Plans that we hold too dearly to do not give God room to operate in our lives. They clutter us up and create blockades to the most primal part of our inmost being—the part where God speaks and through which (if the barricades are down and the lines are open) the divine plan may show itself.
There is a paradoxical kind of power in being willing to sweep away the idols we make of our plans. When Saint Paul writes that “for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10), he is telling us when he surrenders the notion that he could accomplish anything on his own, he discovers that God, working through him, does wonders beyond his own meager imaginings. It is precisely the same with our plans. When we stop insisting upon them and permit God to throw us a curve, and answer it with trust, wonders come our way.
From the hills and plains, from cities and farms, they come in every age; clergy, religious, laity, treading the road to holiness in the footsteps of the little poor man of Assisi. Working together in love and mutual support, they throw the meaning of Christ’s love into those corners of the marketplace where huddle the poor, the friendless, God’s little neglected ones.
Franciscans are simple people whose many-faceted lives are directed toward “becoming like little children.” Working hour by hour, at varying tasks under various conditions, they seek only to stand as a diversion from the pettiness of the world, and by their living the gospel life after the manner of Francis, encourage others to follow.
We do not simply just fall deeper and deeper into our faith after our baptism or initial conversion. We are called to keep jumping. We talk of that “leap of faith,” but our reality is one of multiple leaps, every day. Tiny jumps, or steps, even, sometimes just the distance it takes for our feet to go from the bed to the floor. It is that forward motion that keeps us going, that keeps saying that today will be better. Today I will try harder. Today I might fail. But I am still loved.
And if our whole lives have to be made subject to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if we desire to make all his words as far as possible our guide in the circumstances of our life, this will only be possible if we make creating silence an integral part of our life.
The post-Christian world has been inoculated against Christianity because, over 1500 years, we never managed to give it true Christianity. “Found difficult and left untried,” indeed. And this is to our demerit. There are also many, many things over these 1500 years to be proud about, and Christendom, for all its flaws, was probably better than the alternatives. But now we’re reaping what we’re sowing. We created this generation of post-Christians whom we vaccinated against Christianity. Thankfully, viruses mutate and occasionally beat vaccines.
In the meantime, if our aim is a fantasy of Christendom rather than Christ and His Cross, we are being idolaters.
But the plain truth is this: love is not matter of getting what you want. Quite the contrary. The insistence on always having what you want, on always being satisfied, on always being fulfilled, makes love impossible. To love you have to climb out of the cradle, where everything is ‘getting’ and grow up to the maturity of giving, without concern for getting anything special in return. Love is not a deal, it is a sacrifice. It is not marketing, it is an act of worship.
Francis never sought to retreat from or enter into a cloister apart from the world. Instead, the Franciscans were always to be deeply involved in the life and activity of the world, meeting all sorts of people where they were and living among and for them. This refusal to flee the quotidian world was a radical departure from most of the religious-community traditions of the day.
Despite all of this trouble, this overthinking, the potential for scrupulosity, I must confess: I love Lent. I love the sense of possibility the season implies. I love the symbolism that comes along with it. I love that it compels me to act, to change, to rethink how I am living, in a way that is more purposeful than at any other time of year.
Christians ought to fulfill their temporal obligations with fidelity and competence. They should act as a leaven in the world, in their family, professional, social, cultural and political life. They must accept their responsibilities in this entire area under the influence of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. In this way they testify to the power of the Holy Spirit through their action in the service of people in those things which are decisive for the existence and the future of humanity.
~ Justice in the World, World Synod of Catholic Bishops, 1971
I don’t mean to get people down on the Church herself. The Church is the Church of Christ regardless of the faithfulness or lack thereof of her members at any given moment. And there are faithful Catholics who are doing a lot of great things.
But we are in need of a reformation. Not a reformation of schism, but a true reformation, the kind modeled by the saints in which we renew our dedication to the Catholic faith. It’s then that we can most effectively fulfil Christ’s commandment, and the first purpose of the Church’s existence: to bring the Gospel of salvation to the whole world.
Liberty born of poverty and humility, the happy fruit of minoritas, becomes in turn the root and source of Franciscan joy. In the heart of him who lives for God and whose desires are always in accord with the Will of God there arises such joy that nothing in the world, whether men or circumstances, can destroy or lessen it. For him there can be no reason for sadness save abandonment of this attachment to God and that is sin. The gloomy friar finds no sympathy in St. Francis: “Let the friars take care not to show themselves outwardly as gloomy and sad hypocrites, but let them show themselves joyful in the Lord, and gladsome and becomingly courteous.” Only the true “minor” possessed of the Spirit of the Lord attains the true and deepest source of perfect joy , for only to him is revealed the secret of this joy which comes down to all Friars Minor not only as the heritage but also as the challenge of St. Francis.
~ Cajetan Esser OFM, “Franciscan Poverty, Liberty and Joy“
If you learn everything except Christ, you learn nothing. If you learn nothing except Christ, you learn everything.
~ St. Bonaventure via Immaculate Conception Province OFM
The love of God makes all heavy things light and all bitter things sweet.
~ St Francis of Assisi
It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society. In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that, following in his footsteps and conformed to his image, doing the will of God in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory God and to the service of their neighbor.
~ Lumen Gentium, 40
Violence and oppression take many forms within our world. No Secular Franciscan can work for the reform of every oppressive system; yet every Secular Franciscan must be involved somehow in the work of justice if they are authentically converted, if they truly appropriate the Rule. Each response to the Rule will be unique; each person must interpret what that call to radical conversion means in his or her life. But to all those who respond authentically will come the blessing of penance.
~ Fr. Robert M. Stewart OFM, “De illis qui faciunt penitentiam”: The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order: Origins, Development, Interpretation
He (St. Francis) no longer did what he wanted himself but what God demanded of him: “that which seemed bitter to me.” In the process, he came to experience a special grace, that his bitterness was”changed into sweetness of soul and body.” Penance to him is thus the conversion of a person from a life centered on the personal “I” to a life which is completed under the will and sovereign lordship of God. Thus, penance is the same as “change of heart” in the biblical sense (Turn away from your sin and believe in the good news,” Mk 1:15), and according to the mind of St. Francis, it must be the basic life attitude of all his followers.
~ Fr. Cajetan Esser, OFM
To wage war on misery and to struggle against injustice is to promote, along with improved conditions, the human and spiritual progress of all men, and therefore the common good of humanity. Peace cannot be limited to a mere absence of war, the result of an ever precarious balance of forces. No, peace is something that is built up day after day, in the pursuit of an order intended by God, which implies a more perfect form of justice among men.
~ Pope Paul VI, On the Development of Peoples #76
Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.