names Zacchaeus as a “son of Abraham” and gathers him up once again to being an “insider” in the Reign of God – known by name, seen with potential, and loved unconditionally.  
I often wonder what Mrs. Zacchaeus thought when her husband brought home Jesus and his trusty friends for a meal.  Also, there seems to be some hints of what Jesus’ future will be with his own encounter of critical crowds shouting “Crucify him” and his own experience of being “up a tree” for all to see his total and unconditional love for all humanity!
So let us ponder: 
May our curiosities implore us to seek out Jesus as Zacchaeus did.
May any obstacles to our seeing be overcome with curiosity and creativity.
May we ask for the grace to be willing to “go out on a limb” for God to know us at our deepest self.
May we invite God within us so as to hear us being called by name again and again.
May we always be willing to reach out for someone with a “ladder” to help us in our predicaments if we find ourselves stuck in the “branches” of criticism, doubt, and fear.

Sycamore Tree in Jericho

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

All Saints ~ A Reflection

Several years ago, a Presbyterian minister challenged his congregation to open its doors and its heart more fully to the poor. The congregation initially responded with enthusiasm, and a number of programs were introduced that actively invited people from the less-privileged economic areas of the city, including a number of street-people, to come to their church.
Unfortunately, the romance soon died as coffee cups and other loose items began to disappear, some purses were stolen, and the church and meeting space were often left messy and soiled. A number of the congregation began to complain and demand an end to the experiment: "This isn't what we expected! Our church isn't clean and safe anymore!  We wanted to reach out to these people and this is what we get! This is too messy to continue!"
However, the minister held his ground, pointing out that their expectations were naïve, that what they were experiencing was precisely part of the cost of reaching out to the poor, and that Jesus assures us that loving is unsafe and messy, not just in reaching out to the poor, but also in reaching out to anyone.

Wisdom of Charles Schultz:
After Charlie Brown's team lost another baseball game, he went to Lucy and paid five cents for her psychiatric help. She said: "Adversity builds character. Without adversity a person would never mature and be able to face up to all the things that will come later in life." Charlie asked, "What things?" She replied, "More adversity."
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Since the early centuries, the church has set aside one day to honor, collectively, all saints, both those officially recognized and those known only to God.  Today, we celebrate all those known and unknown women, men, and even children who lived their lives with transparency, and who were grounded in their personal integrity.  They radiated God’s compassion and were willing to reach out beyond race, creed, gender, ideology, and differences of every kind – no matter the cost, no matter how messy life became when they reached beyond themselves - frequently embracing adversity and more adversity!

Sometimes we tend to think of saints as pious people, at times, irrelevant to our experience and often shown in pictures with halos and ecstatic gazes. But today, saints are women and men like us who live regular lives and struggle with the ordinary and the extraordinary problems of life.  What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God, the Gospel, and God’s people.  Each one, in his or her own inimitable way, rolled up their sleeves, put on an apron, and in bending, were eager to wash the feet of all whom they met, no matter how messy the conditions or how unwelcoming the environment. They were willing to face up to all the adversities they encountered – from their own culture, their government, the church, or even their own families or communities!

And so, we may ask, who are the holy ones for us today?  What does holiness look like in our time?  Are we not all called to holiness through our very Baptism?
One author remarks: “For centuries the church has confronted the human community with role models of greatness. We call them saints when what we really often mean to say is 'icon,' 'star,' 'hero,' ones so possessed by an internal vision of divine goodness that they give us a glimpse of the face of God in the center of the human. They give us a taste of the possibilities of greatness in ourselves." 
— Joan D. Chittister in A Passion for Life

On the feast of all saints, we are not only celebrating those who have died –we are celebrating all who have experienced the Gospel message and know that God dwells with them now.  Death is not the criteria required for sainthood, nor is perfection.  It is in our very participation in life knowing that we have God’s grace and power within us that we can reach beyond ourselves, no matter the cost – no matter the adversity. The saints we celebrate today are the people we know and who lived their faith.  Today, we honor all who have gone before us – and what we can simply say about them is that they tried; they believed.  They lived as best they could; they persevered in their trust in God; they lived the Beatitudes – perhaps without even knowing it.

I’d like to share from the life of a newly sainted woman – Mother Marianne Cope – who reached beyond herself and met adversity in its many forms and disguises. (I share this with you as a graduate of Brother Dutton Grade School and recall fondly the stories of Br. Joseph Dutton who worked on the island of Molokai for 43 years, and who no doubt ministered with Mother Marianne.) 
Prior to the inroads made by Mother Marianne, it is said that hospitals in the U.S. had an unsavory reputation. Many were staffed with unknowledgeable people and were filthy. Many people went to hospitals to die. Mother Marianne began to change all that by instituting cleanliness standards. The simple act of hand-washing between patient visits cut the spread of disease significantly.
She was a hospital administrator that started the patients' rights movement and changed how people cared for the sick.
She made sure the medical facilities welcomed all people regardless of race, creed or economic standing.
She was harshly criticized for treating alcoholics - for she treated their condition as a disease rather than a problem.
In 1884, the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse took charge of a leper hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii.  “When they arrived at the request of the Fr. Damian, they found horrendous conditions.  Patients of all ages and both sexes slept together on bloodstained mattresses on the floor; wards crawled with bedbugs, lice, and maggots.  The stench of rotting flesh permeated the premises.  Mother Marianne immediately improved the sanitary and social conditions of the patients, teaching her sisters how to nurse the sores of the patients" 

"When Fr. Damian died from leprosy himself, Mother Marianne took over for him at the island of Molokai.  She took charge and established a new standard of living for the residents.  As a teenager growing up in New York, she had worked in a clothing factory and had a great sense of style.  Rather than provide simple, drab uniforms for her patients, she fashioned beautiful clothing for them.  She took great pride in making dresses for the girls.  When Mother Marianne went to the island people they had no thought for the graces of life.  ‘We are lepers,’ they told her, ‘what does it matter?’ She changed all that.  Doctors have said that her psychology was 50 years ahead of its time.” 

