Saturday, October 29, 2016

Lessons On Life. . .


There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn not to judge things too quickly. So he sent them each on a quest, in turn, to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.

The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest son in the fall. When they had all gone and come back, he called them together to describe what they had seen.

The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted. The second son said no it was covered with green buds and full of promise. The third son disagreed; he said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen. The last son disagreed with all of them; he said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment.

The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but only one season in the tree's life. He told them that you cannot judge a tree, or a person, by only one season, and that the essence of who they are and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life can only be measured at the end, when all the seasons are up. If you give up when it's winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, fulfillment of your fall.

Don't let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest.
Don't judge life by one difficult season.
Persevere through the difficult patches
and better times are sure to come some time or later   
Author Unknown


A Prayer for the World and More!


A Prayer by Rabbi Harold Kushner – 2003

Let the rain come and wash away
the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds
held and nurtured over generations.

Let the rain wash away the memory
of the hurt, the neglect.
Then let the sun come out and
fill the sky with rainbows.

Let the warmth of the sun heal us
wherever we are broken.
Let it burn away the fog so that
we can see each other clearly.
So that we can see beyond labels,
beyond accents, gender or skin color.

Let the warmth and brightness
of the sun melt our selfishness.
So that we can share the joys and
feel the sorrows of our neighbors.

And let the light of the sun
be so strong that we will see all
people as our neighbors.

Let the earth, nourished by rain,
bring forth flowers
to surround us with beauty.

And let the mountains teach our hearts
to reach upward to heaven.


Saints Are Those Who Find Joy in the Messiness of Life!

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 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 naive 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." 

+ + +

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!

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.

• 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 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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Zacchaeus ~ Out on a limb!

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Tree
by James Tissot
As I was pondering the story of Zacchaeus, (this Sunday's Gospel)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 curious about 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” to know ourselves at our deepest inner place  – where God rests with compassion and mercy.
• May we invite God within us so that we hear ourselves being tenderly called by name again and again, and again.
• May we always be willing to reach out to someone with a “ladder” to help us in our predicaments if we find ourselves stuck in the “branches” of criticism, doubt, and fear.
And when we are "caught up" in life's complications, we will hear our God say, "Hurry down . . .today is my day to be a guest in your home."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Prayer to prepare to vote. . . .

Prayer for Leadership

Give us, O God, leaders whose hearts are large enough to match the breadth of our own souls and give us souls strong enough to follow leaders of vision and wisdom.

In seeking a leader, let us seek more than development for ourselves—though development we hope for—more than security for our own land—though security we need—more than satisfaction for our wants—though many things we desire.

Give us the hearts to choose the leader who will work with other leaders to bring safety to the whole world.
Give us leaders who lead this nation to virtue without seeking to impose our kind of virtue on the virtue of others.
Give us a government that provides for the advancement of this country without taking resources from others to achieve it.

Give us insight enough ourselves to choose as leaders those who can tell strength from power, growth from greed, leadership from dominance, and real greatness from the trappings of grandiosity.

We trust you, Great God, to open our hearts to learn from those to whom you speak in different tongues and to respect the life and words of those to whom you have entrusted the good of other parts of this globe.

We beg you, Great God, give us the vision as a people to know where global leadership truly lies, to pursue it diligently, to require it to protect human rights for everyone everywhere.

We ask these things, Great God, with minds open to your word, and hearts that trust in your eternal care. Amen.  

By Joan Chittister, OSB

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Presence of the Presence!

Litany of God's Names by Joseph Sobb, S.J.

O God of silence and quietness, you call us to be still and know you -
O God of steadfast love, your Spirit is poured into our hearts –
O God of compassion, your Word is our light and hope –
O God of faithfulness, you fill our hearts with joy –

O God of life and truth, from you we receive every gift –
O God of healing and peace, you open us to divine grace –
O God of all creation, our beginning and our end –
O God of salvation, you reconcile all things in Jesus, -

O God of Jesus, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit –
O God of Jesus, who invites us, “Come and see” –
O God of Jesus, who was tempted as we all are –
O God of Jesus, who is your pledge of saving love –

O God of Sarah and Abraham, from whom came  Jesus -
O God of Anna and Simeon, who recognized Jesus, your Son,
 as Messiah –
O God of Mary, who bore Jesus, -  
O God of Joseph, to whose fatherly care was entrusted Jesus, -

O God of all generations, of all times and seasons and peoples –
O God of our mothers and fathers, of all who have loved us –
O God of our past; O God of our future –
O God of our present, O God in our present -

Humble Pride!

