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An Unusual Vocation Path…

 

How do these stories start?  Perhaps something like, “A long time ago, in another time and place…?”  Nah, I’ll just jump right in!

When I was a high school student, I was drawn to one of the instructors at the Catholic boy’s school I attended.  The Marist Brothers ran the school, and there was one teacher who wore a brown outfit – the habit of the Franciscans.   I was attracted by his teaching methods and his kindness to everyone, and wanted to know more.  So, I began writing to religious orders about this “Franciscan” business.   The pamphlets and literature poured in and I saw soon overwhelmed by the vastness of the world of religious!

Suffice it to say, I chose a group that was close by and was well-and-truly, Franciscan.   Wanting to enter their seminary right of out high school, as one does when overcome with religious zeal, I was asked by my parents to wait a bit. Being the obedient son I was, I did just that.  After a few, wonderful years at a public university,  I soon realized it wasn’t for me.  With no negative feelings, I moved on and completed my degree, graduated, got a job, and was married.  Two wonderful children came to this marriage, and sadly the marriage ended but that is another story.

This story now moves to my adult life and my college-age children.  While visiting my daughter one weekend at her University my life was turned upside down!  One of the Franciscans, who was previously unknown to me, was living at that university and invited me to dinner. He simply asked if I had ever thought of returning to the Friars.  My initial response was quite simply, “no.”  There’s where it ended…or so I thought.

Through the next months, I was in something of a haze, because what I have described as a “boulder” having moved a fraction of an inch in my mind and heart.  Then, the momentum began; that small shift soon became all consuming and there was nothing left for me to do but contact the Franciscans.

And wait…

And wait… not for them, but for me and my own heart.   There were so many compelling reasons NOT to do this, but just one simple reason why I MUST. That was: the call, the nudge, the idea,  whatever one calls a vocation.

Having had to make incredible adjustments in my life, I began the process of entering religious life.  Home, possession, money, career, and even some friendships – all were subject to this great decision into which I was being drawn.  And so, my life as a friar minor began.

Plunging into this life has been an excellent journey thus far.  It does not come without some worldly jabs from time to time. For instance, when people hear that I have two grown children, the inevitable questions of judgment arise.  “Did your wife die?”  “Were you divorced?”  “Was the marriage annulled?”  “How do your children feel about this?”

There is one exception to this litany of questions, however, and our story must now move to La Verna, Italy.  In the summer of 2015, I was blessed with a pilgrimage to Italy to follow the steps of St. Francis.  The trip ended in La Verna, where Francis received the precious stigmata.   The friary there was home to many young friars who were in their novitiate year, prior to taking their first vows.  I knew very little Italian, but nevertheless, befriended one of those young friars.  He and I walked one day through the grounds of this holy place and I shared with him my story and told him about my children.  He stopped in his tracks and simply said to me, “How wonderful for them to have a father who is a friar!”  It was incredibly moving to me, because after I had told him about my children I braced myself for the usual litany of questions, vis-à-vis, judgments but that didn’t come – only a genuine happiness for both my children and me.  His kindness toward me was transformative.  He helped me to realize that we all have journeys and they are never, never straightforward ones.  I now have a slightly greater insight to the paths of those whom I encounter, and know that they, like me, have a story and possibly a very painful one but one for which I should have great compassion, tolerance and patience.

Pax et bonum!

 

Robert Barko, OFM

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Justice Antonin Scalia on Cretins and Thomas More

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Justice Antonin Scalia’s veneration of St. Thomas More was well known. His chambers included a replica of Hans Holbein’s portrait of Thomas More. At Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration, Antonin Scalia wore a replica of the round black hat More wears in that portrait.

thomas more

Scalia revered Thomas More for his conscientious and principled loyalty to Catholic teaching. Scalia scorned the image promoted in Robert Bolt’s Man for All Seasons of More as being some free-thinking individualist who happened to find himself in disagreement with King Henry VIII over his second marriage to Ann Boleyn. Instead, Scalia honored Thomas More as the loyal Catholic he was in historical fact.