“As Mother Marianne continued to lead her sisters in their work, she also had to deal with government officials who often seemed to cause more hindrance than help. With tact and determination, she was able to overcome the obstacles put in her way.”
No doubt, Mother Marianne and her sisters  could have said,  “this isn’t what we expected,” but they truly reached out in love and looked beyond the mess into the eyes and hearts of those with leprosy.

And so in our age, when there is renewed awareness of the suffering of innocent people though human trafficking, or through the exploitation of third world countries, or through the tragic systematic death of peoples by means of torture, famine, and genocide, then we can be sure that the saints are there tirelessly spending their lives to alleviate the suffering of humankind – in all its messiness and adversity.

In an age when there is a clash between human dignity of all and the restrictive power of a few over all, we can be sure that the saints will be there to name the injustice and call it social sin.
In an age when Christians are often confronted to choose between life and death for the sake of the Gospel, we can be sure the saints will be there with a holy resiliency, boldly standing in the mess and muck of it all - choosing life - and willing to stare death in the face for the sake of God’s reign.

 In an age when there is an ecclesial restriction of gifts of the Spirit to some groups, we can be sure that the saints will be there and will witness to the freedom of the Spirit regardless of restrictive laws about the use of those gifts.
In an age when discrimination, elitism, and oppression operates in society, in governments, or in churches, we can be sure the saints will be there to again proclaim the reign of God and be voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice and mercy for all.  
The nature of sainthood is an incarnational reality, the shape and form of holiness may change from age to age and culture to culture.  But, the Spirit of the Holy will continue to call people like all of us who are present here and those beyond this faith community – for it is God’s caring that we witness and it is God’s love that we share – no matter the cost, no matter the messiness of it all – let us be willing to face up to all things that will come now and later as adversity and more adversity, for it truly builds character.
So, I close with the words of Tagore – who speaks to us about walking forth as living the Beatitudes and what being a saint truly is:
-I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
 I awoke and saw that life was service.
 I acted and behold, service was joy.

- Rabindranath Tagore

All Saints - The Time Is Now!

During World War II a German widow hid Jewish refugees in her home.   As her friends discovered the situation, they became extremely alarmed.
“You are risking your own well-being,” they told her.
I know that,” she said.
“Then why,” they demanded, “do you persist in this foolishness?”
“Her answer was stark and to the point.
“I am doing it,” she said, “because the time is now and I am here.”

Today we celebrate the feast of all Saints -those known and unknown women and men, and even children - who are called holy because their lives manifested the very holiness of God.   And we do this today because the time is now and we are here.
These women and men are those who form “the great multitude of which no one can count, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”
 In the early Christian Church the first saints were martyrs, virgins, hermits and monks who were declared holy by popular acclaim.  Since the 16th century, when the modern saint-making process began, canonization was in the control of the popes and became a judicial process complete with evidence and cross-examination.

The person had to pass through a scrutiny of investigations and many proofs of miracles.   Once proven, then an elaborate ceremony of canonization occurred.  A feast day assigned, a Church and shrines were dedicated to the saint.
The person would be declared patron saint of a country, a diocese or other religious institutions.  Statues and images would be struck, along with public prayers, relics venerated and possibly a Mass would be composed in the Saint’s honor.
In the times from these early centuries until now, those declared saints have contributed to God’s reign as artists, authors, founders/foundresses of religious orders, monks, martyrs, missionaries and mystics, bishops, popes, poets, peasants, and prophets, women and men religious, kings, queens, historians, and hermits, wives, husbands, reformers, scientists, theologians, teachers, virgins, children, widows, carpenters, shepherdesses and a thousand more paths in which these holy ones gave themselves as self gift.

They lived in times of turmoil and times of tranquility; they endured persecutions, wars, church councils, crusades, The Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the Black Death, enemy occupation of their countries, and struggled with unjust government, church and social systems.
We may tend today to think of Saints as holy and pious people, sometimes irrelevant to our experience and often shown in pictures with halos above their heads with ecstatic gazes or surrounded by angels or holding a symbol particular to their story.

But today – saints are men and women like us who live ordinary lives and struggle with the ordinary and extraordinary problems of life.  What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people.  And so we may ask, who are the holy ones for us today?  And what does holiness look like in our time and place?
Are we not all called to holiness by our very Baptism?
The time is now and we are here.
It can be said that holiness is conditioned by socio-cultural and religious factors. In the early centuries, the martyr paradigm certainly was a manifestation of God’s holiness.  
As one author remarks:  For centuries the church has presented the human community with role models of greatness. We call them saints when what we really often mean to say is 'icon,' 'star,' 'hero,' ones so possessed by an internal vision of divine goodness that they give us a glimpse of the face of God in the center of the human. They give us
 a taste of the possibilities of greatness in  ourselves."
— Joan D. Chittister in A Passion for Life

And so in our age, when there is renewed awareness of the suffering of innocent people through human trafficking, or through the exploitation of third world countries, or through the tragic systematic death of peoples by means of torture, famine, and genocide, then we can be sure that the saints will be those who lives are spent working tirelessly to alleviate the suffering.
Because the time is now and they are here.
In an age when Christians are often confronted to choose between life and death for the sake of the Gospel, the saints will boldly choose life through the cost of death.  Because the time is now and they are here.

In an age when there is a clash between human dignity of all and the restrictive power of a few over all, the saints will name the injustice and call it social sin.
Because the time is now and they are here.

