If In Doubt …
We all live with the tension that exists between our doubts and that which we know with certainty. The distance between the two is called faith, the experience of believing something without the luxury of comfortable facts or even visible evidence. Faith is to rest with mystery, to know with certain that there are some things that we cannot know for certain. It can cause for us a crisis at times, especially if our doubts blind us to the truth that is standing right before us.
As Jesus appears to his disciples, Thomas is confronted with such a crisis. He cannot believe that Jesus has risen and now stands before them. In other texts, Jesus is described as being something different, changed by the Resurrection. Perhaps this was all just too overwhelming for Thomas, as the truth often is. But Jesus, calm and happy to oblige, guides Thomas to an experience that leaves him in no doubt. My Lord and My God.
Francis, in these readings, shows us the truth of who he is. What I like best is that the reading for Sunday gives the only description of Francis to be found in the sources – a small, unimpressive-looking man. Short, big ears, sickly. It could be hard to believe, looking at him, that Francis reveals a truth that is very special and that his words and actions speak of Christ alone. So, the listener is confronted with a choice – reject the appearance that confuses or even seems inconsistent with expectations, or simply believe, listen and discern the voice of God in this humble, little man.
God infuses all of us and is present in every element of creation. But we who are so sophistocated doubt that it can be that easy to encounter something so great. We, who are caught up in the knowledge that streams to us every second, can sometimes forget that the presence of God has always existed, really and truly. It is us, not God, that have failed to see what is all around us.
Doubt and Faith by Aaron Espe – a beautiful song for a Sunday!
READINGS FOR THE SECOND WEEK OF EASTER!
SUNDAY – Divine Mercy Sunday – 15th April
A reading from ‘The Life of Saint Francis’, by Thomas of Celano.
How gloriously Francis appeared
in innocence of life,
in simplicity of words,
in purity of heart,
in love of God,
in fraternal charity,
in enthusiastic obedience,
in agreeable compliance,
in angelic appearance.
Friendly in behaviour,
serene in nature,
affable in speech,
generous in encouragement,
faithful in commitment,
prudent in advice,
tireless in prayer,
he was fervent in everything!
Firm in intention,
consistent in virtue,
persevering in grace,
he was the same in everything!
Swift to forgive,
slow to grow angry,
free in nature,
remarkable in memory,
subtle in discussing,
careful in choices,
he was simple in everything!
Strict with himself,
kind with others,
he was discerning in everything!
He was very eloquent, with a cheerful appearance and a kind face; free of laziness and arrogance. He was of medium height, closer to short, his head was of medium size and round. His face was somewhat long and drawn, his forehead small and smooth, with medium eyes black and clear. His hair was dark; his eyebrows were straight, and his nose even and thin; his ears small and upright, and his temples smooth. His tongue was peaceable, fiery and sharp; his voice was powerful, but pleasing, clear and musical. His teeth were white, well set and even; his lips were small and thin; his beard was black and sparse; his neck was slender, his shoulders straight; his arms were short, his hands slight, his fingers long and his nails tapered. He had thin legs, small feet, fine skin and little flesh. His clothing was rough, his sleep was short, his hand was generous.
Lord, help us to see beyond the appearances of those who deliver the word of God. May we see you in all those we meet. Amen.
MONDAY, 16th April
A reading from The Assisi Compilation
While blessed Francis was staying at Saint Mary [of the Portiuncula], it happened that a very serious temptation of the spirit was inflicted on him for the benefit of his soul. He was tormented inside and out, in body and spirit, so much that he sometimes withdrew from the close company of the brothers, especially since he could not be his usual cheerful self because of that temptation. He inflicted upon himself not only abstinence from food, but also from talking. He would often go to pray in the woods near the church, so that he could better express his pain and could more abundantly pour out his tears before the Lord, so that the Lord who is able to do all things, would be kind enough to send him a remedy from heaven for this great trial. He was troubled by this temptation day and night for more than two years. One day while he was praying in the church of Saint Mary, he happened to hear in spirit that saying of the holy gospel, ‘If you have faith like a mustard seed, and you tell that mountain to move from its place and move to another place, it will happen.’ Saint Francis replied, ‘What is that mountain?’ He was told, ‘That mountain is your temptation.’ ‘In that case, Lord,’ said blessd Francis, ‘be it done to me as you have said.’ Immediately he was freed in such a way that it seemed to him that he had never had that temptation.
