The Smallest Thing Can Bring Us The Greatest Cause For Joy.
It was amazing. I just arrived back from Mexico where the 4th Le Stuoie (Chapter of Mats) of friars “Under 10” years of solemn profession gathered to share, to join with each other in fraternity and re-discover the love that infuses our common Franciscan vocation. It was a wonderful experience and one that I will never forget. So much was accomplished, so much came back to us about the reality of our call and so much support and care was shown to us that it hardly seems real. Two hundred friars from fifty-three nations travelling as pilgrims and strangers, living as one fraternity, overcoming the barriers of language and negotiating cultural differences including, in a far more difficult task, nuances in ecclesiology. Some of our group had entered the friars at a very tender age, others received the call later in their lives. Some of us had experienced homelands in strife of war or poverty, others of us had middle-class upbringings in peaceful, wealthy nations. Some of us refected on the difference between the demands of clerical ministry as opposed to other kinds of ministerial work – all of us agreed that we still have much to offer a world that so desperately needs to be released from the bonds of cynicism and selfishness.
Two hundred seemingly meaningless, little people from all over the world inhabited a non-descript retreat house on the outskirts of Jalisco next door to a piggery for a week to pray, to talk, to live, to breathe, to laugh, to love and receive hospitality. The impartial observer might pose the question, “So what?”
The most difficult and, yet, the most effortless part of growing a mustard tree is to physically plant the seed in the first place and tend to it until its roots grip the earth and its branches start to establish themselves. There can be no smaller seed than the Chapter of Mats and no more unlikely soil than the dusty plains of Guadalajara and, yet, the potential for growth and the spreading of multi-tendrilled branches has been given a promising future. In the garden of God’s presence, we have been given every chance to stand out once again as a place of shelter and a wellspring offering the very spice of life. To “So what?” I respond, “Sow what?” The answer: the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Perhaps I could recount the salient points from the Minister General’s letter or show you a few more group photos outside significant places in Mexico. Or maybe you would like to read the statement made to the entire Order as a result of our conversation. Or is it enough to know that somewhere in the world, a group of faithful men shared their strong desire to go out once more and preach the Gospel?
If only we could all plant a seed of faith and yet often it just seems too hard or too much of a commitment or too risky – what if it dies? It might be that we sheild ourselves from the judgements of sneering onlookers or the vulnerability that is all part and parcel of being the creator of something beautiful. In the words of the angels, don’t be afraid. All it takes is a little faith, a little patience …
… and about two hundred noisy friars to cheer you on!
God bless all the friars from the Chapter!
READINGS FOR THIS WEEK! LOL!!!! 🙂
SUNDAY, 17th June.
A reading from ‘The Testament of Saint Clare
In the name of the Lord! Amen.
Among the other gifts that we have received and do daily receive from our benefactor, the Father of mercies, and for which we must express the deepest thanks to the glorious Father of Christ, there is our vocation, for which, all the more by way of its being more perfect and greater, do we owe the greatest thanks to him. Therefore the Apostle Paul writes, ‘Know your vocation’. The Son of God has been made for us the Way, which our blessd father Francis, his true lover and imitator, has shown and taught us by word and example. Therefore, belovd sisters, we must consider the immense gifts that God has bestowed on us, especially those that he has seen fit to work in us through his belovM servant, our bless&l father Francis, not only after our conversion but also while we were still living among the vanities of the world. In fact, almost immediately after his conversion, when he had neither brothers nor companions, while he was building the church of San Damiano, where he was totally visited by divine consolation and impelled to completely abandon the world, through the great joy and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, the holy man made a prophecy about us that the Lord later fulfilled. For at that time, climbing the wall of that church, he shouted in French to some poor people who were standing nearby, ‘Come and help me in the work of building the monastery of San Damiano, because ladies are yet to dwell. here who will glorify our heavenly Father throughout his holy, universal church by their celebrated and holy manner of life.’ We can consider in this, therefore, the abundant kindness of God to us. Because of his mercy and love, he saw fit to speak these words through his saint about our vocation and choice through his saint. And our most b1essd father prophesied not only for us, but also for those who would come to this same holy vocation to which the Lord has called US.
Lord, you have called us into beauty and love. Help us to be faithful to our vocation to love you more and to be more your presence in the world. Amen.
MONDAY, 18th June.