In an age when there is an ecclesial restriction of gifts of the Spirit to some groups but not to others, the saints will witness to the freedom of the Spirit to give gifts as the Spirit chooses, regardless of restrictive laws about use of the gifts.
 Because the time is now and they are here.

In an  age when discrimination, elitism and oppression operates in society, in the government and in our Church, the saints will again proclaim the reign of God and be voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice and mercy for all.
Because the time is now and they are here.

Because the nature of sainthood is an incarnational reality, the shape and form of holiness may change from age to age and culture to culture.  But the Spirit of the Holy will continue to call people like all of us who are present and those beyond this faith community –
to witness to the freedom of the Spirit;
to run, to risk and wonder at our daring;
to boldly choose life through the cost of death; to confront the oppressors and marvel at our courage; and work tirelessly for the people of God as we proclaim God’s reign.
For it is God’s caring we witness and
God’s love we share
because the time is now and we are here.

Pre-Halloween Treats!

The Welcoming Prayer (by Father Thomas Keating)
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it's for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God's action within. Amen.

The Serenity Prayer
(by Reinhold Niebuhr)
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

This is the hour . . .

The Hopi Nation Elders  

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold onto the shore.
They will feel they are being torn apart
and they will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore,
push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do,
our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we've been waiting for.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Humble pride?

I’m gorgeous

There is a lovely Victorian house that I pass on my way to work each day.  It has had a For $ale sign in the front yard for at least three months. Today as I passed by another sign was perched atop the For $ale sign. It read: I’m gorgeous inside!  I thought this was a great sign – one that would entice me to stop, go within and validate its proclamation!

However, I thought it also was a great metaphor for what I experienced this past weekend. This weekend was the 50th reunion of my high school class. So I traveled to my home town and met up with about 40 classmates, their wives, husbands, and significant others.  It was an absolute delight to meet with them once again after all these years.

There were often outbursts of laughter as people remembered experiences throughout our four years together.  I found that as I went from group to group or person to person, I inquired about their personal lives. I was surprised by their candid remarks about their personal journeys. Upon my reflection on these encounters that were “up close and personal” – I felt that they had been holding their stories deep within their souls and were waiting for that certain someone to come along who would gently hold their story with them without judgment or surprise. I felt so honored to stand with them in their laughter and tears – I name these the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of their lives. Truly they were gorgeous inside – and it was a sacred moment especially after fifty years.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus wants to teach his listeners a lesson about pride and the Pharisee gets to be the “bad guy” in the story. He has a prayer chuck full of all that he is and is not . . . and he is proud that he is not like others, especially tax collectors. He took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself “I thank you, God that I am not like the rest of humanity . . .” He thanks God for all his gifts.  So what’s the hook in his prayer?  He is proud of his humility before God and glad that others don’t have what he has and hopes that they don’t get it.

The second person in the parable is the tax collector who “stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed.” Being a tax collector was considered one of the worst jobs to have. As a Jew and tax collector, he was under the authority of “Big Brother” – the Roman Empire, of which all the tax monies funded the Empire and its territories. He had to be sure that the people pay him the taxes or else he gets no food, no place to live, no way to provide for his family, and no way to pay rent – he would be desperate. “This man is unclean. He works for Rome; he embodies, he displays, he makes present Rome’s power and authority. He has put his life in service to God’s enemy. It’s the most disgusting, dishonorable, unfaithful, thing anyone could do.”  His place in the temple is not with the Pharisee but among the unclean.  However, in his humble prayer, he doesn’t look up, he bows to the ground.  He prays: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”    He speaks his prayer with integrity and humility.

So are not both gorgeous inside?
However, the Pharisee’s vision is blurred by the illusion that the goodness and holiness he exhibits is only for him and he is proud of his humility.  Let us ponder: have we ever had a prayer where we set ourselves off from the rest of humanity . . . and were proud of our humility? What prayer does he really need to pray?
Or have we prayed like the tax collector knowing what it is like to live on the margins in a community, a church, the government, etc.?  What was the gift in the challenge of this experience?

Another Story:
One day a Rabbi, in a frenzy of religious passion, rushed in before the ark, fell to his knees, and started beating his breast, crying, “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!”
The cantor of the synagogue, impressed by this example of spiritual humility, joined the Rabbi on his knees. “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!”
The custodian, watching from the corner, couldn’t restrain himself, either, He joined the other two on his knees, calling out, “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!”
At which point the Rabbi, nudging the cantor with his elbow, pointed at the custodian and said, “Look who thinks he’s nobody.” (Chassid)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Magnificent Autumn ~ Delicious Autumn ~ Wise Autumn!

O sacred season of Autumn, be my teacher, for I wish to learn the virtue of contentment.  As I gaze upon your full-colored beauty, I sense all about you an at-homeness with your amber riches.

You are the season of retirement, of full barns and harvested fields. The cycle of growth has ceased, and the busy work of giving life is now completed. I sense in you no regrets; you've lived a full life.

I live in a society that is ever-restless, always eager for more mountains to climb, seeking happiness through more and more possessions.  As a child of my culture, I am seldom truly at peace with what I have.

Teach me to take stock of what I have given and received; may I know that it’s enough, that my striving can cease in the abundance of God’s grace.

May I know the contentment that allows the totality of my energies to come to full flower. May I know that like you I am rich beyond measure.