Lord, move the mountain of all that holds us back from you. Move the mountain of our intellect and will, move the mountain of our useless possessions, move the mountain of our failures and guilt. In the plains of what is left, let there be faith and hope in you. Amen.
TUESDAY, 17th April
A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation.’
There was a certain brother, a spiritual man, an elder in religion, and close to blessed Francis. It happened once that for many days he suffered the most severe and cruel suggestions of the devil, so that he was almost cast into the depths of despair. And even though he was tormented daily, he was ashamed to confess it every time. And, because of this, he afflicted himself with fasting, with vigils, with tears, and with beatings. While he was being tormented daily for many days, blessd Francis came to that place by divine guidance. And when blessd Francis was walking one day not too far from that place with one brother and with the brother who was so tormented, he left the other brother behind and walked with the one who was being tempted. He said to him, ‘My dearest brother, I wish and tell you that from now on you are not bound to confess these suggestions and intrusions of the devil to anyone. Don’t be afraid, because they have not harmed your soul. But I give you my permission just to say seven Our Father’s as often as you are troubled by these suggestions.’ That brother was overjoyed at what he said to him, that he was not bound to confess those things, especially because, since he would have had to confess daily, he was quite upset, and this was the main reason for his suffering. He marvelled at the holiness of the holy father, how he knew his temptations through the Holy Spirit, since he had not confessed to anyone except priests. And he would frequently switch priests because of shame, since he was ashamed that one priest would know all his weakness and temptation. From the very moment blessd Francis spoke to him, he was immediately freed both in spirit and body from that great trial which he endured for such a long time. And, through the grace of God and the merits of blessd Francis, he remained in great serenity and peace of soul and body.
Lord, liberate us from the power of evil that stalks and overwhelms us. Help us defeat the suggestions of those who would lead us astray. Amen.
WEDNESDAY, 18th April.
A reading from ‘The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul’, by Thomas of Celano.
Not only was Saint Francis attacked by Satan with temptations, he even had to struggle with him hand to hand. On one occasion Lord Leo, the Cardinal of Santa Croce, invited him to stay with him for a little while in Rome. He chose to stay in a detached tower, which offered nine vaulted chambers like the little rooms of hermits. The first night, when he had poured out his prayer to God and wanted to go to sleep, demons came and fiercely attacked the holy one of God. They beat him long and hard, and finally left him half dead. When they left and he had caught his breath, the saint called his companion who was sleeping under another vault of the roof. When he came over he said to him, ‘Brother, I want you to stay by me, because I am afraid to be alone. A moment ago demons were beating me.’ The saint was trembling and quaking in every limb, as if he had a high fever. They spent a sleepless night, and Saint Francis said to his companion, ‘Demons are the police of our Lord, whom he assigns to punish excesses. It is a sign of special grace that he does not leave anything in his servant unpunished while he still lives in the world. I do not recall my offence which, through God’s mercy, I have not washed away by reparation. For he has always acted towards me with such fatherly kindness, that in my prayer and meditation he shows me what pleases or displeases him. But it could be that he allowed his police to burst in on me because my staying at the courts of the great doesn’t offer good example to others. When my brothers who stay in poor little places hear that I’m staying with cardinals, they might suspect that I am living in luxury. And so, brother, I think that one who is set up as an example is better off avoiding courts, strengthening those who suffer want by putting up with the same things.’ So in the morning they went to the Cardinal, told him the whole story, and said goodbye to him.
Lord, let our example be one of holiness and self-denial. Even when luxury beckons us, may we be moderate and at peace with the little that we have. Amen.
THURSDAY, 19th April.