This was brought uncomfortably home to a large group of Catholic lawyers who gathered to hear Justice Scalia when he spoke to the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago some dozen years ago.   The Guild sponsored the speech at a special dinner that fell outside the Guild’s normal annual fall meeting time. Scalia was, and remains, the most prominent legal figure to ever address the Guild.

The dinner drew the Guild’s largest audience, and we were all enthused with the prospect of hearing this intellectual giant hold forth as a fellow Catholic and lawyer.

Scalia began his speech with a report about a recent Marian apparition near Washington, D.C. I do not recall if the apparition concerned a miraculous appearance of Mary on a wall or simply that a statute of Mary had begun to weep tears. Whatever the apparition was, Scalia told us how a Washington Post reporter had asked him if he was going to go out and see the apparition for himself. The reporter clearly wanted Scalia to either discount the apparition or to commit himself to visiting it.

Justice Scalia told us what he told the reporter. He would not visit the apparition even if it was genuine because it would make no difference to his faith. He was a Catholic, and Catholicism, he explained to us as he explained to the reporter, is not a sophisticated religion. It is a simple religion.

I remember some of us starting to fidget. This was not the kind of Catholic apologetics one expected to hear from this intellectual giant.

Scalia reminded us that we Catholics do seem to believe some astounding but simple things, things like the Resurrection.   He went on to relate an anecdote about a Swiss or French priest who endeavored to teach his 18th century flock to treat the mentally disabled housed in a nearby asylum as fellow human beings. The priest ordered his people to call the mentally disabled people “Christians,” or, in the local dialect, “cretins.”

Antonin Scalia then told us to remember that our religion is so simple that it truly is for all of us “cretins.”

From this strange opening, Scalia moved into a discussion of Thomas More. He criticized the modern image of More as an independent conscience or intellectual lone ranger.

Thomas More was executed, Scalia reminded us, because he was loyal to the Pope on an issue that was primarily political in nature and to a Pope whose administration was one of the most venal in history.

Now, Scalia said, we have Pope John Paul II who is morally exemplary and is giving us clear moral guidance, but what Catholic leaders are willing to be loyal to this Pope?

The room was silent. Not shamed, just silent. Shortly thereafter, when the speech concluded, there was only tepid applause. Antonin Scalia simply was not the type of guest one expected to hear speaking to a Catholic legal establishment that has been accommodating itself to the times since John F. Kennedy’s presidency.

Today, reflecting on Antonin Scalia’s death and his faith, my mind keeps revisiting two facts that corroborate how well Scalia had studied and channeled Thomas More’s example into his own life.

First, when I heard Scalia speak that night, I knew that Thomas More would have been delighted by Justice Scalia’s citation of the “cretin” story. More sometimes would joke about how his surname was derived from the same Greek root that gave us the word “moron.” Despite his great intellectual powers, More humbly confessed his dependence upon God’s revelation and Church for guidance.

Second, Thomas More’s humility enabled him to maintain an excellent political personality along with his intellectual excellence.   Confronting opponents, including the judges who condemned him and the executioner who would behead him, More would express his hope that they all would “make merry together in heaven.”

Antonin Scalia was famously loved by those who knew him as a great, enjoyable companion. On the Supreme Court, there was surely no one more opposed to him ideologically than Ruth Bader Ginsberg. But Justice Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia were close friends, sharing opera tickets and family vacations. In remembering Justice Scalia yesterday, the Washington Post quoted Justice Scalia on the friendships that crossed politics and ideology:

“If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake.”

Intransigent and conservative on matters of principle and unfailingly liberal in matters of human fellowship, Antonin Scalia, I pray, is making merry today at another banquet with at least one other lawyer, the man who first wore that round black hat.

-Gerald E. Nora

-Photo Credit (Flickr)

The Lesson of Spring Soil

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Soil slides aside allowing an emergence.

Flower seed breaks, becoming resurrected

over the reasons and chances that it might not

 

make it or shouldn’t come.

Alive it rises, a new life, a new

colorful character in the neighborhood.