As you, O Autumn, take pleasure in your great bounty, let me also take delight in the abundance of the simple things of life which are the true source of joy. With golden glow of peaceful contentment may I truly appreciate this autumn day. (Ed Hays, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim)

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O falling leaves of autumn, what mysteries of death you proclaim to my unwilling self.
What eternal truths you disturb in the webbings of my protected heart
What wildness you evoke in the gusty dance of emptying winds
What mellow tenderness you bravely breathe in your required surrender
What challenge you engender through your painful twists and turnings
What howl of homelessness you shriek with your exile of departure
What daring task you evoke as you feed the hungry soil.
O falling leaves of autumn, with each stem that breaks, with each layer of perishing, 
You teach me what is required, if I am to grow before I die. (Joyce Rupp, The Circle of Life)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

God the judge? God the widow?

“As theologian Martin Borg says in The God We Never Knew, ‘Tell me your image of God and I will tell you your theology.’ That's why the Inquisition knew the imagination was such a dangerous thing. . . .There are so many images of God in the Old and New Testaments that entire books have been written on this topic. Some of our evangelical brothers and sisters have gone through the Bible and come up with a list of over 230 names or images that are used for God . . . 

For many Catholics, among the best impacts of Vatican II have been the many and varied biblical images of Father, Son, and Spirit that replace that of the rather stern policeman and judge which many people had for a long time. Today some people in the Church either cannot understand the fear that motivated many people in their faith, or else they argue that it is overstated. My friend Margaret is a foil for both positions.

In 1952, Margaret was the night charge nurse for the operating theaters in a large Catholic public hospital. The nuns worked six a.m. to six p.m.; Margaret worked six p.m. to six a.m. On Wednesday, February 27, 1952, she came off her twelve-hour shift having raced from case to case for the entire night. She was dead on her feet and starving. On arrival home at her apartment, Margaret cooked herself up a large plate of bacon and eggs and devoured it. As she finished her breakfast, her roommate walked through the door sporting a big black cross on her forehead. Jane had just been to six-thirty a.m. Mass on Ash Wednesday. Margaret had just consumed bacon on a day of fast and abstinence. Convinced she was in a state of serious mortal sin and seized by panic, Margaret says she raced to the bathroom and tried to make herself vomit. When that wasn’t successful, she very carefully caught the bus to St. Patrick’s Church, which was where the first confessions in town started at eight a.m. Margaret was not then, and is not now, a religious nut or a Catholic zealot. She was a very normal Catholic for her time. ‘I thought that if I died before I could get to the confessional box, I would go to my final judgment and God would say, ‘Look, Margaret, you have been a good Catholic, you’ve gone to Mass, said your prayers, and recited the Rosary. But what are we going to do about the bacon? I’m sorry, my dear, the bacon is a deal breaker, off to hell for you for all eternity.’ I really believed that I know it sounds crazy now, but when I told my nursing friends what had happened later that day, they all thought I had done the right thing. No one thought I was mad.’

Staying with this powerful and persuasive image, when we stand before God with the weakness and sinfulness of our own life, God will not settle old scores, take revenge, and exact retribution. Rather, God will be perfectly just and completely compassionate.  How can I be so confident? Because that is the way Jesus acted with those he met, and this is the overwhelming picture he paints of God in heaven in the Gospels. Whatever image we find helpful in our prayer, we do not believe in a nasty God in heaven with the loving Jesus who came on earth and the emboldening Spirit who abides with us still.” (Richard Leonard, SJ ~ Why Bother Praying)
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“The first gift of struggle is the call to conversion – the call to think differently about who God is and about who I am as an individual. It calls us to think again about what life really means and how I go about being in the world. These are deeply spiritual questions that touch on our notions of God as well as on our ideas of ourselves.  

To the patriarchal mind-set God is mighty warrior, stern judge, law-giving father, under whose dominion all things fall. To grow spiritually in the image of this God is to be in control, to conquer what is unacceptable in us and around us. To dominate at all costs. To get what is our due. 

But there is another way to think about God. To the newly retrieved feminist mindset of nearly every spiritual tradition, God is not only caring father but birthing mother as well, who brings new life with the rising of every sun and the descent of every inner darkness. To grow spiritual in the image of our mother God is to be open to newness, to expect surprise, to understand pain, to sooth hurt, to nurture difference rather than to deny it.(Joan Chittister ~ Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope)

So what is the Good News for us?
What is your image of God?
Let us pray:
The most essential factor is persistence - the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come. (James Whitcomb Riley) 

Persistence is incredibly important. Persistence proves to the person you're trying to reach that you're passionate about something, that you really want something. (Norah O’Donnell)

For Courage by John O’Donohue
When the light around you lessens, and your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn cold as a stone inside,
When you find yourself bereft of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly leaned on has fallen,
When one voice commands your whole heart, and it is raven dark,
Steady yourself and see that it is your own thinking that darkens your world,
Search and you will find a diamond-thought of light,
Know that you are not alone and that this darkness has purpose; gradually it will school your eyes
To find the one gift your life requires, hidden within this night-corner.
Invoke the learning of every suffering you have suffered.
Close your eyes. Gather all the kindling about your heart to create one spark,
That is all you need to nourish the flame that will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.
A new confidence will come alive, to urge you toward higher ground
Where your imagination will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Doctor Teresa!

Tomorrow is the celebration of Teresa of Avila.  I’d like to direct you to my blog posting from last year – Friday, October 12, 2012.  It has some great links and prayers to celebrate this courageous, creative, and faith-filled woman.

One of my favorite pieces from her writings was at the time that she was praying to God asking for a new monastery and that she expected God to help her find one.  She writes: “God told me: ‘I have already heard you; leave it to me.’”

So let us place our needs into the care of Teresa – and await God’s response  – I HAVE ALREADY  HEARD YOU- LEAVE IT TO ME!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Sense of a Goose!

Our Wisconsin skies  are filled with migrating Canada Geese.  Thought it would be good to share this reading: 

In Autumn, when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying in a "V" formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. 
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily, because they are travelling on the thrust of one another. 