I’m Gorgeous Inside!

There is a lovely Victorian house I pass on my way north as I drive through my neighborhood. 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 experience when I attend weekend gatherings for participants in the spiritual direction preparation program, of which I am an adjunct supervisor. I meet so many wonderful and sincere people who desire to deepen their spiritual life and walk as a faith-filled companion with those seeking to deepen their relationship with God.

I found that as I sit in the varied group activities, I marvel at the courage, faith, hope, and resiliency of these participants. They truly are gorgeous inside and I am privileged and honored to stand with them in their laughter and tears as they share their journey stories.            
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 we proud of our humility? What prayer did we 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)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"Knot in your life"!

The Knots Prayer

O God,
please untie the knots
that are in my mind,
my heart, and my life.

Remove the have nots,
the can nots and the do nots
that I have in my mind.

Erase the will nots,
may nots, might nots
that find a home in my heart.

Release me from the could nots,
would nots, and should nots
that obstruct my life.

And most of all, God,
I ask that you remove from my mind
my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots'

that I have allowed to hold me back,
especially the thought
that I am not good enough. Amen.

Author Unknown .
. .


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Timing is everything . . .

“What is it too soon for,
too late for, just the right time for?   
When you are very still in a place without words, steeped in silence, when the world is elsewhere with its noise and motion, what are the sacred hungers that echo inside of you?

Who am I when I stop doing?”
~ Dawna Markova, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life

The prayer of the cup . . .

O God, to you I raise my whole being,

~ a vessel emptied of self.  Accept,

O God, this my emptiness, and so fill

me with yourself ~ Your light, your

love, your life ~ that these your

precious gifts may radiate through

 me and over-flow the chalice of my

 heart into the hearts of all with

whom I come in contact this day~

revealing unto them

the beauty of









your peace

which nothing can destroy.

ancient sufi prayer

This day . . .

Look to this day
for it is life
the very life of life.

In its brief course lie all
the realities and truths
of existence
the joy of growth
the splendor of action
the glory of power.
For yesterday is but a memory
and tomorrow is only a vision.

But today well lived
makes every yesterday
a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow
a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day . . .
~ an ancient Sanskrit poem ~

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Teresa~Mystic, Saint, Doctor of the Church, and more!

Feast of Teresa of Avila ~ October 15

Prayers of Teresa:
+  + +

May today there be peace within.  May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.  May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.  May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.  May you be content knowing you are a child of God.  Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love.  It is there for each and every one of us.

+ + +

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Letting be, Letting God . . .

Where there is beauty
Let me sing
Where there is goodness
Let me praise

Where there is wisdom
Let me listen
Where there is courage
Let me affirm

Where there is wonder
Let me be humble
Where there is loneliness
Let me be present

Where there is suffering
Let me weep
Where there is injustice
Let me cry out

Where there is condemnation
Let me bring integrity
Where there is deafening silence –
Let me speak

(Where God Hides by Liam Lawton)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pope John XXIII - Saint and Prophet ~

October 11, Memorial Feast of Pope John XXIII

Not long after being elected to the papacy, Pope John took up residence in the papal apartments. These private apartments are hidden well inside Vatican City. John felt a little like a prisoner there, unable to come and go as he pleased and, more important to him, unable to invite friends to daily meals. It had become a custom for the pope to dine alone.

Pope John confided to his secretary, Monsignor Loris Capovilla, that he was unable to sleep through the night anymore. He felt lonely, and this kept him awake. He needed more conversation and more social stimulation to help him lose this feeling of being deserted . . .

Pope John simply could not accustom himself to the habit of eating all by himself, a practice which Pius XII had always maintained. In a very short time Capovilla was invited to join him at the table. The Pope’s appetite improved immediately. Shortly afterward he invited the cardinals of the Curia to be his table companions, one after the other. Little by little, bishops from all over the world, when they made their ad limina visits to Rome, were invited to join him for lunch or dinner. (Klinger, p. 29)
+  +  +

Once a distinguished luncheon companion ventured to remind John of the solitary eating habits of Pius XII. “Well and good,” John replied. “I value tradition and I grant that my predecessors did, too.  I must confess, however, that I have never found any place in the Bible which suggests that the Pope should eat alone." (Klinger, p. 29)
(Above selections from: Praying with Pope John XXIII by Bill Huebsch)