 

Sustained by the power of the sun, earth knows

how to welcome the stranger:

food provided, room is made—

 

a warm loving home to the foreigner.

Yes to new life. Yes to self-sharing.

Praise for earth knowing and role-modeling:

 

It’s actually quite natural to boldly give

radical hospitality.

 

-Julia Walsh (original post found here)

Julia Walsh FSPA is a high school religion teacher and blogger found online at MessyJesusBusiness.com

 

Photo Credit: Flickr

Three Gs

G

Giving Thanks

Giving Time

Giving, period!

All in the Name of God

As we now move from the table, Turkey, and talk between family, friends, and loved-ones, what is it that we are most thankful for? Do we thank those who teach us, nurture us, guide us, help us, move us, shake us, challenge us, sacrifice for us, enliven us, and treat us with respect? All of these verbs describe the quintessential and archetypal humanity that should be alive in the world today. Jesus, the savior of the world, the finest emulation of God’s self is that which we thank and follow in the Liturgy, the Word, the hospital bed, the funeral home, the Thanksgiving meal. But what does all this ‘thanks’ mean, and is there a bigger picture?

I am referring here to the Three Gs (not the now outdated wireless phone signal), but those Christian values which reflect our end of the year holiday theme of “Giving.” The first G stands for Giving Thanks, to which we have alluded above. We give thanks in the Spirit of Christ; we give thanks because that is what the prophets of old have taught us: “And you will say on that day: give thanks to the Lord, acclaim [God’s] name; Among the nations make known [God’s] deeds, proclaim how exalted is [God’s] name.” And why do we give thanks? Precisely because Jesus has graced us with his presence–that is enough, as the divine has come to dwell with the humanum, the lamb has come to dwell with the goats.

The second G represents giving our time to God the Father, Mother, who births into the world a new creation of light, of love, of justice, of peace. This time of Advent dawns and spawns the nativity scene, yet it is a scene for which we must wait patiently, hoping, acclaiming, purifying ourselves for that special day when the Babe of Bethlehem will arrive. Time is such a wonderful thing, yet it can also be damaging when we turn every notion of our lives into a race against the inevitable clock of deadlines and ultimately death. The time of Advent, the waiting proclaimed is a time which marks the very beginning of an opportunity at eternal life–Jesus, the God-man who ushers in the Reign here and now, he is the symbol of time we most need and must align ourselves with.

Finally, the third G stands at long last the most difficult to accept and grow into. This type of giving is the offering action itself, stemming from the example of God’s gift to all creation. We again struggle to maintain clear direction in the sight of the Christmas holiday, with gifts abound and the spending of hundreds of dollars on such temptations that take us away from what this season is all about–God.

The art of giving is just that, an art! It must be cultivated, lived into, and appreciated for all of its worth. Giving is not about receiving recognition and status, yet as true philanthropists can attest, giving is about the difference that is made in the life of that anonymous small child without a mother or father, the difference that is made on the refugee family struggling to find sustenance and warmth, the difference that is made on the world in a variety of ways. God did just this nearly two millennia ago in a small Middle Eastern village on the outskirts of Jerusalem; God’s gift, the Babe of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace, would go on to teach us what it means to be a true follower of God. He nurtured us as we trudged through our pains, faults, and inner demons. He sought to guide us through the darkness as he was the Light of the World. He helped us to cultivate within us an attitude of love and forgiveness. He moved and shook us at our very roots, encouraging cooperation amongst all people from all walks of life. He made it his mission to challenge us in our discernment and our vocations, to become people of the Spirit. He would go on to sacrifice his own life for us, bringing the world everlasting salvation and redemption. He moved to enliven us in our compassion and zeal for social justice. He treated the apostles, his followers, his parents, the elders, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and even his captors with the dignity and respect that God’s creation merits.

This man, this exemplar of humanity, is a man of the Three Gs, a man whom we must emulate in our daily actions. From the moment we wake in prayer to the moment we close our eyes in gratitude, we, as labeled Christians, must work to imitate the true and ideal meaning of the gift of giving reserved in the Son of God, yet also preserved in the Holy Spirit!