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. 
If we have the sense of a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are heading the same way we are. 

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. 
It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south

Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. 
What message do we give when we honk from behind? 

Finally - and this is important - when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot, and falls out of the formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies; and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their own group. 
If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that. (Author Unknown)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Praise of Fall!

In the stillness of an autumn afternoon
we sit in quiet communion. Before us,
hills and valleys yawn, spreading wide
their yellow and green, ochre and gold
harvest of hay, beans and corn.
All summer long these fields drank
daily offerings of dew and sunlight.
We listen to the hush of hills, a hawk
above us riding thermal winds,
the drying corn nearby whispering
Praise! Praise! Praise!, the grass
beneath our squeaking swing
chanting, sotto voce, Thank you, God. 
Everything around us whispers shhh.
And when we do, we hear the holy
breath of God bringing forth the world.

Poem by: Sister Irene Zimmerman, SSSF

"Outsiders 'n Insiders"

There is a supermarket in my city whose mission is expressed through the philosophy of Servant Leadership. Servant Leadership is a theory of management that fosters organizational growth, individual development, and values. Its characteristics are: listening, empathy, healing relationships, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to human resource development, and commitment to building community.  (I wonder if the US Government - Senators and Congress members would be interested in this form of leadership?)  

So here we are with this Sunday’s Gospel of the Ten Lepers and another view of Servant Leadership with all its characteristics manifested in Jesus! We have in our story a band of ten men (nine Jews – “insiders” and one Samaritan - an “outsider”) who would normally not be in relationship with each other.  Jews despised Samaritans – they were considered heretics. However, their common affliction of leprosy brought them together as “outsiders”. This disease of physical disfigurement brought with it isolation from the faith community as well as social isolation.  Lepers lived on the outskirts of the town, begged for alms, had to stay yards away from the healthy people, and were outcasts from their family, friends, work, and especially the Temple. 
“Shunned by family and friends, called ‘unclean’ and forbidden to come within two paces of a healthy person, they lived in graveyards and garbage dumps and begged for scraps of food from passersby.”

The story unfolds when the lepers saw Jesus, they asked for mercy. They turn to Jesus for not only physical healing, but spiritual healing as well.  Such amazing faith! Jesus, in turn, invites them to move toward Jerusalem and show themselves to the priests. It is in the turning that they become healed, freed, restored. “The purpose of visiting a priest after a cure (Luke 5:14; Leviticus 13:49; 14:2) was so the cured person could officially resume his place in society. The nine lepers, presumably Jewish, had their minds on the future, on resuming the life they had left behind with the onset of illness. Their minds were full of scenes of reunion with wives, children, with reentry into market and synagogue.  There is no indication that their goals and future actions were anything but respectable and legal.” 

Now what about the leper who returned to give thanks to Jesus?  As a Samaritan (an outsider) he knew that he would not be welcome to enter into the Temple at Jerusalem.  Author, John Pilch, writes: “In the ancient Middle East, to say ‘thank you’ is to end a relationship . . . The Samaritan recognized it would be impossible to repay his Galilean benefactor or approach him again if the problem returned. The Judean lepers were a different story.  As members of the same in-group, they could approach Jesus anywhere at any time.  The Samaritan knew he was in the ‘wrong’ place at the ‘right’ time, and such an opportunity may never occur again for him.” Through the writings of Luke, we witness Jesus welcoming “outsiders” into the reign of God, so that all become “insiders.”  Let us pray to be aware when we keep others as “outsiders” – may we have the faith and courage to be servant leaders wherever we are.

So what is the good news for us reflecting on this reading?
Ponder if you have ever been an “insider” or “outsider.” What were the circumstances?  What were your feelings surrounding this experience? Was there a time when you noticed a movement of gratitude for your feelings, insights, and learnings in this circumstance?
Thomas Merton writes that God is mercy, within mercy, within mercy.  Reflect on this and ask for the gift of mercy – compassion – and healing for your life, those of others, and our world.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” 
                                                                       ― Melody Beattie 

  • Did Jesus consider himself an “insider” or “outsider”?

The paradoxes of being a "Servant-Leader" poem 
Strong enough to be weak; Successful enough to fail; 
Busy enough to make time ;Wise enough to say "I don't know"
Serious enough to laugh; Rich enough to be poor;  
Right enough to say "I'm wrong"; Compassionate enough to discipline; 
Mature enough to be childlike; Important enough to be last
Planned enough to be spontaneous; Controlled enough to be flexible
Free enough to endure captivity; Knowledgeable enough to ask questions
Loving enough to be angry; Great enough to be anonymous
Responsible enough to play; Assured enough to be rejected
Victorious enough to lose; Industrious enough to relax; 
Leading enough to serve

Poem by Brewer --- as cited by Hansel, in Holy Sweat, Dallas Texas, Word, 1987. (p29)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Franciscan Prayer for Peace

Lord, make us instruments of your Peace.  In a world all too prone to violence and revenge, we commit ourselves to the Gospel values of mercy, justice, compassion, and love.

We will seek daily to promote forgiveness and healing  in our hearts, our families, and our world. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; Where there is injury, let us cultivate peace.

Fear and distance prevent people from recognizing all as brothers and sisters; tensions lead to violence and mistrust; We will strive to honor the dignity that God places in each and every human person.

Grant that we may not seek to be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love. Our failure to understand the other can create exclusion in all its negative forms – racism, marginalization of those who are poor, sick, the immigrant; it can also create situations of domination, occupation, oppression and war.

We pledge to seek the way of solidarity, to create hearts, homes, and communities where all people will experience inclusion, hospitality, and understanding.