A reading from ‘The Little Flowers of Saint Francis’.
A boy who was very pure and innocent was received into the Order while Saint Francis was living; and he was staying in a small place where the brothers, out of necessity, slept outside on the ground. Saint Francis once came to this place and in the evening after saying compline, he went off to sleep as he usually did, so he could get up at night to pray when the other brothers were asleep. The boy had in mind to spy attentively on Saint Francis’ movements in order to find out about his holiness and especially to know what the saint did at night when he arose. To make sure that sleep would not overcome him, he lay down to sleep at Saint Francis’ side and tied his cord to that of Saint Francis, so he would feel when the saint arose. And Saint Francis did not feel any of this. That night, during the first time of sleep, when all the other brothers were sleeping, Saint Francis got up and found his cord tied that way. He gently untied it so that the boy did not feel it, and Saint Francis went alone into the woods near the place, entering a little cell there and set himself to pray. The boy awoke after a while and found the cord untied and Saint Francis gone, so he got up to look for him. When he found the gate to the woods open, he thought that Saint Francis had gone out there, so he entered the woods. Reaching the place where Saint Francis was praying, he began to hear a great sound of voices. Going closer so that he might see and understand what he heard, he saw a wonderful light surrounding Saint Francis on all sides, and in it he saw Christ and the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist and the Evangelist and a great multitude of angels speaking with Saint Francis. When the boy saw and heard this, he fell to the ground as if dead. Then, when the mystery of that holy apparition ended, Saint Francis was returning to the place. And his foot bumped into the boy lying almost dead on the path. Out of compassion, he lifted him up, took him in his arms and carried him back, as a good shepherd does with his little sheep. Learning from him later about how he saw the vision, he ordered him never to tell anyone, that is, while he lived. The boy, growing in the grace of God and devotion to Saint Francis, was an important man in the Order, and, after the death of Saint Francis, he revealed that vision to the brothers.
Lord, your mystery surrounds us. May we follow you into the wilderness and see you as you truly are. Amen.
FRIDAY, 20th April.
A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation
Once blessed Francis was travelling with a spiritual brother from Assisi who came from a great and powerful family. Because he was weak and ill, blessed Francis rode on a donkey. Feeling tired from walking, that brother began to think to himself, ‘His parents were never at the same level as mine, and here he is riding, while I’m worn out, walking behind him, prodding the beast.’ While he was thinking this, blessed Francis got off the donkey and said to him, ‘No, brother, it’s not right or proper for me to ride while you go on foot, for in the world you were nobler and more influential than I.’ The brother, stunned and ashamed, fell down at his feet and, in tears, confessed his thought and then said his penance. He was greatly amazed at his holiness, for he immediately knew his thought.
Lord, our pride causes us shame. May we keep our thoughts charitable and always be content to allow others to go before us. Amen.
SATURDAY, 21st April.
A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation’
At one time blessed Francis was staying at the hermitage of Sant’ Eleuterio, near the town of Condigliano in the district of Rieti. Since he was wearing only one tunic, one day because of the extreme cold, and out of great necessity, he patched his tunic and that of his companion with scraps of cloth on the inside, so that his body began to be comforted a little. A short while afterwards, when he was returning from prayer one day, he said with great joy to his companion, ‘I must be the form and example of all the brothers; so, although it is necessary for my body to have a tunic with patches, nevertheless I must take into consideration my brothers who have the same need, but perhaps do not and cannot have this. Therefore, I must stay down with them, and I must suffer those same necessities they suffer so that in seeing this, they may be able to bear them more patiently.’ We who were with him could not say how many and how great were the necessities that he denied his body in food and clothing, to give good example to the brothers and so that they would endure their necessities in greater patience. At all times, especially after the brothers began to multiply and he resigned the office of prelate, blessed Francis had as his highest and principal goal to teach the brothers more by actions than by words what they ought to do and what they ought to avoid.
Lord, may our witness to your truth be borne out in our actions at all times. Though we are not great, may you shine through us, dispelling doubt and engendering hope. Amen.