 

-Andy Cirillo

Empty Womb, Empty Tomb

empty

Barren.

Such a harsh word

for a painful reality.

 

Considered one of the three

greatest sufferings

in Ancient Israel.

 

No consolation

able to soothe

the unending ache.

 

Yet, Yahweh birthed

an entire nation from

Sarah’s empty womb.

 

After the Messiah died, humiliated and broken,

the men scattered and hid, defeated:

sure that they had abandoned their lives in vain.

 

Mary’s breathless announcement

of the empty tomb

that inspired the New Way.

 

A conclusion

to prophetic visions

that no one could have had imagined.

 

In the corners of damp, dark caverns,

resurrection is lurking,

waiting for a miracle.

 

-Marci Madary

Photo Credit: Flickr

Learning to Trust

stars

You did not consult me when You numbered the stars
You did not ask permission when You sprinkled the darkness with them
You did not ask me before You built the mountains and traced the sea coasts
You did not make me the conductor of the wind
Or the orchestrator of the birds
You did not ask me permission before You built hearts to need other hearts
You never asked me God and yet You did it anyway!
There is so much in my life that I don’t understand.

Yet, it only takes one walk on the beach, one starry night with someone I love, one birth;

It only takes one naked moment to realize that I am glad you did not ask me permission.
The greatest joys in my life I wouldn’t have chosen.

Dear God,
I ask not for certainty but faith
Not proof but trust
I ask not for control but for a current to guide me
And at the end of my life, just as at the end of each day, to have but one prayer:
Thank you.

-Josh VanCleef

This poem was first published here.

Photo Credit Flickr

Witness

On May 12, 2015, Witness, a social justice action group recently formed at CTU, joined with over 600 religious leaders and community members for a ‘Day of Faith’ at the Capitol, in Springfield. Organized by the Community Renewal Society (CRS), the day included prayer, face-to-face visits with legislators, and a demonstration in the Capitol building. As students of theology and ministry at CTU, we undertook this day aware that our faith calls us to work for justice, and open to what the day would teach us about how to live out this calling.

The day began at 6am for the trip to Springfield. Sporting bright orange t-shirts or religious habits and armed with information about upcoming legislation, we would be advocating laws to remove barriers for people with felony records, establish clear guidelines for police accountability, and stop the drastic budget cuts proposed by Gov. Rauner. This being my first ‘action,’ I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was surprised at how inclusive and meaningful the day’s activities were. Each church group (sometimes broken into two groups) had one state Senator and one House member to try to find to speak to about our points of interest. CRS organizers used the bus ride to train us on how to speak quickly and intelligently about the bills we were advocating and their importance in our communities. While some legislators proved more evasive than others, it was inspiring to see small groups of people in orange shirts dialoging with state lawmakers in the corridors throughout the day.

The second part of the day included a rally inside the Capitol building. Starting off with ‘This Little Light of Mine’ with lyrics tweaked to include references to the day’s key issues of employment, the budget cuts, and police accountability, any legislator who had escaped his or her group, surely came to know why this sea of orange had flocked to his/ her office that day! Testimonials from individuals directly impacted by these issues followed, echoing throughout the rotunda as narratives of truth and accounts of injustice that propel the call for change. Interwoven by hymns and even the visit of two legislators thanking the group for their passion, hard work, and prayers, the rally ended with a ‘die in’ that took over all three floors of the building. At a pre-determined time, we all died—lying down on the floor to symbolize how unjust laws, discrimination, and sinful social structures are literally killing the most vulnerable members of our society. Splattering the marble floors with orange and skin, we sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ using our voices to sing of hope despite being bodies on the ground. The movement of it left me with a gut sense of feeling connected—connected to the hundreds of demonstrators who had come from all over Illinois, in solidarity with our fellow Illinoisans suffering from injustice, and under the same imperative to act as the legislators we were calling upon.