For it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned and in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Let us Pray:
Lord God, create in us:
-the Capacity to hear and understand the voices of those who suffer from
every form of violence, injustice, and dehumanization;

-the Openness to receive and honor people from other cultures, languages,
religious traditions, and geographical regions;

-the Creativity to explore new ways of communication and dialogue through
music, poetry, performing arts, and the mass media;

-the Audacity to undertake the building of communities of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.

To God who is above all and in all are the glory and the honor. Amen

St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio.

The people of the little Italian city of Gubbio are understandably very proud of their beautiful home. Then one night a shadow comes out of the nearby woods and prowls the streets. In the morning the people of Gubbio find a mangled and gnawed dead body. This happens again and again. Finally an old woman says that she has seen a wolf on the streets at night. The terrified people decide to ask a holy man who has a reputation for being able to talk to animals for his help. They send a delegation to get St. Francis.

They have very specific ideas on what St. Francis should tell the wolf. First, he should preach to him and remind him to obey the commandment against killing and to follow Christ’s commandment about loving God and neighbors. And then, just in case, since a wolf is, after all, a wolf, he should tell the wolf to move to someone else’s city.

Francis goes into the forest to meet the strange shadow, addressing it as ‘Brother Wolf.’ Then he returns to the town square. ‘My good people of Gubbio, the answer is very simple.  You must feed your wolf.’ The people are furious, especially with the suggestion that this uninvited beast in the midst is somehow to be regarded as ‘their wolf.’ But they do feed it, and the killing stops. (From Starlight, by John Shea)

An unconventional sculpture of St. Francis enjoying the night sky at his mountain retreat outside Assisi
This is the original story as written in 1276 by Brother Ugolino di Monte Santa Maria.
Little Flowers Of St. Francis, Chapter XXI

At the time when St. Francis was living in the city of Gubbio, a large wolf appeared in the neighborhood, so terrible and so fierce, that he not only devoured other animals, but made a prey of men also; and since he often approached the town, all the people were in great alarm, and used to go about armed, as if going to battle. Notwithstanding these precautions, if any of the inhabitants ever met him alone, he was sure to be devoured, as all defense was useless: and, through fear of the wolf, they dared not go beyond the city walls.

St. Francis, feeling great compassion for the people of Gubbio, resolved to go and meet the wolf, though all advised him not to do so. Making the sign of the holy cross, and putting all his confidence in God, he went forth from the city, taking his brethren with him; but these fearing to go any further, St. Francis bent his steps alone toward the spot where the wolf was known to be, while many people followed at a distance, and witnessed the miracle.

The wolf, seeing all this multitude, ran towards St. Francis with his jaws wide open. As he approached, the saint, making the sign of the cross, cried out: “Come hither, brother wolf; I command thee, in the name of Christ, neither to harm me nor anybody else.” Marvelous to tell, no sooner had St. Francis made the sign of the cross, than the terrible wolf, closing his jaws, stopped running, and coming up to St Francis, lay down at his feet as meekly as a lamb.

And the saint thus addressed him: “Brother wolf, thou hast done much evil in this land, destroying and killing the creatures of God without his permission; yea, not animals only hast thou destroyed, but thou hast even dared to devour men, made after the image of God; for which thing thou art worthy of being hanged like a robber and a murderer. All men cry out against thee, the dogs pursue thee, and all the inhabitants of this city are thy enemies; but I will make peace between them and thee, O brother wolf, is so be thou no more offend them, and they shall forgive thee all thy past offences, and neither men nor dogs shall pursue thee anymore.”

Having listened to these words, the wolf bowed his head, and, by the movements of his body, his tail, and his eyes, made signs that he agreed to what St. Francis said. On this St. Francis added: “As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?”

Then the wolf, bowing his head, made a sign that he consented. Said St. Francis again: “Brother wolf, wilt thou pledge thy faith that I may trust to this thy promise?” and putting out his hand he received the pledge of the wolf; for the latter lifted up his paw and placed it familiarly in the hand of St. Francis, giving him thereby the only pledge which was in his power. Then said St. Francis, addressing him again: “Brother wolf, I command thee, in the name of Christ, to follow me immediately, without hesitation or doubting, that we may go together to ratify this peace which we have concluded in the name of God”; and the wolf, obeying him, walked by his side as meekly as a lamb, to the great astonishment of all the people.

Now, the news of this most wonderful miracle spreading quickly through the town, all the inhabitants, both men and women, small and great, young and old, flocked to the market-place to see St. Francis and the wolf. All the people being assembled, the saint got up to preach, saying, amongst other things, how for our sins God permits such calamities, and how much greater and more dangerous are the flames of hell, which last forever, than the rage of a wolf, which can kill the body only; and how much we ought to dread the jaws of hell, if the jaws of so small an animal as a wolf can make a whole city tremble through fear.

The sermon being ended, St. Francis added these words: “Listen my brethren: the wolf who is here before you has promised and pledged his faith that he consents to make peace with you all, and no more to offend you in aught, and you must promise to give him each day his necessary food; to which, if you consent, I promise in his name that he will most faithfully observe the compact.”

Then all the people promised with one voice to feed the wolf to the end of his days; and St. Francis, addressing the latter, said again: “And thou, brother wolf, dost thou promise to keep the compact, and never again to offend either man or beast, or any other creature?” And the wolf knelt down, bowing his head, and, by the motions of his tail and of his ears, endeavored to show that he was willing, so far as was in his power, to hold to the compact. Then St Francis continued: “Brother wolf, as thou gavest me a pledge of this thy promise when we were outside the town, so now I will that thou renew it in the sight of all this people, and assure me that I have done well to promise in thy name”; and the wolf lifting up his paw placed it in the hand of St Francis.

