May 2009

Dear Friend of Saint Francis:

May the Lord give you Peace!

Life comes from God. The ability to live abundantly comes from God’s Holy Spirit.

Read and reflect upon the words of the prophet Ezekiel (37:1-14),

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me round among them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Again he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host.

Jesus, in promising to send his Holy Spirit, was pointing the way to abundant life. He was saddened to see people in his day—and also in ours—who hang between life and death for lack of spiritual vitality. The prevalence of depression is staggering nowadays. So too is the incidence of narcissism, cynicism and fatalism in family, community and national life. These hang over us like dense dark clouds blocking the necessary rays of the sun. With time, dreams fade, people wither and hearts chill.

Yet, God gave us a bag full of gifts in the Holy Spirit who travels across artificial boundaries and arbitrary obstacles to replace mediocrity with excitement, full instead of dwarfed life. There where there is danger, God’s Holy Spirit offers wisdom; where there is confusion, understanding; where there is error, right judgment; where there is fear, courage; where there is ignorance, knowledge; where there is abuse, reverence; and where there is cynicism, wonder and awe.

God wants to give me as much of Godself as is possible.
– William Barry, A Friendship Like No Other

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Welcoming the breath (spir) of God that fills us increases the capacity of our spiritual lungs. Its aim is far more than survival—its purpose is the joyful hope that fuels authentically loving relationships. It breathes life into families and communities. It restores enthusiasm, transforms the mundane and invigorates weary souls. As a result, we have more energy to take an interest in others and are more confident about venturing beyond the bounds of boring familiarity.

God’s Holy Spirit raises us from the grave of lethargy, obsession and fear precisely by guiding us from the illusion of safety onto a sacred pilgrimage to the place of deepest craving, the relentless desire of each human heart—union with God, with others, and with our true self.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them: Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.”

“I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live.” Forgetting that it is God’s Spirit that gives us life is ultimately as dangerous as forgetting to breathe. Fortunately for us, our body will not allow us to forget. In many ways too, our psyche won’t let us forget that life comes from God. Who among us has not felt the dryness of meaninglessness, either for a moment or for a period of our life? And who has not experienced agitation, lack of peace? These are reflexive actions that prompt us to take a closer look at where we are coming from the where we are going with our live. They force us to conclude that change is required.

The dryness to which I refer comes from a chronic or temporary disconnection from the source of our vitality—our particular identity, God-given gifts and unique mission. Energy literally flows through our bodies, intellect and psyche to the degree that these are aligned, allowing God’s breath or Spirit to drive our action, thoughts and feelings. Agitation, on the other hand, comes from dissonance between our true and false self. The more we operate out of alternate personalities, the more agitated we become.

Peace comes from breathing deeply and letting God’s own life penetrate each physical, psychological and spiritual cell. By it, we find the resolution of discordance that plagues our wounded, fearful and compulsive nature. In fact, God’s Holy Spirit is the only effective agent of unity. It functions surreptitiously through the reconciliation of duty, need and desire; the integration of seemingly contradictory facets of our personality; and through healthy adaptation to the reality that surrounds us.

I am restless until I rest in you.
– Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

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The prophet Ezekiel holds a special place in the life of Saint Francis. It is from this book of the Old Testament that the familiar Franciscan symbol—the tau—was taken. The tau is the sign that is said to have been laid on those who are to be spared by the angel of death. The Book of Ezekiel mentions in chapter nine, with reference to a punishment meted by God, “He called to the man dressed in linen with scribe’s ink-horn in his belt and Yahweh said to him, ‘Go all through the city, all through Jerusalem, and mark a tau (cross) on the foreheads of all who grieve and lament over all the loathsome practices in it.’” (v.4) Only these would be sparred. Tau is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew scripture, which early Christian writers used for their Biblical commentaries. It represents Jesus’ death and resurrection as the ending of the reign of sin.

The tau became a sign of repentance or conversion. In his history of the Franciscan and Pre-Franciscan penitential movement, Raffaele Pazzelli writes.

The concept of metanoia…has a special function in…Revelations where the “Spirit” demands of the seven churches the conversion from post-baptismal sin…The term metanoia (penance) indicates a constant yet developing idea; it is a conversion that is theocentric (turn to God), ethical (flee evil and do good), and affective (love God.)

For Francis, conversion meant a connection to the Holy Spirit who offered joy beyond all of the pleasures of his rowdy youth. He trusted the Holy Spirit to teach him the ways of Jesus and the love of the only Father that we would obey.

Abundant life and true joy are kinfolks. In Streams of Living Water, the joy of Saint Francis is presented as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Author Richard Foster writes, “Holy joy is one of the most common marks of those who walk in the power of the Spirit, and Francis and his merry band possessed it in abundance.” Thomas of Celano adds that Francis “spoke with such great fervour of spirit, that, not being able to contain himself for joy…he moved his feet as though he were dancing.” Foster commends to his readers Francis of Assisi as a model of “charismatic jubilee,” meaning that his joy came directly from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, his most important decisions were taken with reference to the Holy Spirit, perhaps most notably, his conversion and decision to radically change the course of his life: “The Lord Himself led me along (lepers) and I had mercy up [on them…and afterward I lingered a little and left the world.”

(Francis) is marked in his identity with the Word of God made flesh, and he is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is his “portion, which leads into the land of the living,” and in this he articulates the fullest, richest call of the human person.
– Regis Armstrong and Ignatius Brady, Introduction to Francis and Clare: The Complete Works

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May God’s Holy Spirit give you life in abundance. May your faith be passionate, your hope vibrant and your love life-giving in the Spirit of Christ. May you receive with grace the Holy Spirit’s gifts of peace and joy.

Fraternally,

richard

crib and cross Franciscan Ministries