Thursday, April 30, 2015

Be Who God Meant You to Be and You Will Set the World on Fire

The Acts of the Apostles tells us how the early church saw itself in relationship to the Holy Spirit. They sought the direction of the Spirit in all they did. When the Spirit did not move them, they waited on Him. Recall the trek across the Sinai desert. "Whenever the cloud rose from the Dwelling, the Israelites would set out on their journey. But if the cloud did not lift, they would not go forward; only when it lifted did they go forward “(Ex. 40: 36-37). With the breath of the Spirit at their backs and the fire of divine love in their hearts, the disciples of the Lord engaged in the task for which they were appointed. Christ's ministers are to be employed in Christ's work, and, under the Spirit's guidance, to act for the glory of God the Father.

Scripture reminds us that God formed us out of the clay of the earth. He is the potter and we are the work of His hands. We are earthen vessels made to contain a sacred treasure, the fire of divine love. We have only to recall the words of the Emmaus pilgrims, "Were not our hearts burning within us." If you want to discern what God wants you to do, check the fire within you. God has shed His light upon us, we have only to follow the light. By so doing we will come to know the comfort of leaning upon and dialoguing with God. By looking to the Eternal Light we are freed from the darkness of ignorance, error, sin and misery.

We are children of the light and need to put aside the things of darkness. As such, we are the object of God's love. Recall these words taken from the Letter to the Ephesians: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).God desires to enter into a heart-to-heart conversation with each of us. If we willingly enter into this dialogue, He will fan even the smallest spark into a blazing fire. He will then place our earthen vessels on lamp stands for all the walk in the light of life. The more we allow the light of divine love to radiate from within us, the more will the world come to know how to live until the perfect day comes and all the shadows of darkness will flee away. I will close with one of St. Catherine's most famous comments. “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Straightening Out Your Perception

We respond the way we perceive. Unfortunately, we often do not realize that we respond the way we perceive. If we did realize this we would check to make sure that our perceptions are accurate. Perceiving the truth about a situation or a person can help us avoid mistakes and can save a great deal of anguish and embarrassment.

Consider two families who receive an adverse prenatal diagnosis for their unborn child. Both children are diagnosed with a fatal condition, anencephaly. One family sees the child as so compromised that it is best to put the child out of his misery and end the pregnancy as soon as possible. So they abort the child. The other family sees a child as a gift and wants to nurture him as long as possible, bringing him to birth and beyond as long as God allows. They bring their son to birth and nurture him for five days until he dies naturally. Then they host a funeral to celebrate the joy of their child. There is no difference in both children. The difference is in the perception.

Consider a homeless man on the street. One passerby sees the man as a nuisance to avoid. So he does just that--walks past without looking at the man. Avoiding him. Another sees the man as a child of God, worthy of dignity. He hands him a sandwich and says a word of encouragement to him. The man has not changed. He has been treated according to the perception of those who see him.

Consider someone whose faith differs from yours. One person sees the person of a different faith background as misguided and persisting in error. So arguments ensue with no party gaining an advantage over the other. A second person sees the believer as someone of goodwill, genuinely trying to follow God. A dialog ensues in which each person comes to understand better the faith of the other. The perception is different, not the person whose faith is different.

Our perception makes us life-affirming or life denying in the way we treat other people. Greta's little story, which follows below, might give you some inspiration regarding your own perceptions and how you respond to them. May the Lord guide us in our perceptions of and relationships to one another.
Silly Willie

Silly, silly, tiny Willie’s mother
did not know why,
but her son was rather shy.
 He could not talk.
He could not walk.
He could not even move or breathe.

What she did not know 
was that her son was a doll.
But that was not all.
She thought her poor son must be dead.
So she buried him down deep,
down to where the night snakes creep.

A little girl
with a curl
dug him up
and loved him so.

She loved him even
when he was old.
Now his story
is all told.

by Greta, Age 10 (Divine Mercy Sunday, April 12, 2015)

Have you done a perception check today?

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

True and Perfect Joy of Saint Francis of Assisi-A New Look at an Old Story

True and Perfect Joy is a well know tale from the Fioretti (The Little Flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi). Here is the tale as told in The Little Flowers.



One day in winter, as St Francis was going with Brother Leo from Perugia to St Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to Brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: “Brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification, write down, and note carefully, that this would not be perfect joy.” A little further on, St Francis called to him a second time: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy.” Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor knew all languages; if they were versed in all science; if they could explain all Scripture; if they had the gift of prophecy, and could reveal, not only all future things, but likewise the secrets of all consciences and all souls, write that this would not be perfect joy.” After proceeding a few steps farther, he cried out again with a loud voice: “O Brother Leo, thou little lamb of God! if the Friars Minor could speak with the tongues of angels; if they could explain the course of the stars; if they knew the virtues of all plants; if all the treasures of the earth were revealed to them; if they were acquainted with the various qualities of all birds, of all fish, of all animals, of men, of trees, of stones, of roots, and of waters - write that this would not be perfect joy.” Shortly after, he cried out again: “O Brother Leo, if the Friars Minor had the gift of preaching so as to convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that this would not be perfect joy.” Now when this manner of discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, Brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: “Father, I pray thee teach me wherein is perfect joy.” St Francis answered: “If, when we shall arrive at St Mary of the Angels, all drenched with rain and trembling with cold, all covered with mud and exhausted from hunger; if, when we knock at the convent-gate, the porter should come angrily and ask us who we are; if, after we have told him, ‘We are two of the brethren’, he should answer angrily, ‘What ye say is not the truth; ye are but two impostors going about to deceive the world, and take away the alms of the poor; begone I say’; if then he refuse to open to us, and leave us outside, exposed to the snow and rain, suffering from cold and hunger till nightfall - then, if we accept such injustice, such cruelty and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring, believing with humility and charity that the porter really knows us, and that it is God who maketh him to speak thus against us, write down, O Brother Leo, that this is perfect joy. And if we knock again, and the porter come out in anger to drive us away with oaths and blows, as if we were vile impostors, saying, ‘Begone, miserable robbers! to the hospital, for here you shall neither eat nor sleep!’ - and if we accept all this with patience, with joy, and with charity, O Brother Leo, write that this indeed is perfect joy. And if, urged by cold and hunger, we knock again, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he come out more angry than before, exclaiming, ‘These are but importunate rascals, I will deal with them as they deserve’; and taking a knotted stick, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick - if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy. And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘What hast thou that thou hast not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’ But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, ‘I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”

