Saturday, March 31, 2007

Will He Come to the Passover Feast?

“So from that day on they planned to kill him. So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews, but he left for the region near the desert, to a town called Ephraim, and there he remained with his disciples. Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before Passover to purify themselves. They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?” (John 11)

The hostility of his enemies is growing, and Jesus knows that his actions will have consequences. He does not push things unduly, but he has a choice: celebrate the great feast of the Lord’s deliverance in a public place, and so put himself within the reach of his enemies, or hide away and praise the Father quietly in private. John always emphasizes in his Gospel that Jesus chooses, he is not just some unwitting pawn.

That is part of conversion: choosing to act, to do things, even though some of them may open us up to attack. That is a choice Francis had to make in regard to facing his father. For a while, he was too afraid of the consequences and hid from his father. But at last he knew if his choice were to be truly authentic, he had to face his father no matter what. I am sure Francis hoped his father, Pietro, would understand his choices and support him, or at least let him go with a tacit blessing. But he knew his father, and knew that there were other more likely reactions. He went forth, anyway, right into the heart of town, to meet Pietro and see what would happen, trusting that whatever happened God would be there.

Knowing God is with us in hard decisions is so vital. And so Jesus chose to show us the truth of it: His Father was with Him, even when He chose to go to Jerusalem for the Passover and face the hostility that was building. May God give us this faith and courage too, in all the little decisions as well as the big ones that are difficult to make.

Peace and Good!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Word Betrayed

We near Holy Week, and the readings take a definite turn. The tension is mounting as Jesus confronts the unbelief of this world.
In deciding to live among us, the Word opened itself to both being accepted and being rejected. That is what love does, and so decisions made from true love have to be made with the awareness that betrayal is always an option. Yet, that is what God calls us to: choosing to love others while knowing that love will be betrayed in one way or another. Even the death of a loved one is a form of that betrayal, because human love promises eternity but can’t deliver it. Which is why, of course, it has to be grounded in divine love.
Francis’s conversion included accepting others: “The Lord gave me brothers.” These were the brothers who loved and supported him, who challenged and pained him. But he accepted it as part of the via crucis, the way of the cross.
So, Love: but know you will be disappointed and even betrayed. Love in Christ: and know that the crucifixion and resurrection are tied together in the one great mystery of faith.
Peace and Good!

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Word Made Flesh

Peace and Good! There are two extreme views of human free will: the ‘scientific’ view that we have none, that all is genetically, physically, and chemically predetermined, or its opposite, that our own will is the ultimate reality, the ultimate good. It is this second view that Milton puts into the mouth of Lucifer: “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”
The feast of the Annunciation tells us that neither extreme is correct. We have a free will, and that will enables us to consent or not to being what we are: creatures of God. Yet, saying ‘yes’ to God does not mean that things are within our control. Mary says ‘yes’ to God through the angel (thank you, Mother), but she does not know all that it will entail. She does not control the way in which her Son will be the Messiah. That’s why her ‘yes’ was not complete until she stood beneath the cross and accepted that her Son, crucified and dying, was still indeed the Messiah, the Son of God.
Francis did not know what accepting the Lord’s will in his life would entail. He reminded himself often in prayer that it was “a true and holy will.” Sometimes this was obvious, sometimes it was not. But he ultimately had faith in the fact that God is good and so God’s will is what is best for us.
We all have to struggle to live this by learning to say ‘yes’ to God in our lives. We do this in many different ways. Parents accepting a child into their lives are called to say, ‘yes, we will accept this child,’ even though they have no idea how that infant will turn out. The way of conversion is the way of faith, believing the in goodness of God and seeking His will. We don’t do that all at once: conversion is a daily process.

Today let us ask those who have gone through this to help us: Holy Mary, our Mother, Francis and all the saints. Let it be done to us according to God’s Word, the Word made Flesh who dwells among us.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Preaching the Unwelcome Word

Peace and Good! Jeremiah the prophet had it hard: not only was his message unpopular, but God even told him that no one would listen to him! So why go on? Because God's word burned with in him. There are three reasons to preach, to share our faith: to praise God, to help others, to remind ourselves. Francis knew this. He preached as much to remind himself of the power and goodness of God as to tell others of it. This is why he was able to be a preacher both humble and yet forceful. And in all, praise the goodness and power of God. That is what we all are asked by God to do, a task not always easy, but one in which is life.
God bless!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Clipped and Manured