A reading from ‘The Testament of Saint Clare
After the Most High, heavenly Father saw fit in his mercy and grace to enlighten my heart, that I should do penance according to the example and teaching of our most blessed father Francis, a short while after his conversion, I, together with a few sisters whom the Lord had given me after my conversion, willingly promised him obedience, as the Lord gave us the light of his grace through his wonderful life and teaching. When the blessed Francis saw, however, that, although we were physically weak and frail, we did not shirk deprivation, poverty, hard work, trial, or the shame or contempt of the world – rather, we considered them as great delights, as he had frequently examined us according to the example of the saints and his brothers – he greatly rejoiced in the Lord. And moved by compassion for us, he bound himself, both through himself and through his Order, to always have the same loving care and special solicitude for us as for his own brothers. And thus, by the will of God and our most blessed father Francis, we were to dwell in the Church of San Damiano where, in a little while, the Lord, through his mercy and grace, made our number increase so that he would fulfil what he had foretold through his saint. In fact, we had stayed in another place before this, but only for a short while. Afterwards he wrote a form of life for us, especially that we always persevere in holy poverty. While he was living he was not content to encourage us with many words and examples to the love of holy poverty and its observance, but he gave us many writings that, after his death, we would in no way turn away from it, as the Son of God never wished to abandon this holy poverty while he lived in the world. And our most blessed father Francis, having imitated his footprints, never departed either in example or in teaching from this holy poverty that he had chosen for himself and his brothers.
Lord, perseverance is a daily commitment. As we arise each day, may we renew ourselves as your sons and daughters of faith. Amen.
TUESDAY, 19th June.
A reading from ‘The Little flowers of Saint Francis.’
While Saint Francis was staying in Assisi, he visited Saint Clare many times, giving her holy instruction. She greatly desired to eat once with him and she asked him for this many times, but he never wanted to grant this consolation. So his companions, seeing the desire of Saint Clare, said to Saint Francis, ‘Father, it does not seem to us that this rigidity is in accord with divine charity, that you do not grant to Sister Glare such a small thing as eating with you, as she is such a holy virgin, belovd of God; especially considering that she abandoned the riches and vanities of the world because of your preaching. Truly, even if she were to ask you a greater favour than this, you should do it for your spiritual plant.’ Then Saint Francis replied, ‘It seems to you that I should grant her’ request?’ The companions responded, ‘Yes, Father, it is only right that you grant her this favour and consolation.’ Then Saint Francis said, ‘Since it seems this way to you, it also seems that way to me. But so that she may be even more consoled, I want this meal to be held at Saint Mary of the Angels, since she has been enclosed for a long time in San Damiano, and it will do her good to see the place of Saint Mary, where she was tonsured and became the spouse of Jesus Christ; and there we will eat together in the name of God.’ When the appointed day arrived, Saint Clare with a companion came out from the monastery, was accompanied by companions of Saint Francis, and came to Saint Mary of the Angels. Alter she devoutly greeted the Virgin Mary in front of her altar, where she had been tonsured and veiled, they took her around to see the place until it was time to eat. And in the meantime, Saint Francis had the table prepared on the bare ground, as he usually did. When it was time to eat they sat down together: Saint Clare with Saint Francis; one of the companions of Saint Francis with the companion of Saint Clare; then all the other companions gathered humbly at the table. And as a first course Saint Francis began to speak of God so sweetly, so deeply, and so wonderfully that the abundance of divine grace descended upon them, and all were rapt into God.
Lord, to share in the gift of a meal with each other is to share of ourselves. May we always be prepared to engage in that loving fraternity that binds us always to one another and to you. Amen.
WEDNESDAY, 20th June.
A reading from ‘The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul’, by Thomas of Celano.
As earlier foretold by the Holy Spirit, an Order of holy virgins was to be established to be brought one day as a polished collection of living stones
for the restoration of the heavenly house. The virgins of Christ had begun to gather in that place, assembled from diverse regions of the world,
professing the greatest perfection in the observance of the highest poverty and the beauty of every virtue. Though the father Francis gradually withdrew his bodily presence from them, he still offered in the Holy Spirit his affection to care for them. The saint recognized that they were marked with many signs of the highest perfection, and that they were ready to bear any loss and undergo any labour for Christ and did not ever want to turn aside from the holy commandments. Therefore, he firmly promised them, and others who professed poverty in a similar way of life,
that he and his brothers would perpetually offer them help and advice. And he carried this out carefully as long as he lived, and when he was close to death he commanded it to be carried out without fail always, saying that one and the same Spirit had led the brothers and those little poor ladies out of this world.
Lord, may our simplicity and attention to what we need as opposed to what we want. Let us be marked with the signs of poverty as an emblem of our desire to follow St Francis. Amen.
THURDAY, 21st June.