This little story is usually interpreted as St. Francis teaching Brother Leo that it is better to be despised and patient in the midst of tribulation than to answer back with anger. And that is certainly part of this story. But there is more.

At the time Francis told the story, there was a great deal of tension in the Order. Francis's original vision for the Order was being challenged by those within the Order who thought they knew better and by the Church which agreed with them. So what was Francis's original vision? When Francis began his life of conversion, he started out as a penitent. He wore the garb of the peasants of the time, which was the garb of the penitents, and he lived without a permanent dwelling, without a steady income, and without any plans for the next day. Francis's life consisted in manual labor of rebuilding ruined churches, of tending lepers and the poor, of eating what people gave him for his labors, and of begging, if necessary, if they did not give him anything. His days consisted of this work with much prayer practiced between the labor.

When he began to attract followers, all of the men lived this way. They had no fixed dwellings, no steady income, and no particular plan for the day except to follow God's will. They worked alongside the people, as peasants and laborers, and ate what was given to them in exchange for their work. If they did not get sufficient food, then they would beg. And they prayed throughout the day and the night just as Francis did.

As the Order grew, it attracted more and more men, some of them quite educated and others who were already clerics or priests. These educated men were not used to manual labor because, at that time, manual labor was done by the lower classes while education was the prerogative of the upper classes. So while Francis embraced everyone who came to him, regardless of social class, those in the upper social classes, the educated classes, came without the manual skills that those in the lower classes had. In addition, those in the lower classes, those who did manual labor, for the most part could not read or write well if at all. Therefore, the way the Friars prayed the Divine Office, for example, was different. The illiterate Friars would pray a certain number of Our Father's and Glory Be's for their Office while the learned Friars would read from the breviary. Moreover, the learned Friars and the priests were more capable of engaging in preaching and spiritual ministry to the people because this was their area of training. Those who were engaged in manual labor did not have the theological background to participate in long, dogmatic discussions about the faith. The uneducated brothers' call to penance was by their work and by their simple exhortation to the people to change their way of life and to follow the Gospel. The more learned brothers could expand upon this basic text by citing Scripture verses and the teachings of theologians.

Because heresy was rampant at that time, Church officials were eager to teach the people the truth of the Catholic faith. They saw the learned Friars, who lived poor and humble lifestyles, as a way to witness to the people while also teaching them the truths of the Gospel. While it was wonderful that the uneducated Friars could work directly with the people in the fields and in their workshops, giving witness by the humility and love of their lives, the learned Friars could preach to large groups of people and exhort them to penance in churches and in the city squares. The Church officials felt that the group influence of the learned Friars far outweighed the one-on-one influence of the illiterate Friars. And so St. Francis' Order began to evolve into an Order of clerics and learned Friars, leaving the original group of Friars, the unlearned ones, in the dust behind them.

St. Francis never wavered from his original vision of an Order of men who lived poorly, simply, humbly, prayerfully among the people, working with them and preaching to them in simple words and by the simplicity of their lives. He confirmed this in the Testament which he dictated on his deathbed. "I have worked with my hands and I still wish to work."

This story on true and perfect joy is a contrast between the learned and the unlearned Friars. Note that Francis and Brother Leo, covered with dirt and mud, look like poor roving peasants when they go to the friary. The friar who opens the door does not recognize them. Note that the friar who opens the door is in a fixed dwelling. He seems to have fairly comfortable circumstances. Brother Leo and St. Francis are in uncomfortable circumstances. The learned Friar in the friary does not want to leave the poor, bedraggled Friars into the friary and, moreover, violently drives them away. This is an indication of what was happening in the Order at the time of St. Francis and what happened more extremely after his death. As the Order became more and more clerical, the illiterate and unlearned Friars were pushed more and more to the side. Eventually, years after Francis died, they were barred from holding any offices in the Order. 

During his lifetime, Francis could see that his original vision was being usurped by those who had another vision for the Order. He told the tale of true and perfect joy to indicate that, even though these changes were taking place, the Friars who adhered to simplicity, poverty, and patience in the face of injustice were the ones who would be truly joyful in the Lord for they bore the insults of Christ with the same patience that our Lord endured.

There has always been tension in the Franciscan Order to return to the original charism. This has happened in both the First and the Second orders, the Friars and the Poor Clare sisters. The Confraternity of Penitents is a return to the original charism of the Third Order, that of the laity. It is always a struggle to stay on track with the original vision of an Order, but the blessings of doing so are profound

--Madeline Pecora Nugent, CFP