Now this event caused great joy in all the people, and a great devotion towards St. Francis, both because of the novelty of the miracle, and because of the peace which had been concluded with the wolf; and they lifted up their voices to heaven, praising and blessing God, who had sent them St. Francis, through whose merits they had been delivered from such a savage beast.

The wolf lived two years at Gubbio; he went familiarly from door to door without harming anyone, and all the people received him courteously, feeding him with great pleasure, and no dog barked at him as he went about. At last, after two years, he died of old age, and the people of Gubbio mourned his loss greatly; for when they saw him going about so gently amongst them all, he reminded them of the virtue and sanctity of St. Francis. 

For Pondering:
Who or what is the “wolf” in our cities, government, churches, or society today?
What is our collective or personal response to those we fear because of how they dress, what they believe, or attitudes they may hold?
Francis was a reconciler of enemies – what in us personally or collectively  that needs the grace of reconciliation?
What are the hungers that we experience personally or collectively?  How do we pray for mercy, insight, guidance, and openness to divine healing?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Angels We Have Heard On High?? Angels We Have Heard Near-by!

The Annunciation - Tanner 1898

Feast of the Guardian Angels - October 2

When we see pain on a tortured person’s face, we might glimpse for a second the image of Jesus crucified, a reality that artists for centuries have shown in infinite variation and detail and one that enters the lives of all of us at one time or another.  We might look at a woman in a jewelry shop with eyes of D.H. Lawrence, who saw Aphrodite in the body of the woman washing her clothes in a river.  We might see a Cezanne still life in a momentary glance at our kitchen table. When a summer breeze blows through an open window as we sit reading in a rare half-hour of quiet, we might recall one of the hundreds of annunciations painters have given us, reminding us that it is the habit of angels to visit in moments of silent reading. (-Thomas Moore, in Care of the Soul)

Story: Once upon a time there was a blacksmith who worked hard at his trade. The day came for him to die. The angel was sent to him, and much to the angel’s surprise he refused to go. He pleaded with the angel to make his case before God that he was the only blacksmith in the area and it was time for all his neighbors to begin their planting and sowing. He was needed. So the angel pleaded his case before God. He said that the man didn't want to appear ungrateful, and that he was glad to have a place in the kingdom, but could he put off going for a while? And he was left.

About a year or two later the angel came back again with the same message: God was ready to share the fullness of the kingdom with him. Again the man had reservation and said: ‘A neighbor of mine is seriously ill, and it’s time for the harvest. A number of us are trying to save his crops so that his family won’t become destitute. Please come back later.’ And off the angel went again.

Well, it got to be a pattern. Every time the angel came, the blacksmith had one excuse or another. The blacksmith would just shake his head and tell the angel where he was needed and decline. Finally, the blacksmith grew very old, weary and tired. He decided it was time, and so he prayed: ‘God, if you’d like to send your angel again, I’d be glad to come home now.’ Immediately the angel appeared, as if from around the corner of the bed. The blacksmith said: ‘If you still want to take me home, I’m ready to live forever in the kingdom of heaven.’ And the angel laughed and looked at the blacksmith in delight and surprise and said: ‘Where do you think you've been all these years?’ He was home. (-Megan McKenna in Parables)

Story: Once upon a time there was a woman who longed to find out what heaven is like. She prayed constantly, ‘O God, grant me in this life a vision of paradise.’ She prayed in this way for years until one night she had a dream. In her dream an angel came and led her to heaven. They walked down a street in paradise until they came to an ordinary looking house. The angel, pointing toward the house said, ‘God and look inside.’

So the woman walked in the house and found a person preparing supper, another reading the newspaper, and the children playing with their toys. Naturally, she was disappointed and returned to the angel on the street. ‘Is this all there is to heaven.’
The angel replied, ‘Those people you saw in that house are not in paradise, paradise is in them!’ (-Edward Hays in Feathers on the Wind)

In Irish spirituality, there has always been great reverence for angels. The word ‘angel’ in the Irish language is derived from two words ‘ain’ and ‘geal’ – the place of brightness. The belief that the angelic spirits come from the place of light, which is heaven. Angels are depicted in much of early Irish sacred art and appear in the writings of St. Patrick when he refers to the angel of the nation. The early Christians held a great reverence for spiritual things and believed that they were protected by the angels in all places and at all times. Many of the ancient prays reveal a close relationship between heaven’s helpful spirits and a believing people. There were no boundaries in the Celtic imagination and such messengers were present in all areas of life. 
So what then is the purpose of the angels in the twenty-first century where the sacred and the secular often clash and where many are wandering desperately seeking for some meaning in life and hoping for something deeper? The angels exist to bring the hope and protection of God into our lives though we all have free will and can make choices of our own.  

Perhaps unknowingly, we too have encountered the angels in our own lives in various guises and forms as they reveal to us the goodness and compassion of God, who longs to be close to us.
(-Liam Lawton, Where God Hides)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Reflections in honor of St. Francis

It is said that at one time Rabbi Lot went to see Rabbi Joseph and said, “Rabbi, as much as I am able, I practice a small rule of life, all the little fasts, some prayer and meditation, and remain quiet, and as much as possible, I keep my thoughts clean.  What else should I do? Then the old Rabbi Joseph stood up and stretched out his hands toward heaven, and his fingers became like the torches of flame.  And he said, “Why not be turned into fire?
                                                            (From the Desert Fathers and Mothers)
October 4,  we celebrate Francis of Assisi, who not only turned into fire but set the world on fire with his generosity, creativity, imagination, dedication to the poor and his austere living of the Gospel.  He had a profound faith, a deep prayer life and an abiding love of God and creation.   Many commentators have called Francis “a Second Christ,” because he tried in so many ways to be exactly like Jesus.