Throughout the rally and the day as a whole, faith was just so obviously the reason for coming to the Capitol. The event brought together a diverse crowd—Christians from different denominations and all parts of the state who had made the connection between living a Christian life and fighting for the wellbeing of their neighbor at the policy-level. As a member of Witness I felt inspired to be among so many informed participants, community organizers, and religious leaders that day. As new social justice action group at CTU, Witness roots itself in the principles of Catholic Social Thought and prayer to engage in education, theological reflection, and action around social issues. Earlier in the semester, the group had held an educational event about structural racism, particularly about housing practices in Chicago. The ‘Day of Faith’ not only allowed us to call for systemic change around important issues, it also provided an opportunity to dialogue and listen to those engaged in the struggle for justice each and every day.

Cornel West once said that “justice is what love looks like in public.” As persons, and especially as Christians, we are called into relationship with the incomprehensible mystery of Love who creates and sustains us. Our witness to that Love necessitates working for justice, endeavoring for a society in which the dignity and beauty of each person is respected. In responding to this call, we strive to open ourselves to act humbly and hopefully, singing in faith, “We shall live in peace, we shall live in peace, some day.”

-Ellen Salmi

What Is It about Silence?

silence

Two weekends ago a friend of mine from college was in town. He is a religion teacher at a Catholic high school in Indianapolis. I have a bachelor’s degree in religious education and so naturally we talked about Catholic education. I was interested to hear what he has been working on with his own students. He talked about how much high school students have on their plates these days between school, work, and extracurricular activities. All of that on top of somehow finding time to fit in four to five hours a night getting their homework done.

He said that one of the most difficult things for them is to get away from all the distractions and to find time for silence.

We live in such a busy and noisy world, and people are becoming more and more uncomfortable with silence. As an assignment he had them spend a half hour in silence: no cellphone, no computer, no TV, or music. They then had to reflect on their experience. He found that about half the class loved it. They were able to finally clear their minds of all the concerns and distractions going on in their lives and to just be at peace for a short time. The other half found it difficult and even uncomfortable. They found themselves thinking even more about all the things they needed to get done that day, and therefore became even more distracted. This experiment of his peaked my interest.

My own ministry for the past few years has been working in campus ministry. The majority of my time spent is providing a ministry of presence. It has often been the case that I feel as if I’m not really accomplishing much. I think that sometimes when it comes to ministry I feel as if I always have to be doing something in order to really be ministering. However, for the last two years there I have been doing some preaching and I’ve noticed that without that ministry of presence and being able to see and hear what is going on in the lives of the students, I wouldn’t be able to preach effectively. The more time I spend with the students, like my friend, the more I see how busy they are. I also see how distracted they are on their cell phones or totally cut of from the world around them as they watch YouTube videos with earphones.

I was scheduled to preach that Sunday on the Gospel of Mark and the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. I talked about how, in the Gospel of Mark, people around Jesus just don’t get it. They don’t understand what he’s all about. I pointed to the last couple of Sunday Gospel readings. The rich man who went away sad because he had many possessions (Mk 10:17-30), James and John and their egos and presumptions getting in the way of understanding what they were really asking of Jesus (Mk 10:35-45), and the crowd trying to keep Bartimaeus back (Mk 10:46-52). I shared with them my conversation with my friend and I asked the question: “What keeps us from seeing God at work in our lives?” I offered up some possibilities and I touched on the role of social media and how we live in such a busy and noisy world. I then turned to the priest and asked that maybe we could spend a few minutes in silence reflecting on our own lives and what keeps us from growing closer to God. Before we did, I shared with them how silence can be awkward and even uncomfortable. I also shared that it is in  silence and in being uncomfortable that God speaks to our hearts and invites us to grow and to step outside our comfort zones.

Then there was silence.

For a little while it was completely silent.

Then I heard it; students starting to shuffle in their seats. The priest sitting with his eyes closed. Eventually a few people started to cough (you know the fake ones that are supposed to signal they’ve had enough). I was watching the priest. He was sitting with his eyes closed and I knew he was hearing what I was hearing because he was starting to smile. But he kept the silence going. Finally it was over and we continued on with mass.

