Dear Friends of St. Francis:
This letter is dedicated to a brave young woman, who carried a broken heart into the Light of Truth, so that it might be healed by the warm, loving rays of the rising sun.
Easter has come and gone, and it is here to stay!
“Christ is risen. Alleluia! Alleluia!”
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Francis of Assisi’s understanding of the mystery of the cross was informed and enlightened by his profound experience of the Resurrection to which it naturally leads. The cross on which the Word-made-man died was for St. Francis the key to kenosis and metanoia, Greek words meaning emptying and conversion. The tree of life from which hung the man who set us free from the bonds of fear and illusion was for him the sacrament of “letting go”… of victory over the terror of darkness and the sting of death.
Easter is about fresh beginnings for those who have the grace and courage to die at the cross to the unbearable burdens, unhealthy habits and catatonic fears that block the warm and guiding light of God’s truth and love. It is about rising in full freedom to maturity in the Spirit, and coming to the realization of what Jesus promised when he said that he became man so that we might know the fullness of life, and that he is the way, the truth and the life.
Easter is the celebration of the springtime of the soul. Buried by countless layers of hardened dirt and trampled snow and ice, in total darkness and numbing cold, hides the indestructible seed of new life. In the blinding darkness of the cold, starless night survives the trembling hope for the warm, radiant sunrise that gently dries grief-swollen tears.
I sometimes wonder what it will be like to account for my life at the throne of love and justice. When I imagine God as an accountant and hear the question as whether or not I have produced net good works, after evil deeds are subtracted, I am reasonably reassured. And when I imagine God as a portfolio manager and hear the question as whether or not I have maximized the value of the assets he invested in me, I am reasonably reassured. But when I imagine Jesus simply asking me why, after I realized that he died to break open the prison in which I was trapped, I remained in the darkness of my cell, I am not so confident.
In the movie Papillion, once prisoners are set free, the main character shuffles slowly to the edge of his cell and stops at the open door as though he has struck a barrier. He stands transfixed… peers around the corner… retreats and advances and retreats again. Because of habit, liberty feels unnatural. He is, at least for the moment, restrained from experiencing freedom by stones of fear and bars of habit.
As a young man, St. Francis had been a prisoner. For a year, he was held in a dungeon at Perugia. During that lonely time, his ideas about “the good life” and knighthood were shaken. Through this and subsequent experiences, he discovered that captivity is not about stones and bars, but about slavery to sin and the illusion it’s misery creates. Eventually, he discovered that perfect Joy lies beyond the confines of worldly pleasure. Years later, he understood that perfect joy is a seed that is planted in the heart and that is not dependent upon what the world thinks or does.
One day in winter, as St Francis was returning to St Mary of the Angels, and was suffering greatly from the cold, he called to brother Leo, who was walking on before him, and said to him: brother Leo, if it were to please God that the Friars Minor should give, in all lands, a great example of holiness and edification; (…) if the Friars Minor were to make the lame to walk, if they should make straight the crooked, chase away demons, give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, and, what is even a far greater work, if they should raise the dead after four days, write that this would not be perfect joy. (…) Now this manner if discourse had lasted for the space of two miles, brother Leo wondered much within himself; and, questioning the saint, he said: Father, I pray teach me wherein is perfect joy. St. Francis answered: (…) If, urged by cold and hunger, we knock, calling to the porter and entreating him with many tears to open to us and give us shelter, for the love of God, and if he come out angry, he seize us by the hood, throwing us on the ground, rolling us in the snow, and shall beat and wound us with the knots in the stick – if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for him, write, O brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy. And now, brother, listen to the conclusion. Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt.
(Adapted from The Little Flowers of St. Francis)
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According to the letter of James, God alone lives in perfect light. If this is so, are we not wasting our time by striving to live in his light? The fact is that life on earth consists of a journey through darkness to the light that we will only attain in paradise. But before then, we can have an experience of the radiant illumination of that light, which is Truth and Love.
Frustration and even disenchantment await those who struggle to totally escape the darkness that surrounds us in order to live in perfect light. The reality is that God’s grace is designed to help us live in the darkness with hope-filled hearts. The light of Christ is present in the darkness and is not diminished by it. That is the miracle.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan who sees St. Francis as someone who has something particularly relevant to say to our anxiety-ridden post-modern world, writes in a new book, Hope Against the Darkness, that Scripture teaches us to meet God “in the actual, in the incarnate moment”. He adds that “darkness creates the desire for light”. The so-called folly of the cross, he concludes, is to hang between good and evil, “paying the price for their reconciliation”.
St. Francis must have understood this better than anyone. I have often marvelled at his persistent hope and joy, despite the brutality that surrounded him; at his sense of total security, even having forsaken all that the world associates with security: wealth, prestige and power, to find in poverty the total opposite of deprivation. St. Francis was above all else loving and forgiving, and had a refreshingly positive disposition.
Surely Jesus came for more than self-congratulative societies who circle the wagons around their own saved identity and their own self-serving god! Such trivializations of God’s greatness deserve to be ignored, even when the Churches themselves get involved in such partisanship. Don’t waste time fighting it(…)Our motto is simple: The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Just go ahead and live positively “in God, through God, with God.” In time the fruits will be apparent. In the short run, you will hold the unresolved tension of the cross. In the long run, you will usher in something entirely new and healing. This was the almost intuitive spiritual genius of Saint Francis. He wasted no time attacking the rich Churches and pretentious clergymen, or even greedy tradesmen like his dad; he just went to the side and did it differently. (Richard Rohr)
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Fire in the Rain ©
I wander aimlessly through dark and icy rain.
I am very naked against the jaws of pain.
Yet I see the fire I long to have in me;
It’s warmth, it’s light, that I might be free.
I ponder aimlessly at joy’s twisted path
At the purpose served by misery and wrath.
I wander as a stranger amid the faceless places
To ease my cold and hunger and find the love it chases.
Burn in me I pray so that I might see.
Light in me to stay in reality.
Dear Friends of the simple man who sewed joy where he found sadness, hope where found despair, and love where he found anger and bitter resentment, the grace of overcoming oneself and the obstacles that surround us is within each one of us. It is a gift of our baptism and its power is released by a simple: “Here I am Lord. I have come to do your will.”
“The truth will make you free.”
If you are not currently registered as a Friend of St. Francis, you can do so simply by reaching me at (514) 697-9813 or [email protected]. This entails no obligations and will make available to you monthly letters on how the spirituality of St. Francis can help you experience the Peace and Joy to which we are heirs because of our faith in the Resurrection of our Lord, Saviour and brother Jesus Christ.