The Hill

Franciscan Readings for the Christian Year – gladly hosted by the Franciscan Friars (Holy Spirit Province) in Kedron, Australia. Have you seen the view from The Hill?

A Healing Touch.

A few years ago, the school where I was teaching had a very bad year.   Two students had died under very different circumstances which, as many people can relate, threw our tight-knit community under a pall of sadness and melancholy.    Naturally, the teachers had to be strong for the sake of the wellbeing of the students and, as you can well imagine, they themselves began to fray under the ever-oppressive environment, not to mention their own unresolved feelings of loss.

In what was a remarkably creative move, the administration of the school decided that our professional development day should be about our resilience and healing as adults since so much had been focused on the students.   The presenter was a well-known educational psychologist who specialised in neurobiology.   He made an interesting point – that touch is a more powerful healer of the soul than anything else.    When someone reaches out to you, he said, take their hand.   When someone pats you on the back, don’t be afraid to reciprocate.   Let the oxytocin start flowing and create those bonds of security and togetherness.   No need for massive doses of prozac or intense psychoanalysis, just hold someone’s hand or give them a hug.    It is certainly a great place to start.

“Hug a student?” Alarm bells.   This eminent educationalist said that the most natural reaction to someone in pain is to touch them, to reassure them and to empathise with them.  Now, anyone who has met me would agree that I am possibly the least “hug-able” person on the planet – all angles and sharp bits.  But I do find that physical contact when I am feeling down does make me feel … well, better.

Jesus does not hesitate to extend his touch to the woman with the issue of blood and Jairus’ daughter.   In quite different encounters, the woman catches the corner of Jesus’ robe with a sort of fatuous optimism that the faintest connection to the Healer might cure her of a chronic and socially-isolating condition.   Jesus does not deny her but affirms her faith in him.   Jairus’ daughter is the recipient of the touch of Christ who is in no hurry despite the urgings of his companions and literally has nothing better to do than cure this man’s youngster.   He even makes a house-call!

Francis was a man whose encounters were with real people, not just with that amorphous group we call “humanity”.   I like to think that Francis was a keen hugger and a spontaneous friend who engendered good will and security wherever he went.   It is my image of St Francis that he was great on names and was interested in the minutest details of a person’s life.   Francis no doubt wandered through cities and villages knowing everyone and never letting a person pass without a word of greeting. This week’s reading is the story of Francis and a Sultan – a fantastic tale of St Francis’ real love for the individual, the YOU!  Francis engages the Sultan and befriends him.  No one is converted, perhaps, but an understanding and life-long relationship is formed.

This is healing of a vital, apostolic kind and one that is not beyond our ability.   It requires no certification or medical diploma.   It requires the dispensing of no drug.   It does require a heart that welcomes and a disposition of hospitality that looks outward and is prepared to risk rejection.

This is fraternity lived with the broader context of our lives.   It is within the heart of God that all are ultimately the recipients of healing.  It is for us, then, to give that healing a chance by being the first to say, “How are you?  I’m here.”

READINGS FOR THIS WEEK!!  LOL!   🙂

Sunday, 1st July.

A reading from ‘The Major Legend of Saint Francis’, by Saint Bonaventure.

With the ardour of his charity urging his spirit on towards martyrdom, Francis tried yet a third time to set out to the non-believers, hoping to shed his blood for the spread of the faith in the Trinity. In the thirteenth year of his conversion, he journeyed to the regions of Syria, constantly exposing himself to many dangers in order to reach the presence of the Sultan of Babylon. For at that time there was a fierce war between the Christians and the Saracens, with their camps situated in close quarters opposite each other in the field, so that there was no way of passing from one to the other without danger of death. A cruel edict had been issued by the Sultan that whoever would bring back the head of a Christian would receive as a reward a gold piece. But Francis, the intrepid knight of Christ, hoping to be able to achieve his purpose, decided to make the journey, not terrified by the fear of death, but rather drawn by desire for it. After praying, strengthened by the Lord, he confidently chanted that prophetic verse: ‘Even if I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I shall not fear evil because you are with me.’

Lord, you do not abandon us to the power of those who would harm us.  Be with us, Lord, in our darkest hour and be there to hold us in life as you do in death.  Amen.

Monday, 2nd July.

A reading from ‘The Major Legend of Saint Francis’, by Saint Bonaventure.

The spirit of prophecy so shone forth in Francis that he foresaw the future, contuited the secrets of the heart, knew of events from afar as if they were present and miraculously appeared present to those who were absent. For at the time when the Christian army was besieging Damietta, the man of God was there, armed not with weapons, but with faith. When Christ’s servant heard that the Christians were preparing for war, on the day of the battle he sighed deeply and said to his companion, ‘If a clash of battle is attempted, th Lord has shown that it will not go well for the Christians.  But if I say this, they will take me for a fool; if I keep silent, my conscience will not leave me alone. What do you think I should do?’  His companion replied, ‘Brother, do not give the least thought to how people judge you. This will not be the first time people took you for a fool. Unburden your conscience and fear God rather than mortals.’   When he heard this, the herald of Christ leapt to his feet and rushed to the Christians, crying out warnings to save them, forbidding war and threatening disaster. But they took the truth as a joke. They hardened their hearts and refused to turn back. The whole Christian army charged, attacked and retreated, fleeing from the battle, carrying not triumph but shame. The number of Christians was diminished by such a great
massacre, that about six thousand were either dead or captured.