The response was incredible. A lot of students came up and thanked me and shared how much they needed that moment of silence. I have a feeling those who were uncomfortable didn’t come up to share that with me, but to be honest, the silence went a little longer than even I was comfortable with. I too was beginning to wonder how long he was going to let it continue.

Since then I have found myself reflecting on what it is about silence that makes so many of us uncomfortable. What is it about silence? There must be something about it since our society has evolved into one that does everything it can to replace silence with noise and activity.

What is it about silence?

-Jason Salisbury

Photo Credit: Flickr

Excerpt from “Ministry of Pastoral Care: A Eucharistic Experience”

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Pastoral care ministry involves providing patients with the sacred experience of God’s loving presence. Through the mission that was bestowed upon me in the sacrament of Baptism, I am able to carry out Jesus’ threefold ministry – priestly, prophetic, and kingly – to the patients as a loving service of God. As a prophetic minister who acts as messenger sent by and speaking for Jesus, I offer guidance to facilitate understanding and find truth through their faith in God, especially in times of their illness, suffering, and loss. As a kingly minister who comes not to be served but to serve, I serve them by giving them support to address their spiritual (prayers), religious (sacraments), and emotional needs (listening presence). As a priestly minister who mediates between the people and God, I provide patients with the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings to God through meaningful reflection and sacred prayers.

Visiting patients and listening to their stories has led me to contemplate Jesus’ words, “Take care what you hear. The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you (Mark 4:24).” This passage reminds me of an essential undertaking of a chaplain. When I listen to the patients telling me about their lives, I don’t merely listen but I also fulfill my pastoral responsibility by grasping and retaining what I hear from them. I don’t listen to the unique stories of patients to entertain myself; rather, I listen to how the patients try to explain themselves to me. As they unfold their stories, they are examining themselves by reflecting on their own experiences, describing their relationships, assessing the things that have gone wrong and the things that have gone right, and seeking ways to feel better. I, the listener, am invited to be their companion who will accept, comfort, understand, and pray with them, if possible, throughout their journeys.

Sadly, there were times that I felt discouraged and lured to distance myself from the people I was there to serve. There were people, for instance, who ignored or rejected my offer of service, such as praying together. Some were not open to accept from others, even from their own family and relatives, the spiritual and emotional support that they needed. It made me wonder why some people reject or ignore the support they need without knowing its possible good effects on them. In these situations, I just offered my “ministry of presence” – by being physically and attentively present beside them and spiritually and compassionately present by offering them my own prayers. Like the Eucharist that makes Jesus present, ministering is a concrete experience of God’s presence and unconditional loving work.

Marlon Bobier Vargas, SVD

Photo credit flickr

Three Truer-than-fact Francis Fables

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October 4, 2015, falls on a Sunday this year, making it a Solemnity of the Lord.  Many of us remember that it also the Church’s memorial date for St. Francis of Assisi.

People are drawn to Saint Francis even though most know little about his life.  Images of the Saint preaching to the birds, kissing a leper, or receiving the stigmata during prayer, give us the essential Francis, and these images pull us to Francis just as the Crib and the Cross draw people to Christ.

As a Saint who clearly epitomizes Jesus Christ, St. Francis inspires conversations among Protestants and Catholics alike throughout the year.  And I am frequently struck by the fact that some of the “facts” most known about Francis are not facts at all.  They are fables, not history.   But, if we abandoned these fables, we would also risk losing important truths about Francis that inhere in the historic man, if not the historic record.  Here are three.

Fable One:  St. Francis was a deacon.

Deacons revere St. Francis as the ideal deacon.  Before my ordination to the permanent diaconate, my fellow ordinands and I promised to follow St. Francis as model of simplicity when we made our professions of faith and oaths of fidelity.  Even the Catholic Encyclopedia has claimed that Francis was an ordained deacon.