He was born in the Tuscan country side of Assisi in 1181 to a wealthy cloth merchant.  Francis enjoyed a very rich easy life growing up; he received little formal education and during his early years he was preoccupied with having fun.  Today, we would perhaps say he is among the bold and the beautiful, the rich and famous, and the young and the restless!  As a young man, he was popular, charming, enjoyed practical jokes and was usually the life of the party.  He was good at business, but wanted to become a troubadour and write poetry.   Everyone loved Francis.  He was constantly happy, a dreamer and a born leader.  

When he was twenty years old he was eager to be a knight and took part in a battle of a nearby country, yet his townspeople were defeated and he spent a year in prison.  After his return to Assisi, he became seriously ill and dissatisfied with his way of life.  He endured a spiritual crisis and devoted himself to solitude, prayer and service of the poor.  One of the many conversion experiences of his life that is told was when he was riding one day; he came face to face with a leper who begged for money.  Francis had always had disgust for lepers, and turning his face, he rode on; but immediately he had a change of heart and returned to the leper and gave him all the money he had and kissed his hand.  As he rode off, he turned around for a last glance, and saw that the leper had disappeared.  From that day on he dressed in rags and gave himself to the service of the lepers and the poor.

Another conversion moment is told when he was in the nearby Church of San Damiano.   While he was praying, he heard Christ on the cross speak to him.  “Francis, repair my church.”  With this mandate and with the words of the Gospel, “The kingdom of God is at hand, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out devils; freely have you received, freely give. Carry neither gold nor silver nor money, nor bag, nor two coats, nor sandals. . .” 

Francis, then at once felt that this was his vocation and proceeded to preach to the poor.  In time, 12 others joined him in preaching the Gospel and working among the poor. They took literally the words of Christ when he sent his disciples out to preach.  They would have no money and not property, individually or collectively. 

Their task was to preach, “using words if necessary,” but declaring the love of God by their words and actions.  Francis called his order the “Order of Friars Minor” or the order of lesser brothers.  They were to live as brothers of all, to reveal by their love that all human beings are sisters and brothers. Francis did not live in a monastery but among the people, and in that world, he sought and found God.  

His approach was an Incarnational approach – God was a loving Father/Creator and all that Francis had was gift, Christ was his Brother and the Spirit of that love lived and burned in him.  
Following the Gospel literally, Francis and his companions at first frightened their listeners as these men dressed in rags talking about God’s love.  But soon the people noticed that these barefoot beggars wearing sacks seemed filled with constant joy. They celebrated life.  

An early biographer gives an account of Francis’ physical appearance.  “In stature he was rather on the short side, his head of moderate size and round, his face long, his forehead smooth and low, his eyes of medium size, black and candid, his hair dark, his eyebrows straight, his nose even-shaped, thin and straight, his ears prominent but delicate.
In conversation he was agreeable, ardent and penetrating, his voice firm, sweet-toned and clearly audible, his lips delicate, his beard black and rather sparse, his neck slender, his shoulders straight, his arms short, his hands small, with long fingers, his feet small, his skin tender, his clothing rough, his sleep brief and his bounty most liberal.”

Francis’ brotherhood included all of God’s creation.  He had a deep love for animals and a special fondness for birds.  He liked to refer to animals as his brothers and sisters.   

In one famous story, Francis preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God’s care. The story tells us the birds stood still as he walked among them, only flying off when he said they could leave. 

Another famous story involves the wolf of Gubbio.  Out of hunger, the wolf took to attacking the people of Gubbio as they worked in their fields. The people were so frightened of the wolf they didn’t dare go out into the fields without armed protection.  Francis said to them, “Let me go out to talk with the wolf.”  So he went out to meet the wolf and spoke with him, who became docile at his approach and so the wolf returned with Francis to meet the people of Gubbio.  Francis arranged a peace pact between the people and the wolf.  The people would feed the wolf and in return the wolf would live peacefully with them. 

Francis’ final years were filled with much suffering.  Praying to share in Christ’s passion he had a vision and received the stigmata, the marks of the nails and the lance wounds that Christ suffered. 

Years of poverty and wandering had made Francis ill.  In his final months of his life, being blind and enduring intense suffering, he joyfully and with cheerfulness wrote his beautiful Canticle of the Sun that expresses his brotherhood with creation in praising God.  He died at the age of 45 and at which time there were now several thousand members throughout Europe to carry on his mission and call.  He was canonized two years later.

So what is the good news for us today?
Francis speaks to us to live with joy, simplicity and faithfulness to the Gospels.   Let us dare to search for meaning and fulfillment in our relationship to God even when we may look a little foolish or even when it may call us to make drastic changes in our attitudes and behaviors.
Francis speaks to us about our relationship to creation.   Let us be voices that challenge as we confront the environmental issues that affect our planet today. “Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
Francis was called to “repair the church.”  Let us live with integrity and courage to witness a church of inclusivity, compassion, forgiveness and hope so that the message and mission of Jesus will be revealed – and let us use words, if necessary!
Francis speaks to us about the gift of suffering.  Let us ask for the graces we need when we find life tiring and burdensome so that the gentle and loving presence of God will bless us with refreshing peace, healing and bravery.
Francis speaks to us of poverty.  Let us live with an awareness that all we have is gift, and that we are to share the resources of this world with everyone; we are guardians and stewards of creation; sisters and brothers to all.
Francis kisses the leper and tames the wolf.  Let us be aware of the things in our lives that we may fear; the things that scare us – let us ask for the graces to embrace them with courage and love.   

Let us search for the wolf that hungers in our world, church, government, community, and in our personal lives – let us name and tame the hungers so that we may live with trust, harmony, justice and peace. “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”