Lord, disaster abounds in our day.  May we heed the prophets who warn us and keep us safe from impending misfortune.  Let us always be people who hear your wise voice.  Amen.

Tuesday, 3rd July – ST THOMAS

St. Thomas was a Jew, called to be one of the twelve Apostles. He was a dedicated but impetuous follower of Christ. When Jesus said He was returning to Judea to visit His sick friend Lazarus, Thomas immediately exhorted the other Apostles to accompany Him on the trip which involved certain danger and possible death because of the mounting hostility of the authorities. At the Last Supper, when Christ told His Apostles that He was going to prepare a place for them to which they also might come because they knew both the place and the way, Thomas pleaded that they did not understand and received the beautiful assurance that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But St. Thomas is best known for his role in verifying the Resurrection of his Master. Thomas’ unwillingness to believe that the other Apostles had seen their risen Lord on the first Easter Sunday merited for him the title of “doubting Thomas.” Eight days later, on Christ’s second apparition, Thomas was gently rebuked for his scepticism and furnished with the evidence he had demanded – seeing in Christ’s hands the point of the nails and putting his fingers in the place of the nails and his hand into His side. At this, St. Thomas became convinced of the truth of the Resurrection and exclaimed: “My Lord and My God,” thus making a public Profession of Faith in the Divinity of Jesus. St. Thomas is also mentioned as being present at another Resurrection appearance of Jesus – at Lake Tiberias when a miraculous catch of fish occurred. This is all that we know about St. Thomas from the New Testament. Tradition says that at the dispersal of the Apostles after Pentecost this saint was sent to evangelize the Parthians, Medes, and Persians; he ultimately reached India, carrying the Faith to the Malabar coast, which still boasts a large native population calling themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” He capped his left by shedding his blood for his Master, speared to death at a place called Calamine. His feast day is July 3rd and he is the patron of architects.

A reading from ‘The Major Legend of Saint Francis’, by Saint Bonaventure.

Taking a companion with him, a brother named Illuminato, a virtuous and enlightened man, after he had begun his journey, Francis came upon two lambs. Ovejoyed to see them, the holy man said to his companion, ‘Trust in the Lord, brother, for the gospel text is being fulfilled in us: Behold, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves.’ When they proceeded further, the Saracen sentries fell upon them like wolves swiftly taking sheep, savagely seizing the servants of God, and cruelly and contemptuously dragging them away, treating them with insults, beating them with whips, and putting them in chains.  Finally, after they had been maltreated in many ways and were exhausted, by divine providence they were led to the Sultan, just as the man of God had wished. When that ruler inquired by whom, why and how they had been sent and how they had got there, Christ’s servant, Francis, answered with an intrepid heart that he had been sent not by man but by the Most High God in order to point out to him and his people the way of salvation and to announce the gospel of truth.  He preached to the Sultan the Triune God and the one Saviour of all, Jesus Christ, with such firmness, such strength of soul and such fervour of spirit that the words of the gospel appeared to be truly fulfilled in him: ‘I will give you utterance and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to resist or answer back.’ For the Sultan, perceiving in the man of God a fervour of spirit and a courage that had to be admired, willingly listened to him and invited him stay longer with him.

Lord, protect and hold our Islamic brothers and sisters.  Save them from the plots of evil and bloodthirsty politicians.   Let our faith be strong and may we go out like sheep to bring your peace to the world.  Amen.

Wednesday, 4th July.

A reading from ‘A Book of Exemplary Stories’,

While Francis was at the Sultan’s court, the latter wanted to test the faith and devotion that Francis showed to our crucified Lord. So one day he had a beautiful, multi-coloured carpet laid out in his audience hail; it was almost entirely decorated with a geometric pattern of crosses. He said to his attendants, ‘Now fetch this man who seems to be an authentic Christian. If he comes towards me, he will have to tread on the crosses that cover this carpet, so then I will accuse him of insulting his Lord. But if he is unwilling to come towards me, I will ask him why he is insulting me by refusing to approach me.’
So Francis was called in. Now he was filled with the Spirit of God and, from this plenitude he was well instructed on what he should do and say, so he walked across the carpet to greet the Sultan. Then the Sultan, thinking he had good reason to berate the man of God for showing disrespect for his Lord, Jesus Christ, said to him, ‘You Christians adore the cross as a special sign of your God. Why then do you have the audacity to tread on those crosses?’ Saint Francis replied, ‘You should know that along with our Lord, two thieves were also crucified. We possess the cross of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ, and that cross we adore and surround with total devotion. So, while that true cross of God has been entrusted to us, you have been left with the crosses of the thieves. That is why I did not fear to walk on the signs of the thieves. For among you there is nothing of the sacred cross of the Saviour.’

