Monday, October 30, 2006

Bartimaeus Sets the Pace

“And they should be glad when they live among the poor and the powerless, the sick and the lepers and the beggars on the side of the road.” So St. Francis told his brothers. I think that Francis says this not just so that the brothers will learn to be compassionate and generous with those in need. More importantly, Francis is urging them to open themselves to learn the ways of God from those who often know them best: the poor, the blind, the lame.
In the last Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 10:46-52), of all the crowd that follows Jesus, it is the poor, blind beggar Bartimaeus who shows most clearly what it means to have faith. The crowd only looked at him as a nuisance and tried to shut him up; then as an object of pity, telling him not to be afraid. Bartimaeus was not intimidated or distracted by them: he kept yelling until he was heard by Jesus, and then leapt to his feet when Jesus responded and called him. He even left behind the only little bit of security he had in the world: his cloak. And when Bartimaeus receives what he thought was most important, his sight, he uses it to do what he discovers is even more important: following Jesus down the road. Thank God he didn’t listen to the crowd and shut up, content to let Jesus go by without making any waves. Rather, Bartimaeus was called to show to all that crowd, and to us, what it means to have faith.
Such faith reminds us that we never know through whom God is going to speak, so we have to learn how to listen well. And Francis said that this begins with the poor and the lepers and those who live by the side of the road. They can teach us what real faith and perseverance is.
I have experienced this in my life, though I always need to be reminded of it. I found that it is good to reflect also on what we heard from the prophet Jeremiah in Sunday’s first reading. The Lord through the prophet says that he will lead the people: “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child.” The pace of any group is set by the slowest members. Yet, right in the middle God will place the blind and the lame, the mothers and those with child. Those who are least able for the journey are set in the middle, not only to be protected, but also to set the pace! We are usually inclined to see anyone who holds us back or slows us down as a nuisance and a hindrance, just as the crowd considered that annoying blind beggar, Bartimaeus. Yet, by the grace of God and the persistence of his faith, he set the pace.
God tells us: My ways are not your ways. I pray that with Francis we can learn to leave our ways behind and, like Bartimaeus, walk in His ways, following Him down the road.
Peace and Good!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Music Musing

Peace and Good!
The power of music. Once Francis was ill and asked a brother to play him some music to help him through. The brother demurred, not thinking it fitting. Later Francis heard music, as if played by an angel on a heavenly violin. It helped him in his suffering and revealed yet another aspect of God’s compassionate love for us.
In the last two days I have had two experiences with music which have made me reflect on its power. Last night, I had a classical music station playing as I finished up some work. At first it was just background sound, but suddenly something plucked at me and I started listening to it. I could not tell you whose work it was (I’m not great at recognizing composers), but I only know that its beauty and power suddenly touched my heart and led me to stop and listen and enter into it. I thanked the Lord for that moment, and the gift of the composer, as well as the musicians, who cooperated with the Holy Spirit to express such beauty.
Today, after finishing my swim, I entered the locker room. Someone was playing some rap song or other (I really couldn’t tell you who composed that). I noticed right away that that music made me uneasy, and I hurried to get changed and get out of there. I don’t know how the others there were affected by it. I’ve been there before when such music was playing and, although I’ve never liked it, this was the first time I noticed its effect on me.
In neither case did I set out to listen to music and make a judgment about it, but both times I noticed how it affected me, both positively and negatively. Two things came to me from this.
Firstly, it is important what kind of ‘music’ we allow into our lives. We have to realize the way various things can affect us, and make our choices accordingly. Francis let the music of the Scriptures and Sacraments, love of God and of others, as well as the rhythms and beauties of creation, fill the ears of his heart and lead him to the one who is Beauty and Harmony itself. So it shouldn’t be strange that he heard angelic music that night as he lay suffering. He trained himself, or better, let the Spirit train him, to listen and truly hear such music.
Besides this, however, it’s also important to ask what kind of ‘music’ I am playing for others. My life affects others, by its harmonies and its disharmonies. My words and my actions, my attitudes and decisions, produce a certain quality of music. Francis realized that his life was lived not in splendid isolation but in the midst of God’s world, and that what he did, how he lived in that world, was important. So he also tried to produce for God as beautiful song as he could, even when that meant rubbing two twigs together and weeping for the passion of Jesus Christ. The music of his life still reverberates, even in the blogosphere!
So, Lord, this day I thank you for lovely music and ask that I may learn to listen to your angelic viols and take my own part in the divine symphony you conduct each day. Francis, my brother, teach us how to listen to and play the music of the Gospels, with Jesus as composer, conductor, and orchestra member. Amen.
God bless you all!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Brother Wind and Sister Leaves