It never happened.  St. Francis consistently refused suggestions that he prepare for the priesthood, and he lived some five hundred years or more after the Church had last ordained any men as deacons except those preparing for the priesthood. As a friar, Francis was only “tonsured.” To be tonsured was to enter the first of five clerical states a religious or seminarian would go through before ordination to the diaconate, and it did not signify any plan for further advancement.

But this is one of those situations where “if it was not so, it should have been so.”  A deacon is ordained to serve the Word, Liturgy and Charity as an icon of “Christ the Servant.”  Unlike the orders of bishop and priest, the deacon is only ordered to a life of humble service.  Just as significant, all Christians are baptized into diaconia, charitable service to their sisters and brothers.  St. Francis who gave all his property to the poor, who kissed the leper, and who inspired others to follow him in the apostolic counsels, fulfilled his diaconia so completely that he can only be compared to Christ himself.   

The Office of Readings for the memorial of St. Francis quotes his letter to all the faithful which contains one of the Church’s greatest descriptions of our call to service:

“We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather, we must be simple, humble, pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God’s sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all who live in this way and persevere in it to the end. He will permanently dwell in them. They will be the Father’s children who do his work. They are the spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In deed and action, St. Francis teaches us all how to be deacons, that is, servants.

Fable two: St. Francis said, “Preach always and use words if you must.”

This quotation first appeared in the last few decades of the twentieth century, and it is confidently repeated in about ten different ways.  There is no earlier evidence that he ever said it.  Indeed, his life and his writings make it extremely unlikely that he did.   Also, if this fable about Francis is misinterpreted, it can work great mischief he would never have intended.

St. Francis was profoundly committed to preaching, and he preached with words.  All biographers agree that Francis preached constantly and converted many.  Francis converted no one, it seems from the record, merely by his deeds; only through deeds and words.  

Francis never avoided an opportunity to preach.  When he looked for a way to end the Crusades, he crossed enemy lines so that he could preach to Saladin.  Francis was in love with God, and a lover uses words.  According to Thomas of Celano, a Franciscan who knew Francis and wrote the Saint’s first biography, Francis would habitually greet the birds.  Once when a flock did not fly away from him, Francis was moved to preach to them, verbally admonishing them to obey the creator!

Francis was always using words.  His words convinced because they were rooted in the deeds of a committed heart.

The quotation “Preach always and use words if you must” begs the question, “When must we use words?”  Francis’ example pretty much says “always.”  The problem with this quotation for modern Americans, in my view, is that it gives false comfort to those of us who do good works.  We may feel that we are relieved from the responsibility of proclaiming.  Today, here in Chicago, some thirty percent of the population is routinely getting help from Catholic Charities.  How many of those people ever hear that we do-gooders are doing this with Christ?  That we are on mission from the Eucharist?  That we bring good news with our soup and shelter?  

If we are only doing good works, we are only preaching that we are good people.  No one objects to having help from good people, and no one is converted to Christ simply because they have met some good people.  They need to hear the good news.  Otherwise, Francis would tell us, “You are never preaching!”

The admonition to “preach always and use words if you must,” reminds us that our preaching begins with deeds, but it does not allow us to avoid words altogether.  

Fable three: St. Francis wrote the prayer “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  

There is no evidence for this prayer before the twentieth century.  Its first publication may have been a 1943 sermon by Reinhold Niebuhr.

St. Francis surely would have loved this prayer.  It expressly asks God for the grace to be used by God as God used Francis himself.

G.K. Chesterton’s classic St. Francis Assisi stresses that Francis was a romantic, a troubadour  who could not restrain himself from reckless acts and expressions of his love for God.   The “Peace Prayer,” I believe, is more of a preparatory prayer for one who would want to fall in love with God as Francis did.  After his conversion, Francis was beyond that point.  He was a man who was in love.

For this reason I think that the “Peace Prayer,” like the other two “fables” here, is truly

“Franciscan” because it provides a valid point of access to a profoundly holy life, a life whose historical facts might confound us if we limited ourselves to their extraordinary content.  

-Gerald E. Nora

(photo credit: flickr)