A reading from ‘The Little Flowers of Saint Francis’
Once, when Saint Francis had a serious eye disease, Sir Hugolino, Cardinal Protector of the Order, because of the great tenderness he had for him, wrote to tell him to go to Rieti where there were excellent eye doctors. Saint Francis, after he had received the letter of the Cardinal, went first to San Damiano, where Saint Clare was, the most devout spouse of Christ, to give her some consolation and then to the Cardinal. While he was there, that night his eyes became so much worse that he was unable to see any light. So, since he could not depart, Saint Clare made him a little cell of reeds, where he could rest more easily. But Saint Francis, because of the pain of the illness and because of the many mice that troubled him greatly, could not rest at all by night or by day. Bearing that pain and disturbance for several days, he began to think and understood this as a punishment from God for his sins, and he began to give thanks to God with his whole heart and voice, and cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Lord, my God, I am worthy of this and of much worse. 0 Lord Jesus Christ, good shepherd, who have shown your mercy to us sinners in different bodily pains and sufferings, give grace and strength to me, your little lamb, that I may not turn away from you because of any illness or tribulation or suffering.’ After he made this prayer, a voice came to him from heaven, saying, ‘Francis, answer me: if the whole world were gold, and all the seas and springs and rivers were balsam, and all the mountains, hills and stones were precious stones; and if you found another treasure more noble than all these things, as much as gold is more noble than the earth, balsam more than water, precious stones more than mountains and rocks, and that more noble treasure were given to you for this illness, would you not be happy and quite joyful?’ Saint Francis answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy of such a precious treasure.’ And the voice of God said to him, ‘Rejoice, Francis, because that is the treasure of eternal life, which I have kept for you, and from now on I invest you with it. This illness and affliction is the pledge of that blessed treasure.’ Then Saint Francis called his companion with the greatest joy over such a glorious promise, and said, ‘Let us go to the Cardinal.’ And first consoling Saint Clare with holy words, and humbly taking leave of her, he started his journey towards Rieti.
Lord, may we always keep our eyes focused on you, to the reward that awaits us beyond our days, in the years and eons that comprise our glorious future when all will be all. Amen.
FRIDAY, 22nd June.
A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation
Blessed Francis, after he had composed the Praises of the Lord for his creatures, also composed some holy words with chant for the greater consolation of the Poor Ladies of the Monastery of San Damiano. He did this especially because he knew how much his illness troubled them.
And since he was unable to console and visit them personally because of that illness, he wanted those words to be proclaimed to them by his companions. In these words, he wanted to reveal his will to them briefly, for then and for always, how they should be of one mind and how they should live in charity towards one another. He wanted to do this because they were converted to Christ by his example and preaching when the brothers were still few. Their conversion and manner of living is the glory and edification not only of the religion of the brothers, whose little plant they are, but also of the entire Church of God. Therefore, since blessed Francis knew that from the beginning of their conversion they had led, and were still leading, a strict and poor life by free choice and by necessity, his spirit was always moved to piety for them.
Lord, we are your pianticelli, the little ones you have planted in the wilds of this world. Though few, may our preaching shed a light on your world. Amen.
SATURDAY, 23rd June.
A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation
During the week in which blessed Francis died, Lady Clare was seriously ill. She feared that she would die before blessd Francis. She wept in bitterness of spirit and could not be comforted, because she would not be able before her death to see her only father after God, that is, blessed Francis. She sent word of this to blessed Francis through one of the brothers. Blessed Francis heard this and was moved to piety, since he loved her and her sisters with fatherly affection. He considered that what she desired, that is, to see him, could not be done then since they were both seriously ill. To console her, he wrote his blessing in a letter and also absolved her from any failings, if she had any, regarding his commands and wishes or the commands and wishes of the Son of God. Moreover, so that she would put aside all her grief and be consoled in the Lord, he, or rather the Spirit of God speaking through him, spoke to the brother she had sent. ‘Go and take this letter to the Lady Glare, and tell her to put aside all her grief and sorrow over not being able to see me now. Let her be assured that before her death, both she and her sisters will see me and will receive the greatest consolation from me.’ Soon afterwards blessed Francis passed away during the night. In the morning, all the people of the city of Assisi, men and women, with all the clergy, took the holy body from the place where he had died. With hymns and praises, all carrying tree branches, they carried him to San Damiano at the Lord’s will, in order to fulfil that word which the Lord had spoken through his saint to console his daughters and servants. The iron grille was removed from the window through which the servants of Christ usually receive communion and sometimes hear the word of God. The brothers lifted his holy body from the stretcher and,raising him in their arms, they held him in front of the window for over an hour. By then, Lady Clare and her sisters had received the greatest consolation from him, although they wept profusely and were afflicted with great grief, because, after God, he was their one consolation in this world.
Lord, in the sadness and grief of your son Francis’ Transitus, you show us the completion of a life project that saw this pathetic little man plant a seed that grew into a mighty tree. May we, its branches, forever bloom and be your witnesses now and always. Amen.