Peace! I have always wondered about the interaction of grace and nature, especially in regard to becoming holy. St. Francis has always taught me that all good comes from God (which he got, of course, from Jesus!), and so all is gift. And yet, we have to strive and expend our effort. And although I’ve heard people quote St. Teresa of Avila, “Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you,” I’ve still wondered how the two could work together.
God gave me a glimmer of an answer yesterday. I was walking home on an afternoon marked both by the beautiful light which speaks the joy of autumn and the blustery winds which announce the coming of winter. Then, another mark of autumn also caught my attention: the leaves falling from the trees, and being moved all around by the wind. I’ve always thought of it as a dance, a dance of the leaves, and loved to watch it happen.
Yesterday it came to me that there are two things which help produce the way this dance happens: the wind that blows and moves the leaves, and the shape of the leaves themselves, which affects how the wind moves them. Now obviously the wind is the major factor, for without the force of it the dance would not happen. Yet, the shape of the leaves does contribute to their motion as they are moved by that wind. They dance in the wind as they are formed, and respond to its impulse because of what they are.
So maybe the Holy Spirit, the force that makes us holy, is that wind (not an original idea, I know; it’s been said before), and without that wind nothing can happen. The wind blows where it will. Yet, the shape of each leaf is also part of the equation, both for the dance of the individual leaf and of the whole dance of creation. So it matters for each of us and for all the way we let ourselves be formed, the shape that we take. That shape affects our part in the dance, and so it matters what we do, how we live.
Thank God for the dance of the leaves, and the dance of our lives, for his wind that blows invisible and yet irresistable. May we learn to love that wind and the dance it calls us to dance.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

St. Teresa

Peace and Good! Although her feast is not liturgically celebrated today, it was good to pray to Teresa and honor her memory. Her story is so different from Francis of Assisi, yet they were alike in ways too. But I like best her bookmark: Nada te turbe, nada te espante, quien a Dios tiene, nada le falta. Solo Dios Basta (Let nothing disturb you, nothing affright you, whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices). God bless!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Conversion: Go and Do Likewise

Peace and Good!
I’ve added a subtitle to my blog name, recognizing something I think is important. In regard to Francis of Assisi, hard and fast dates for his early life are hard to come by. He was probably born 1181 or 1182. We have a foundation date for the Franciscan Order of 1209, and his death, of course, was the evening of October 3, 1226 (the evening being counted as part of the following day, hence his feast on October 4). Most agree that his process of conversion began sometime in 1206 or 1207. So we are in the midst, most likely, of the 800th anniversary of his conversion, which I think just as significant, if not more so, than the 8th centennary of his birth or of the founding of the Franciscan Order. I am urging all Franciscans I know to mark this anniversary, most appropriately by seeking our own ongoing conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Regarding his own conversion, it was a process, but Francis picked out his encounter with lepers as signally important. “It was bitter for me to see lepers,” he says, “but the Lord led me among them, and what was bitterness was changed into sweetness of body and soul.” In the biographies we have the story as Francis meeting a leper on the road, overcoming his initial repulsion, and helping and embracing the leper. This led Francis to realize that the sweetness of life, the sweetness of God, which he had been seeking and which eluded him in both war and commerce as well as parties and praise, was to be found when he reached out in compassion, just as Jesus had done, especially in the first chapter of Mark.
I think this so much reveals to us some of the meaning of the gospel of today’s mass, the parable of the Good Samaritan. I always notice that Jesus does not, in fact, answer the doctor’s question: “Who is my neighbor?” Rather, he puts it: “Who was neighbor to the man beaten by robbers?” Many are people are frustrated and scandalized in reading the Gospel ideals and then seeing the way things are in the world, even among Christians. But Jesus’ message is not to sit back and wait to be treated like neighbors, but to be neighbors. “Go and do the same.” In opening ourselves in compassion and acting on it we can enter into the mystery of salvation offered by Jesus, who was the one who was so moved by compassion that he came and dwelt among us.
We friars have to remember we are not called to join a community, we are called to create community, to learn how to be brothers. That is the call of all Franciscans, if we would follow Francis’ example. Concentrate on being brothers and sisters, being neighbors, acting with compassion. It’s a struggle, and can be painful, and even lonely at times. That’s what Francis found, in the footprints of Jesus Christ. But as his Master, he also tells us: “It’s worth it.”
So I hope not to merely reflect on Francis’ conversion, but to be open to my own, in the Lord. God bless!
(BTW, I could only find images of Francis already in the habit doing this. Does anyone know of an image of the Francis ‘of the world’ embracing the leper?)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Our Lady of the Rosary

