In democratic ages every man is told to ‘think for himself.’ He is led to believe that the opinions he arrives at by the power of his own judgment are the supreme measure of truth in his world, with the end result that his opinions are formed almost entirely by voices emitting from his television set.
[St.] Francis was enough of a realist to know that this view from the bottom would never become fashionable. Yet his commitment to littleness led him to name his brothers “minors” so that they would never fall back again in to the worldview of the “majors” (the great, the nobility). He knew that there was power in being a somebody, but that there was truth in being a nobody. He always opted for the truth, and from the example of Jesus crucified knew that the Lord would create power out of that.
But this craving to understand everything includes certain ambiguities and needs to be purified. The motives behind our desire to understand may not always be upright. The thirst to know the truth in order to welcome it and conform our lives to it is completely in order. But there also is a desire to understand that is a desire for power: taking over, grasping, mastering the situation. The desire may also spring from another source that is far from pure: insecurity. In this case, understanding means reassuring ourselves, seeking security in the sense that we can control the situation if we understand it. Such security is too human, fragile, deceptive—it can be wrecked from one day to the next. The only true security in this life lies in the certainty that God is faithful and can never abandon us, because his fatherly tenderness is irrevocable.
One of the hardest things to swallow is that God even teaches us goodness and truth by confronting us with evil and falsity. But the way He teaches us is not by the evil or the lie, but by the grace He gives us at the same time to react against it and to turn to His hidden Truth: Noli vinci a malo sed vince in bono malum. [Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good (Romans 12:21).]
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.
The speech was so inspirational I had trouble picking out excerpts and considered posting it in its entirety here. I strongly encourage you to read it beginning to end. The full text is available on the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s website.
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It is this kind of love and compassion in the service of truth, especially the truth of the human person, that has marked the lives of the holy ones of our own faith tradition and others as well: hospitals, orphanages, schools, outreach to the poor and destitute – giving without concern for getting anything in return, seeing in each human being, especially in the poor and destitute, a priceless child beloved by God, whom God calls to turn away from sin and toward Him, so that they might be saved.
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Let us, then, take our cue from the best our predecessors in faith have inspired, and not humanity’s frequent failings and sins. Like them, we now in our own time need to proclaim and live the truth with charity and compassion as it applies to us today: the truth of a united family based on the union of the children’s father and mother in marriage as the foundational good of society. Every child comes from a man and a woman, and has a right, a natural human right, to know and be known by, to love and be loved by, their own mother and father. This is the great public good that marriage is oriented towards and protects. The question is then: does society need an institution that unites children to the mothers and fathers who bring them into the world, or doesn’t it? If it does, that institution is marriage – nothing else provides this basic good to children.
Yes, this is a foundational truth, and one to which we must witness by lives lived in conformity to it, and which we must proclaim with love.
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But even those from whom we suffer retribution – and I know some of you have suffered in very serious ways because of your stand for marriage – still, we must love them. That is what our ancestors in faith did, and we must, too. Yes, it is easy to become resentful when you are relentlessly and unfairly painted as a bigot and are punished for publicly standing by the basic truth of marriage as a foundational societal good; it is tempting to respond in kind. Don’t. For those of us who are Catholic, we just heard our Master command us in the gospel proclaimed at Mass the day before yesterday: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). We must not allow the angry rhetoric to co-opt us into a culture of hate.
Yes, we must show love toward all of these and more. Love is the answer. But love in the truth. The truth is that every child comes from a mother and a father, and to deliberately deprive a child of knowing and being loved by his or her mother and father is an outright injustice. That is our very nature, and no law can change it. Those with temporal power over us might choose to change the definition of marriage in the law even against all that we have accomplished through very generous participation in the democratic process, but our nature does not change. If the law does not correspond to our nature, such that there is a conflict between the law and nature, guess which will prevail? And people will figure it out.
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So take heart: the truth spoken in love has a power over the human heart. We are here today to March for Marriage, to pick up the torch, and pass on to a new generation the truth about marriage, not just the abstract truth, but the lived reality that makes a difference in children’s lives. So, my friends, we must not give up: the truth will not go away, and we will not go away. Let us take heart from the legacy we have received, let us place our trust in God, and let us go forth to build a civilization of truth and love.
Prayer does not blind us to the world, but it transforms our vision of the world, and makes us see it, all men, and all the history of mankind, in the light of God. To pray ‘in spirit and in truth’ enables us to enter into contact with that infinite love, that inscrutable freedom which is at work behind the complexities and the intricacies of human existence. This does not mean fabricating for ourselves pious rationalizations to explain everything that happens. It involves no surreptitious manipulation of the hard truths of life.
The life of the Poverello (St. Francis) may seem more cheerful and more peaceful than that of some of the other saints. But truth is he was the saint of excesses: excess in sacrifice, excess in love: and it was by reason of his excesses that he held to the happy medium, because his disregard for moderation worked both ways, just as a scale insures better equilibrium the longer it is on both sides.
Francis is the saint of excesses and yet he is the saint with a smile, because he always fused the two. For him, penance was love, and sorrow ‘perfect joy.’ Using this standard, folly was wisdom and excess supreme moderation.
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.
We need to really believe what we say we believe. Then we need to prove it by the witness of our lives. We need to be so convinced of the truths of the Creed that we are on fire to live by these truths, to love by these truths, and to defend these truths, even to the point of our own discomfort and suffering. We are ambassadors of the living God to a world that is on the verge of forgetting him. Our work is to make God real; to be the face of his love.
~ Archbishop Chaput via OH……….. FRANCESCO