As Christians, if we are to love as Jesus loved, we must first come to terms with suffering. Like Jesus, simply cannot be cool and detached from our fellow human beings. Our years of living as Christians will be years of suffering for and with other people. Like Jesus, we will love others only if we walk with them in the valley of darkness – the dark valley of sickness, the dark valley of moral dilemmas, the dark valley of oppressive structures and diminished rights.
In modern-day, consumer-driven America, we continually feel the need for the accumulation of goods and security. We have ignored what God has put in our hearts to do: love one another. Instead we are being consumed by consuming, reaching the point where there is no way out. We have deceived ourselves into thinking we can follow Christ without becoming one with the poor, that we can know and love God without loving others, and not just friends and family and those that love us back! Jesus says that’s easy, even pagans do that. Christ calls us to a different, deeper kind of love: a love for the unlovable, for those who cannot give back, even for our enemies. Christ said that at the end of our lives that is the litmus test we all will face.
It is essential to comprehend that Francis had never thought to pick and choose aspects of the life of Christ to dress himself up in, but rather had chosen something that I would say is much harder because there is far less control in it: he had chosen, simply, to follow. Francis chose to move forward step-by-step in the footprints of the Lord, which I say is dangerous, because who can know where it will lead?
I was moved with contrition as with a strong agony, for I had been one of those who had endured that these things should be. I had been one of those who, well knowing that they were, had not desired to hear or be compelled to think much of them, but had gone on as if they were not, seeking my own pleasure and profit. Therefore now I found upon my garments the blood of this great multitude of strangled souls of my brothers. The voice of their blood cried out against me from the ground. Every stone of the reeking pavements, every brick of the pestilential rookeries, found a tongue and called after me as I fled: What hast thou done with thy brother Abel?
[The Christian] will more willingly walk two miles with someone who would force him to walk one than seek justice for himself or even dream of causing harm to one who had hurt him. The tranquility of his heart is more dear to him than the possession of anything that injustice could take away, and if a breach of charity were required to recover something that had been taken away from him, he would not want it at any price.
So if we are going to pish-tush at some teaching of the Church — like the teaching that the death penalty is only to be used as a last resort when there is no other way of keeping society safe* — calling it “marginal” or “liberal,” or saying that we just can’t get ourselves to care about it? Then we are very close to being in dissent. At very least, we have what I might call a “dissenting mentality”: pretending to submit to the guidance of the Church, but actually only adhering to and defending the doctrines which appeal to us, while ignoring, scorning, or even openly defying the ones which we don’t like.
Job, I came to see, is the model of what an Italian biblical scholar has called “the believer who loves the true God in himself and for himself, without ulterior motives”—and does so precisely along the dark path of suffering. It is Job, sitting amidst misery, who rejects his friends’ calculating, facile suggestions about why bad things happen to good people. It is Job who, in the end, refuses to cram the divine will and purpose onto the procrustean bed of human wisdom. It is Job who, finally, lets God be God—and who, by admitting that he is not the artisan of his own existence, makes a deeper act of faith in the God whose divine “logic” in beyond anything human minds can grasp.
The essence of Christian spiritual combat is, with the strength of faith, to maintain a hopeful outlook on every situation, on ourselves, on other people, on the Church and the world. Such an outlook enables us to react to every situation by loving.
Contemplation in the Franciscan tradition can be a lot like the experience of conversion that takes place when we enter into a new relationship. When we enter into a new relationship, make a new friend, date a new partner, give birth to a new child, or form some other significant bond with another person, rarely are our lives changed in discrete, particular, and compartmentalized ways. Instead, something about us shifts. Something about the way we see the world is now informed by that relationship, and we can no longer go back to seeing things exactly the same way again. Maybe we are drawn to a new hobby or interest. Perhaps we look at art with a new eye or hear music with a new ear. Such is also the case with God. The more deeply we enter into relationship with the Creator, the more our outlook on the world changes.
The moment of Profession is a specific moment. It doesn’t just happen. It is prepared for and is joyfully anticipated. It is specific, so that we know exactly what is happening and why. It is a moment not to be forgotten, whose impact is transformational and dictates all we do and say from the moment of profession on. Fr. Felice [Fr. Felice Cangelosi OFM Cap in Profession in the SFO: Gift and Commitment] says that it is the “foundational moment in the identity of the Professed.” This moment changes everything.