The whole of life is a challenge to prayer. Happy events call for one kind of prayer; sad events for another. Progress and success, care and distress, illness and recovery, birth and death: everything that happens in life must find expression in prayer and determine its nature. We must become more sensitive and perhaps — if we may put it thus — more inventive. Prayer should not always be restricted to the selfsame thoughts and words while life passes by in all its diversity. We must bring everything that happens in our life before God as before a master or friend, or rather as before a father to whom everything matters which concerns us. We must show it to Him, thank Him, seek for strength and enlightenment, ask for His help, and seek repose with Him.
Now, the easy way to deal with this of course would be to ignore it. Write it off. “Oh Jesus didn’t mean that!” The truth is, I don’t know why Jesus said something that seems so harsh and even cruel. There is also no way to know exactly why he changed his mind and anything anyone comes up with is speculation at best. Regardless, it is there. It was worthwhile enough that the writer of Matthew’s gospel included it. It is always so easy to pick through what we like in scripture. We focus on the things that resonate with and mean the most to us. The parts that are difficult though, are the parts we ought to listen to the most. God is always speaking to us through every part of the Bible. Whether or not we like it, we need to wrestle with it. Why doesn’t it resonate? Why am I resisting something God might be saying to me? Is it to difficult? Does it challenge the way I live my life and the values I uphold? Spending time with the word of God, even if it means wrestling with the difficult words, opens us up to God’s revelation. We can’t just pick the easy parts. Jesus showed us clearly that following God’s will does not make for a life that is always easy.
You need to know what you believe. You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. You need to understand it like a good musician knows the piece he is playing. Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination. You need God’s help if you want to resist the blandishments of consumerism, if your love is not to drown in pornography, if you are not going to betray the weak and leave the vulnerable helpless.
It is well to remember as we study this new version of the rule that it is a Way of Life and not merely a series of legal prescriptions. We know that St. Francis designated the Gospel as the supreme norm of life. He meant to put the Gospel before and above all conventionalism and every human law. Consequently, St. Francis resisted binding the lives of his followers with too specific prescriptions, for fear that the gospel principles be given secondary importance or that they be restrained by the limits of the letter of the law. So the rule is to be a guide that opens to the vastness of the gospel challenge. If we observe all the regulations of the rule, we are not truly following Francis. We must merely use the rule as a stepping stone to the Gospel and its ideals. It is then that we will really attain a true union with Christ.
This is the challenge that Pope Francis invites us all to take up. It is to convert the world through Love, not a cowardly sentimentality, but a burning, infinite Love that radiates directly from the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and leaps forth to set fire to the souls of each person we encounter. It is a Love that proceeds from lives lived in holiness, humility, and total dependency on Jesus and surrender to His Holy Will.
If we are to re-evangelize this world that has forgotten the face of Our Savior, we must begin not with catechesis (though that will come), but with charity and holiness of life. This can only come about through lives that are daily immersed in prayer and the sacraments of the Church, lives of continual interior conversion, penance, and true poverty of spirit. We must strive to live, by God’s grace and as near as we are able, in imitation of that of St. Francis of Assisi.
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“
The thing is, it’s easy to imagine yourself doing great works of mercy. It’s easy to have good intentions. What’s difficult is that follow-through, because God didn’t challenge us to commit to the Corporal Works of Mercy for forty days. God challenges us to commit to a lifestyle—and a lifetime—of mercy. And that’s not easy, because maybe in the end, the Works of Mercy aren’t things that can be completed the way one can finish playing a board game or painting a picture. Each act is not an isolated incident, but a part of a process, akin to sweeping the floor. You have to do it regularly or things begin to get messy. They must become habits without becoming mindless. Ultimately, the Works of Mercy point us toward ways in which we can build God’s reign on earth. There’s no guarantee we get to see how it ends, but I know I certainly won’t make progress if I don’t begin.
The simplification of our lives is not so much in what we rid ourselves of as in what we concentrate on, what focuses the soul.
~ Murray Bodo, O.F.M. — The Way of St. Francis: The Challenge of Franciscan Spirituality for Everyone
That is Francis’ formula for peace: You have to come out from behind your defenses and risk embracing what is seemingly repulsive and dangerous. Only then will there be peace, and only love can make it happen. For Francis peace is inseparable from peace of soul, and neither can be achieved without the risk of loving your supposed or real enemies.
~Murray Bodo, O.F.M. — The Way of St. Francis: The Challenge of Franciscan Spirituality for Everyone
As a Franciscan my home is everywhere, but also nowhere in this world. It’s a gospel challenge, but it’s also a gospel freedom.
~Brother Charles, “First Spanish Mass“.