Sunday, November 11, 2007

Montecasale: International Fraternity

Peace and Good!
My few days of retreat at Montecasale, in the heart of the mountains of Italy, were also a time to reflect on the wideness of God’s mercy and presence. Besides the Italian brothers, there was also a friar there from Nigeria, who was studying in Rome and helping out at the hermitage for the summer. What a circumstance, friars from three continents in this little place on the side of the road, joined in prayer and fraternal life and ministry.
It reminded me of the time when Francis told the first brothers not to be afraid of how small their little group was. “I see men from all over joining us, from England and France and Germany and Spain and all over the world.” It began in his own lifetime, but over the centuries has continued to be true.
It is true that there are differences of culture and language to be respected and celebrated and at times overcome, but being a friar has always been for me a reminder that God loves the whole world. And that God acts through so many different people and different circumstances. But it also reminds me that kindness and compassion and a welcoming smile are international, enduring signs of the Love of God in our midst.
God bless and keep you!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Montecasale: The Thieves and God's Mercy

Peace and Good!
Across from the friary at Montecasale is a hill, which had been used in the years before Francis’s time as the site of a fortress. Frederick I, called Barbarossa, had torn the fortress down about the time Francis was born, and the hill site was abandoned. It was the perfect place to watch the road, however, and after the friars had settled in the hermitage of Montecasale, a trio of thieves had decided to live on that hill and rob those passing by on that road. They were violent and much feared, but even thievery is subject to ups and downs, and even for thieves things can get desperate, so that one time they found themselves hungry, and decided to go over to the hermitage and ask the friars for alms. Good Brother Angelo received them graciously until he learned who they were; then he sent them off angrily. The thought, that thieves should steal even the alms of God’s poor!
Francis, however, did not approve. He sent Angelo, who I am sure was not all that keen, to seek out the thieves at their home and give them something to eat. And also to ask them to think about their lives. This they did, and eventually came over to the friary and became friars. The hill where they lived is still marked with three crosses.
Before they came over to the friary, however, they spent a hard night on that hill. The three had decided to give up their life of crime, but a question nagged at them: would God forgive them for all the evil that had done? Could they dare to hope for God’s mercy? Since they could not answer this question, they decided to go to the friary and ask Francis. The great miracle, I think, is that Francis was able to help them trust in God’s power and desire to forgive them. That was the heart of their conversion, as it had been a vital part of Francis’s own conversion. Repentance and conversion involve not only a reassessment of our own lives and actions, but, more importantly, an act of faith in the Divine Mercy.
That Mercy is so clear in the Gospel reading for this Sunday: Zacchaeus. I’m not sure he knew what he was looking for. He merely wanted to see Jesus. Yet, Jesus used this occasion to invite him to recognize his place as a child of Abraham, the one who had such great faith in God’s mercy and love. Believing in God’s mercy is helped when we are invited into it by others. It was in this way that Francis followed Jesus, in inviting the thieves to look at their lives, and to believe in the power of God’s forgiveness. May God help us to believe in the Divine Mercy, for ourselves and for others, especially for those who seem to us farthest from that Mercy. May God help us, one way or the other, to invite them to believe in God, who so loved the world that He sent His only Son to save us.
God bless!

This is the door where the thieves came seeking alms!