Peace and good! This may be a 'politically incorrect' feast these days, in that it was established as a thanksgiving for the victory of the West over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto. But again, it celebrates the fact that what we do in this world matters and that God cares about what goes on. And what a way to remember that: to pray rhythmically the beautiful scriptural prayers so that we can do what Our Lady did: ponder the deeds of the Lord in our hearts. Francis' devotion to her was great, and it always led him to consider her in relationship to God, specifically to the Holy Trinity. One of his prayers says of her: "You are the one...chosen by the Most Holy Father in heaven, whom He consecrated with His most holy beloved Son, and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete..." She leads us into the very heart of God! Thank you, Mother. May God bless and keep you all!

Friday, October 06, 2006


Just wanted to share this image that Francis himself drew. God bless!

The Power of the Word

As a pilgrim to the Holy Land, I visited the ruins of Capernuam. As the bus drove down the road, our guide pointed to a grass-covered mound and was told, "That's where Corazin was. On the other side of the road you'll see the site of Bethsaida."
Then I remembered the Gospel words of Jesus, heard at mass this morning:
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And as for you, Capernaum, 'Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.'"
I wonder if Francis thought of these words when he roamed the Holy Land? He learned to believe in the real power of the words of Jesus, which is why he tried to put those words into practice in his life. It's a good thing to meditate on, and return to the Word. Pax et Bonum!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why after him?

I thought last night as I joined almost 300 other Franciscans of all sorts in remembering Francis' passing into the fullness of life (called the transitus): what an amazing man, to have all these people praying in his honor all these years later. And truly he is, a gift from God to us all. Not to call us to be him, but to do what he did: find our true selves in the will of the Good God who made and makes us. What we are before God, as Francis reminds us, is what we are. No more, and no less. That is the true basis of all humility. Francis was aware of his gifts, and was willing to use them with great conviction, but never wanted to forget that they were gifts and so he needed to focus on the Giver and never claim them as simply his own, to do with as he pleased. I pray God will help us all do the same, and trust that He will if we open ourselves to him, as little and imperfect as we are. Remembering God's love of the saints is not an indictment against those who admire them, but a call to believe that God can indeed love, and does choose to love us. As one friar said when he witnessed a moment of gruffness from Padre Pio, now St. Pio: "If that man can be a saint, then there's hope for all of us!" And Pio smiled at him, because he knew it was true.
So remember: if God could love Francis, the vain, showy, spendthrift son of a merchant, he can love each of us. And love us into holiness, if we say yes.
Say yes.
Pax et Bonum!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Violence andFrancis

Pax et Bonum! Yes, it is the eve of the feast of a great saint, a great man, a genius: Francis, son of Pietro di Bernardone, of Assisi. We need to heed him, and his message. I just read sadly about the young children killed in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. God rest them! And it can make us think our world is more violent than ever. But I don't think it is, I just think we have more efficient tools! Medieval Italy of Francis' time was quite violent. So how did Francis become a man of peace in the midst of it all? Not because he wasn't tempted to be as violent as the world around him: he was, and constantly. But he remembered the words of his wise and patient savior: Those who live by the sword will die by the sword, and Love your enemies. But what impressed Francis was not what Jesus said, but what he did: loved his enemies even to dying at their hands, without raising his against them. That is not an easy message to live, but we are promised it is the real way to peace. Help us, Francis of Assisi!