Friday, June 29, 2007

God and the Unlikely: Peter and Paul, Francis and Clare

Peace! This is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. I often reflect on how God brings together unlikely pairings. Simon the Fisherman from Galilee (Peter) and Saul the Pharisee from Tarsus, Roman citizen (Paul) had little in common and would probably not have never met or put up with each other: except for what--or better, who--they had in common: Jesus Christ. What wonders God does with the glue of love and faith! It's the same with Francis and Clare: the rambunctious son of a merchant would never have had much of a chance to talk with, let alone be friends with a noble daughter like Clare (despite what some movies want you to believe). She had no reason to trust him (after all, he and his faction had driven her family out of Assisi when she was very young) and he had no reason to expect anything much from her (as an aristocrat representative of the old order). Yet, they met: in Jesus Christ, in faith and charity. And look what God did for both of them and for the world through them.

So, as we walk, let us look for God in the most unexpected places, and especially in the most unexpected persons.

Peter and Paul, Francis and Clare, pray for us!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

God Uses Clay: St. Irenaeus

Peace and Good!

Many of the early heresies in the Church rejected the Old Testament. They considered it too messy, both in the actions of the people involved and the images of God they found there. Yet, the Church held onto the Old Testament as a vital part of the scriptures, both fulfilled in the Gospels and illuminating them.

St. Irenaeus had to fight against an understanding of faith that was too cerebral: the Gnostics, who proposed that salvation involved 'knowing (gnosis)' and escape from the flesh. Yet, the Word becoming flesh is central to the Gospel message. Irenaeus knew that, and fought to articulate a theology which did not ignore sin, but more importantly did not try to explain away the Incarnation nor the redemption of the body.

Christian conversion is a balancing act, recognizing the reality of sin but in the context of the goodness of all creation, including the body. Weak was we are, balancing these two things is not always easy. Francis himself struggled with it. How to be austere so as to grow in grace, not become some disembodied ghost. Part of his secret was to begin always with praise of God and the goodness of creation. All creation: the sun and the moon, as well as the rocks and the worms and even that part of creation we flee: death. Sister Death.

I conclude with a beautiful quote from St. Irenaeus' Against Heresies:

Since you are the work of God, wait patiently for the hand of your Artist, who does all things at the right time. Present to him a supple and docile heart, and keep the form that this Artist gave you, having in yourself the water that comes from him and without which you would become hard and would reject the imprint of his fingers.By letting yourself be formed by him, you will rise to perfection, for through this art of God, the clay that is in you will be hidden; his hand created your substance… But if you become hard and push away his art and show that you are discontent with the fact that he made you a human being, by your ingratitude towards God you will have rejected not only his art but life itself; for it is the very nature of God’s goodness to form, and to be formed is the very nature of being human. Thus, if you give yourself to him by giving him your faith in him and your submission, you will receive the benefit of his art and you will be God’s perfect work. If on the contrary, you resist him and if you flee from his hands, the cause of your incompleteness will be in yourself who did not obey, and not in him. (Against the Heresies IV, Pr 4; 39,2)

God bless you!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Birth of John the Baptist

This is an ancient feast in the Church. (Note that the celebration of John's birth, sixth months before Jesus', falls on June 24, because in the old way of reckoning, each feast is six days before the beginning of the next month.)

This day is important for all the Church in remembering John, and more importantly, God's work through John. The readings all speak of God knowing and acting from his birth, and even from before his birth, when he was in the womb. Actually, from the moment of his conception. God works in all of us from that moment, for life is a continual gift.

It is interesting that in the debate over the use of embrionic stem cells, the Church's opposition is considered part of being 'anti-science.' But it's just the opposite: the oppostion comes because of what science tells us: that even the single cell produced by the union of a sperm and an egg contains all the DNA information for a complete and unique individual person! In earlier times they did not know that, and discussed when an embryo or a fetus was 'quickened,' i.e., when it received its soul. Yet now, we know that the 'human-ness' of each person goes all the way back to conception. Science tells us that, yet some choose to ignore it.

