Sunday, October 28, 2007

Not Like the Rest

Peace and Good!
Brother Masseo once asked Brother Francis: “Why after you? Why is it that so many people follow after you? You’re not attractive looking or well born or a gifted orator.” And Francis answered that it was because in him they saw the greatness of God’s mercy. “For if the Lord had shown so much mercy to the greatest sinner, he would be more grateful than me.”
The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, from the Gospel of Luke, is this Sunday’s Gospel. A powerful meditation. We usually focus on the two persons involved, but as always, Jesus calls us first of all to focus on God, and what God does for us. For the Pharisee is not a hypocrite in what he does; his problem is that he uses it to lift himself up, and by doing so separates himself “from the rest of men.” Pharisee means 'one who separates himself,' and the reason the Pharisees did so was so that they could keep the law in its fullness. This was not bad in itself. The problem was that it tempted them to think of themselves as some how fundamentally different from ‘the others,’ especially from “pagans and sinners.” What Jesus tried to show them again and again was that they were prone to the same temptations and could sin just as much as the publicans and prostitutes. Their zeal for observance could become pride and self-righteousness. Jesus reminded the Pharisees, and us, of the need to recognize that all goodness comes from God, and that God is the Creator of all.
To separate ourselves, at least in our minds and our hearts, from “the rest of people,” is to face the same temptation as the Pharisees. We all seek ways to exalt ourselves, to ‘feel good about ourselves’ by looking down on others. Our prayer can be like that of the Pharisee, “Thank God I am not like the rest.”
Of course, it can take so many forms
“Thank You Lord that I am a conservative, not like those loony liberals.” or “that I am a liberal, not like those creepy conservatives.” It can be: “Thank You that I am an environmentalist, not like those selfish consumers.” or “that I am a responsible business person, not like those nutty tree huggers.” Or “that I am from the city, not like those hicks from the country.” Or “that I am a good country person, not like those shallow city people.” And it could go on and on. All these thoughts are ways we exalt ourselves.
Francis was tempted to do the same thing; he could have looked down on the merchants and soldiers and revelers who were his peers. He could have looked down on those who did not follow his path, who did not dedicate their lives to the Gospel. But he learned from Jesus not to look down on anyone, because he knew himself to be as much a sinner as any of them. I don’t think this was just some sort of ‘holy humility’ that saints have: it was real. He knew that what made the difference in his own life was not what he did, but what God did for him. And he knew that if he were to believe really in the love of God for him, he had to believe in the love of God for all men and women, the greatest saints and the most miserable sinners. He was not different “from the rest.” Neither are any of us.
And that God for that! Because we have to remember that Jesus came to save sinners, to call sinners, to seek the lost. So we can only be saved if we place ourselves among them, like the publican did in the parable. “O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
God bless and keep you!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Peace and Good!

Blessings. There will be more reflections soon, God willing. God bless us all.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Montecasale: Overhanging Rock

Peace and Good! Francis liked not only places with water, but places with caves or grottoes. Many of the hermitages he frequented began as simple caves where hermits and others seeking God could shelter while they prayed and fasted. Today there are often structures built around the nucleus of such caves, as at Greccio or Le Celle in Cortona. The overhanging rock (sasso spicco) at Montecasale has escaped this fate, thank the Lord. I say that, because it is one of the few places in Italy you can go and stand in a place where St. Francis stood and see pretty much what he would have seen. The sasso spicco at Montecasale is a place in the side of the mountain where a massive rock hangs out over a shelf in the hillside, cut out by water, wind, and perhaps visitors like Francis, Anthony of Padua, and Bonaventure.
To get to this spot, you have to leave the friary and walk down a trail, sometimes pretty steep. Walking there is a contemplative experience in itself, as you enter the rough forested hillside, filled in the summer with the rhythmic trill of the cicadas and the warm dust raised by your feet. You come upon the rock ledge from above, and see a long, shaded area. If you descend onto this ledge, you come to the spot where the stream coming down from the hillside pours over the rock’s edge (although, 2007 was the first year in memory in which there wasn’t enough water in the stream to flow over the rock!) Standing at that spot, you feel the firm rock beneath your feet and looming above you, and look out on the green hillsides closing the area all around. In such a place you feel at once your own smallness, and yet your place in the midst of creation.
(Here is the view from Sasso Spicco)
I would think it was in places like this that Francis started to receive the inspired thoughts that would lead later on in his life to the composition of the Canticle of the Creatures. Sun, stars, water, earth are all here, praising the Lord by being what they were made to be. And as you sit under this overhanging rock, you are led to ask the question: what am I made to be?
God bless you!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Power of the Word of God

Peace and good!
The book of Jonah tells us of one of the most successful preaching tours ever. Jonah preached to the Ninevites, who didn't know God and didn't respect the Jewish people. Yet, in only one day, Jonah's preaching brought them to repentence and humility before God, who heard their pleas for forgiveness. And the amazing thing is, Jonah didn't want any of this to happen! He was a reluctant prophet who did not want his mission to succeed. Such is the power of God's word.
I sometimes imagine St. Francis outside the gates of Perugia. We are told he preached there. Yet, Perugia was the ancient enemy of Assisi, and Francis had spent a horrid year in disgusting conditions in a Perugian prison. I am sure that when he went to Perugia to preach, some part of him felt like Jonah: wanting to proclaim the merciful God, but hoping God wouldn't be too merciful to his enemies. Yet, he did preach to them, he overcame his natural animosity and distrust. He believed in the power of God's Word, greater than his own word.
May that Word work in us, through us, and, sometimes, despite us.
God bless!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

When, O Lord?

Today's Reading from Habakkuk:
How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, "Violence!"but you do not intervene.Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me;there is strife, and clamorous discord.
Then the LORD answered me and said:Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily.For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;if it delays, wait for it,it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
Faith means trusting that God sees the long view, that the vision, because it is God's vision, still has time. Francis, I am sure, was tempted to ask God: "When?" He saw the violence in the world, the greed among the prelates, the dissensions among his own brothers. And God told him: "The vision still has its time...wait for it." And Francis chose to wait, to let God's vision be the one he followed. We need to make that choice, too, as hard as it is. Lord, increase our Faith!
Peace and Good!