Lord, when others challenge our faith, may we stay true to you.   Protect the United States of America on their Independence Day.  May that nation, so rich in resources and blessings, share with others that which has been bestowed on them for the good of the peace of the world.  Amen.

Thursday, 5th July.

A reading from ‘The Major Legend of Saint Francis’, by Saint Bonaventure.

Inspired from heaven, Francis, Christ’s servant, said to the Sultan, ‘If you wish to be converted to Christ along with your people, I will most gladly stay with you for love of him. But if you hesitate to abandon the law of Mohammed for the faith of Christ, then command that an enormous fire be lit and I will walk into the fire, along with your priests, so that you will recognize which faith deserves to be held as the holier and more certain.’ ‘I do not believe,’ the Sultan replied, ‘that any of my priests would be willing to expose himself to the fire to defend his faith or to undergo any kind of torment.’ For he had seen immediately one of his priests, a man full of authority and years, slipping away from his view when he heard Francis’ words.  ‘If you wish to promise me that if I come out of the fire unharmed,’ the saint said to the Sultan, ‘you and your people will come over to the worship of Christ, then I will enter the fire alone. And if I shall be burned, you must attribute it to my sins. But if God’s power protects me, you will acknowledge Christ, the power and wisdom of God, as the true God and the Saviour of all.’ The Sultan replied that he did not dare to accept this choice, because he feared a revolt among his people. Nevertheless, he offered him many precious gifts, which the man of God, greedy not for worldly possessions but the salvation of souls, spurned as if they were dirt. Seeing that the holy man so completely despised worldly possessions, the Sultan was overflowing with admiration, and developed an even greater respect for him. Although he refused, or perhaps did not dare, to come over to the Christian faith, he nevertheless devoutly asked Christ’s servant to accept the gifts and give them to the Christian poor or to churches for his salvation. But, because he was accustomed to flee the burden of money and did not see a root of true piety in the Sultan’s soul, Francis would in no way accept them.  When he saw that he was making no progress in converting these people and that he could not achieve his purpose, namely martyrdom, he went back to the lands of the faithful as he was advised by a divine revelation.

Lord, may we be brave missionaries and surrender all for your Holy Gospel.  Amen.

Friday, 6th July.

A reading from a Letter of Jacques de Vity, Bishop of Acre.

The Lord Rayner, Prior of Saint Michael’s [Church in Acre], has entered the Order of Lesser Brothers. This Order is multiplying rapidly throughout the world, because it expressly imitates the pattern of the primitive Church and the life of the apostles in everything. But to our way of thinking, this Order is quite risky, because it sends out two by two throughout the world, not only formed Religious, but also immature young men who should first be tested and subjected to conventual discipline for a time. The head of these brothers, who also founded the Order, came into our camp. He was so inflamed with zeal for the faith that he did not fear to cross the lines to the army of our enemy. For several days he preached the Word of God to the Saracensand made a little progress. The Sultan, the ruler of Egypt, privately asked him to pray to the Lord for him, so that he might be inspired by God to adhere to that religion which most pleased God. Cohn, the Englishman, our clerk, also has joined this Order, as well as two more of our company, namely, Master Michael and Lord Matthew, to whom I had committed the care of the Church of the Holy Cross. I am having a difficult time holding on to the cantor and Henry and several others.

Lord, the spread of the Franciscan Order filled your world with grace at a moment in time when there was so much coldness and suffering.  May we continue to attract others to follow St Francis and live our fraternal life.  Amen.

Saturday, 7th July.

A reading from ‘The Earlier Rule’ of Saint Francis.

The Lord says, ‘Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and simple as doves.’ Let any brother, then who desires by divine inspiration to go among the Saracens and other non-believers, go with the permission of his Minister and servant. If he sees they are fit to be sent, the Minister may give them permission and not oppose them, for he will be bound to render an accounting to the Lord if he has proceeded without discernment in this and other matters.
As for the brothers who go, they can live spiritually among the Saracens and non-believers in two ways. One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake and to acknowledge that they are Christians. The other way is to announce the Word of God, when they see it pleases the Lord, in order that unbelievers may believe in Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Creator of all, the Son, the Redeemer and Saviour, and be baptized and become Christians because no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Holy Spirit.  They can say to them and the others these and other things which Please God because the Lord says in the gospel, ‘Whoever acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father.’  Wherever they may be, let all my brothers remember that they have given themselves and abandoned their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ. For love of him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies, both visible and invisible, because the Lord says, ‘Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it to eternal life. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

Lord, in our secular world, there are many who are yet to discover your love for them.  May we be ever a symbol of the resurrection, a hope-filled people whose love for you shines through our actions.  Amen.

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