“I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.” (Luke 13:9) So the gardener says in the parable of the fig tree which bore no fruit. In plants, growth is often stimulated by things which might seem contrary: cutting them back, and surrounding them with smelly waste products. In our life of conversion, the same thing is often true. The things that seem to cut us up, to take away what we think is vital, are what God uses to help us to grow beyond what we can imagine, like roses which are cut back drastically to help them blossom in an amazing way.
So Francis discovered in his life. It was at moment’s of pain—the expression of his father’s anger and greed, being thrown into a ditch by robbers—that he found out more clearly who he was, who God called him to be. Even when he was surrounded by the manure of his own and his brothers’ weaknesses, he found deeper growth.
I think Francis had to learn this in his life, and it was this truth he wanted to share: the goodness of God is found even in garden shears and piles of manure! God is good, all good, ever good, the supreme good, who will not force us to grow, but rather invites us, again and again. We ask the strength to choose him, to become fig trees that do what they were made to do: bear figs.
Peace and Good!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Do Not Judge; Love your enemies

The Gospel readings these days have told us of the importance of humility, its centrality in our following of Christ. The saints tell us that a great aid to our humility is to focus on our own littleness, but more importantly to focus on the greatness of God. To be open to God’s actions is to learn to be humble, because God acts often when we least expect, and uses the instruments we least suspect. This is connected with Jesus’ command not to judge. Of course we must make judgments in our lives, about good and evil, about situations and decisions. But Jesus warns us against judging anything, or anyone’s ultimate value. That is for God alone, who gives rain to the just and the unjust, the saints and the sinners. Any person’s value ultimately comes from God, and is not subject to human judgment or determination. It is hard to accept this at times, for it leads us to Jesus’ command: Love your enemies. Pray for your persecutors.
Humility led St. Francis to the great realization that we should not only pray for our persecutors, but even thank God for them, because sometimes the Lord uses even our enemies to guide in our lives. Who knows what instruments God will choose? If we judge and put ourselves above others, we may not be able to listen to God speaking through them.
Francis learned this lesson through the experiences of his life. One major one was his encounter with the leper, of course. In his wildest dreams he never would have thought that God would touch him through the disgusting, diseased flesh of a leper. Yet, as he tells us, that is exactly what God did.
Even more important, I think, was Francis’s experience with Bishop Guido of Assisi. They tell us Guido was a passionate, greedy man in many ways, prone to fits of anger. Francis could easily have judged him and condemned him in his heart. He certainly would have been suspicious of any help he might receive for his new gospel venture from the bishop. Yet, with faith he turned to Guido as a minister of God’s Church, and found that God used that bishop to help him discover his vocation. When Francis’s father left him naked in the piazza, it was Guido who covered him with his mantle and helped him on his way. Francis found support from this ‘worldly’ bishop and turned to him for advice. Francis, too, had a good effect on Guido. This experience probably helped Francis grow in his faith in Christ’s promise to be with his Church always, despite the failings of some of its members.
Lent may be a good time for us to ask God’s grace to listen even to those who annoy us, those who hurt us, even those who persecute us. Whatever their intentions, God may use them as instruments. And, who knows: God may want to use us as instruments in their lives.
Peace and All Good!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Transfiguration and Conversion

Peace! This second Sunday of Lent always brings us the story of the Transfiguration, because witnessing that event was part of the road to the Apostles’ conversion, and ours. God calls us to open our eyes, or more precisely, let the Spirit open them for us, so that we can see more of ‘what’s there.’ We all have limited vision: limited by our upbringing, our experiences, our character, our expectations. We can only see part of the truth, and need to be shown there is more. And to accept it.
Peter was expressing the temptation to not accept that vision. We often take his saying, “Let us build three booths,” as a sign that he wanted to hold on to the experience, didn’t want to leave. But I think another part of it was that he didn’t want the experience to end, because it meant he would have to look at the world differently, he would have to change once they climbed down from that mountain. And that frightened him. God’s call to see more is always frightening. Think of the ‘terrifying darkness’ that enveloped Abram as he heard God offer him the covenant. To see the world differently is frightening, because of what it does to our lives: turns them upside down.
Francis with the leper had this experience: his expectations we turned upside down. He had always seen lepers as the sign of God’s absence from the world. The fact that society rejected them meant that they were no concern of him. But in him embrace he suddenly saw them differently. They WERE a concern of his, and a sign not of God’s absence but his sweet presence. No wonder after his embrace, Francis tells us he still “lingered in the world” a little while. It’s not easy to get your bearing when God turns everything upside down.
But it’s worth it. Once the disciples were enveloped by that frightening cloud, they heard the voice. ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” What better reason to listen to Jesus each day, to let him constantly shake us up with words like “Love your enemies.” And how good and great it is of God to be so patient, and let us come back again and again, since we forget the lesson so easily.
St. Francis, pray for us. Sts. Peter, James and John, ask God to grant us vision and hearts that are willing to see.
(P.S. Thank you for your prayers. My exams went well. God bless!