Quotes from Pope John XXIII
  •  “It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope.”
  •  “Italians come to ruin most generally in three ways, women, gambling, and farming. My family chose the slowest one.”
  • “Anybody can be Pope; the proof of this is that I have become one.”
  •  “The feelings of my smallness and my nothingness always kept me good company.”
  •  “To have accepted with simplicity the honor and the burden of the pontificate, with the joy of being able to say that I did nothing to obtain it, absolutely nothing; indeed I was most careful and conscientious to avoid anything that might direct attention to myself. As the voting in Conclave wavered to and fro, I rejoiced when I saw the chances of my being elected diminishing and the likelihood of others, in my opinion truly most worthy and venerable persons, being chosen.”
  •  "See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.”
  •  “Here I am at the end of the road and at the top of the heap.”
  •  ”Prayer is the raising of the mind to God.
    We must always remember this.
    The actual words matter less.”
  •  “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”

Friday, October 7, 2016

God Be With Us ~ God Is With Us!

God Be With Us

May God be with us in strength, holding us in strong-fingered hands; and may we be the sacrament of God’s strength to those whose hands we hold.

May God be with us in gentleness, touching us with sunlight and rain and wind. May God’s tenderness shine through us to warm all who are hurt and lonely.

May God be with us in wonder, delighting us with thunder and song, sunrise and daisy; enchanting our senses, filling our hearts, giving us wide-open eyes for seeing and splendor in the humble and majestic. And may we open the eyes and hearts of the blind and the insensitive.

May God be with us in love and friendship, listening to us, speaking to us, drawing us close as we tremble at the edge of self-gift.  May God’s love in us light fires of faith and hope, glow in our eyes and meet God’s love glowing in the eyes of our friends.

May God be with us in compassion, holding us close when we are weary and hurt and alone – when there is rain in our heart. And may we be the warm hands and the warm eyes of compassion for our friends when they reach out to us in need.

May God be with us in joy, thrilling us with nearness, filling our heart to fullness and filling our throat to ringing, singing exultation.

May God be with us in peace, stilling the heart that hammers with fear and doubt and confusion, and may our peace, the warm mantle of your peace, cover those who are troubled or anxious.

May God be with us in simplicity, opening us to a clearer vision of what is real and true, leading us deeply into the mystery of life and may our dealings with others be marked by honesty.

May God be with us today and every day. May God hold each of us, empowering us with understanding, love, and respect.

May God’s forgiveness touch our hearts, enabling us to forgive ourselves and each other.

And finally, may we experience God’s peace and the joy that results from unity and prayer, shared values, and common vision

Author Unknown

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Remembering, Praying, and Responding!

People of Haiti

A Prayer for the People
God of healing and mercy, we come before you with our hearts filled with grief as we see the devastation.
We pray that your presence would be felt by those who are grieving, who are injured, who have lost their homes and livelihoods.
We pray for wisdom and safety for those who are responding to the people in need and the many challenges left in the wake of the event.
We pray for our church, that it may be a witness to your compassion and care for all who suffer.
God, you are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. For this we give you thanks and ask that you hear our prayers for the people of natural disasters.

- Adopted from a prayer of the Mennonite World Conference for the people of Japan following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

Hurricane Matthew

A Prayer of Relief

Loving and gracious God,
 All love and mercy compels us to the side of our global brothers and sisters.
 In our charity, and in our compassion, help us stand with them.
 In our solidarity and in our sharing, help us stand with them.
 In our advocacy, and in our prayer, help us stand with them.
 And as we turn to them in their peril, we ask your grace go with us:
 To feed the hungry:
      -give us your grace.
 To give drink to the thirsty:
      -give us your grace.
 To clothe the naked:
      -give us your grace.
 To shelter the homeless:
      -give us your grace.
 To care for the sick:
      -give us your grace.
 To reach the trapped and the stranded:
      -give us your grace.
 To mourn the dead:
      -give us your grace.

And in reaching out, may we find you in them.
 And may they find you in us, Amen.

- Adopted from a prayer of Catholic Relief Services following Typhoon Haiyan, November 2013

Hurricane Matthew approaches Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Francis - Turning the World into Fire!

Artist Unknown
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)

Today 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 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.
• How do we go about doing this?  Francis’ words are these . . .
 “Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

• Then we will be turned into fire!

St. Francis Feast October 2015       Jean Hinderer, CSA