The feast of the Birth of John the Baptist is also significant for Franciscans, because that is Francis's baptismal name: Giovanni Battista. His father later made everyone call him Francesco, "Frenchy." This was probably because a cloth merchant didn't think it appropriate for his son to be named after a man who wore camel's hair! Francis didn't seem to live up to his patron saint at first, but his life showed that he was more like the Baptist than anyone would have guessed.

May John the Baptist help us to witness to Christ, to follow him, and to live our vocation to love as God loves, a vocation given to every one of us from the moment of our conception.

God bless!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Clay God Uses: Anthony of Padua

Peace and Good!
At the Basilica of Anthony of Lisbon (he was Portuguese, though he died and was buried in Italy) in Padua, one of the major relics on display is Anthony’s tongue, a reminder of his great ministry of preaching. Anthony would probably think this very appropriate because, while the tongue is used in speech, in itself it is just a muscle, with no power to make a sound or communicate anything. The tongue needs the breath from the lungs and the vibrations from the vocal chords.

So the preacher does not give his own message, but has to open himself to the action of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Word of God. Yet, just as the tongue is important in forming words, so the preacher is called to use his gifts to share the Word of God with the men and women.
St. Anthony used the science and culture of the thirteenth century to communicate to others the Gospel message, but always grounded himself in prayerful contemplation of that message first. In this he followed the example of St. Francis while also showing a different aspect of Franciscan ministry.
May he help us today, to live and proclaim the Gospel, to be the tongue giving voice to the Word of the Lord in the Spirit.
God bless!

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Clay God Uses: Barnabas

Peace and Good! A wonderful trait of St. Barnabas seems to have been his ability to see potential in people. It was he, the Acts of the Apostles tells us (12:25-26), who went to Tarsus to seek Saul to help with the wonderful work of the Spirit in Antioch. The other Christians had sent Saul, the former persecutor, away to Tarsus and seemingly forgot about him, perhaps even still suspicious of his conversion. But Barnabas saw his potential, which he wonderfully encouraged. (His name, after all, means 'son of encouragement.' Acts 4:36)

It is interesting that later in Acts he and Saul (now Paul) have an argument about his young cousin John Mark, who had abandoned them earlier Acts 15:36-39). Barnabas saw the potential in the young man and argued strongly that he deserved another chance. Paul disagreed, and in the end they parted. In this matter Barnabas was wiser, for John Mark is usually identified with the author of the Gospel of Mark. So Barnabas' encouragement was wise.

I think of Francis encouraging others to the gospel life. Some of them, perhaps, would not have seemed to be very good material. His prejudices would have warned him that Clare and Rufino were nobles and too used to an easy life. But he saw in them great potential, and encouraged it.

I pray that St. Barnabas will both encourage us in our own lives and vocations, and help us to discern the good in others and the possibilities in them for God's grace to work.

(The painting is of Paul and Barnabas is Lystra Acts. 14)

God bless!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Patience of Tobit?

Peace and Good!
Yesterday's reading from the book of Tobit included a scene where the blind Tobit was told by his wife that a goat he heard was a gift: Yet I would not believe her, and told her to give it back to its owners. I became very angry with her over this. So she retorted: “Where are your charitable deeds now?Where are your virtuous acts? See! Your true character is finally showing itself!” (Tobit 2:14)

This reminded me of a saying of St. Francis: "Blessed are the peacemakers, since they shall be called sons of God" (Mt 5:9). The servant of God cannot know how much patience and humility he has in himself, while he is satisfied. However when the time has come, that those who ought to satisfy him, do the contrary to him, as much patience and humility as is there then, that much he has and not more. (Admonition 13)

Times of trial, problems and difficulties can bring out the worst in us. But this, too, is a blessing from God, because the faults revealed have been there all along. Once we see and recognize them, however, we can ask God's help to be converted from them and grow in grace and wisdom. The temptation is always to ask, "Why is this happening to me, Lord?" But it would be better to ask: "What are you teaching me through this, Lord? How can I grow in Your love and learn to glorify You in my littleness."

That is what Francis learned to do. It does not make our pain go away, but it helps us to know that Jesus Christ walks with us through our pain and wants to lead us through it on the way to salvation. A hard lesson at times, but another grace of the Gracious One.

God bless!