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?

The Wisdom of Stupidity

“Stupid is as stupid does,” philosophised Forrest Gump in his eponymous film.    The irony of the story of Forrest Gump, simple and uncomplicated, is that he made fools of everyone by his pure, unencumbered view of the world.    St Francis shows us much about his attitude to knowledge in this week’s reading.

For a Franciscan, knowledge and the pursuit of learning is as valuable as the development of any gift possessed by the human person.  To try to achieve more in the field of knowledge increases the ability of the individual to return praise to God.   There are perils in becoming obsessed with knowledge, says St Francis, in that a friar may lose his simplicity and humility, that he may become a master lording it over his brothers, that he may find prayer – a pursuit accessible to the person of the most limited understanding – a frivolous waste of time, that he might rationalise away the presence and love of an Almighty God from whom all knowledge proceeds and, most disastrous of all, that he might use the esteem that comes with knowledge to build himself a Kingdom of his own, forgetting the Kingdom of God where all are welcome.

Knowledge can become so easily a possession that is jealously hoarded by the individual.   The fact that knowledge has to be shared first to be received makes this sinful insofar as the one who builds this Kingdom of Me refuses to extend a similar generosity to others.   Schools are particularly afflicted by this in the usual tradition of teachers emanating the worst traits of their students without being aware of it (show me a staff meeting and I will show you a set of discourteous behaviours never tolerated in a classroom).   Staffroom politics, a kind of taboo in the profession, makes or breaks an institution at the level of morale (the child of ethos) which is, in every caring institution, the vital safety net of a College.   Almost any catastrophe can befall an institution but, if morale is good, survival is assured.   When it is eroded away under the weight of too many Kingdoms of Me, confusion, lack of confidence and fear permeate in a palpable and sinister manner.    This slow cossetting-off of one’s professional existence is born of an unhealthy attachment to knowledge and a lack of generosity.  What was once our staffroom  becomes my office.   What was previously our colleagues becomes my team.  Even in the signature on an email, the implied we are becomes a cold I am.   We no longer take chargeof a situation but are rather in charge of a group of people.   A conversation becomes a contest.    All of sudden, those few who are welcomed into the company of the knowledgeable do so for their own survival whilst the rest are cut loose at the first opportunity and the doors that trust held open slam permanently shut.

The answer?  The students.   In the last week, I could fill a book with the little acts of charity that I have witnessed between students that warm the heart to its core.   Only a student can sit on the lawn and carefully break his salad roll in half to share with a classmate who “forgot” his lunch (code for ate it at morning tea).   Only a student can go uncomplaining to detention because he gave his hat to a younger sibling that they may not get into trouble.   Only a student will broaden their circle larger and larger to include classmates who typically have lunch alone.   Only a student can hold their tongue when being irrationally upbraided and, in charity, forgive the teacher for having “a bad day”.  Only a student can demonstrate such kindness … why can’t we?

Is it possible that we can become so smart that we forget common courtesy or decency?  Are we so smug that inclusivity and, to put it mildly, vulnerability are considered the hallmarks of the weak?   Then make me stupid and weak.  For it is often the students with the least amount of sophistocation that serve as the greatest reminder that it is the little ones who truly inherit the Kingdom.

Forrest Gump would be quite at home in this scenario.   “I’m not a smart man,” he might say, “but I know what love is.”

Monday is the feast of St Gregory, Patron of Teachers.


SUNDAY, 2 September.

A reading from ‘The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul’ by Thomas of Celano.

Francis wanted ministers of the word of God to be intent on spiritual study and not hindered by other duties. He said that they were heralds chosen by a great king to deliver to the people the decrees received from his mouth. For he used to say, ‘Preachers must first secretly draw in by prayer what they later pour out in sacred preaching; they must first of all grow warm on the inside, or they will speak frozen words on the outside.’ He said that this office was worthy of reverence and that those who exercised it should be revered by all. As he said, ‘They are the life of the body, the opponents of demons, the lamp of the world.’  He considered doctors of sacred theology to be worthy of even greater honour. Indeed, he once had it written as a general rule that ‘We should honour and revere all theologians and those who minister to us the words of God, as those who minister to us spirit and life.’ And once, when writing to Brother Antony, he had this written at the beginning of the letter: ‘Brother Francis sends greetings to Brother Antony, my Bishop. I am pleased that you teach sacred theology to the brothers providing that, as is contained in the Rule, you “do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion” during study of this kind.’

Lord, let us do nothing to extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion in our pursuit to be ministers of your Word and lovers of your holy will.  Amen.

MONDAY, 3 September – the Feast of Gregory the Great

St. Gregory, born at Rome about the year 540, was the son of Gordianus, a wealthy senator, who later renounced the world and became one of the seven deacons of Rome. After he had acquired the usual thorough education, Emperor Justin the Younger appointed him, in 574, Chief Magistrate of Rome, though he was only thirty-four years of age.  After the death of his father, he built six monasteries in Sicily and founded a seventh in his own house in Rome, which became the Benedictine Monastery of St. Andrew. Here, he himself assumed the monastic habit in 575, at the age of thirty-five.  After the death of Pelagius, St. Gregory was chosen Pope by the unanimous consent of priests and people. Now began those labors which merited for him the title of Great. His zeal extended over the entire known world, he was in contact with all the Churches of Christendom and, in spite of his bodily sufferings, and innumerable labors, he found time to compose a great number of works. He is known above all for his magnificent contributions to the Liturgy of the Mass and Office. He is one of the four great Doctors of the Latin Church. He died March 12, 604. He is the patron of teachers.

A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation’
There was once a brother novice who could read the psalter, but not very well. And because he enjoyed reading, he sought permission from the Minister General to have a psalter and the Minister granted it to him. But the brother did not wish to have it unless he first had permission from blessM Francis, especially since he had heard that blessed Francis did not want his brothers to be desirous of learning and books, but wanted and preached to the brothers to be eager to have and imitate pure and holy simplicity, holy prayer and Lady Poverty, on which the holy and first brothers had built. And he believed this to be the more secure path for the soul’s well-being.  Blessd Francis told him, ‘After you have a psalter, you will desire andwant to have a breviary; after you have a breviary, you will sit in a fancy chair, like a great prelate telling your brother, “Bring me the breviary.” And speaking in this way with great intensity of spirit, he took some ashes in his hand, put them on his head, rubbing them around his head as though he were washing it, saying, “I, a breviary! I, a breviary!” He spoke this way many times, passing his hand over his head. The brother was stunned and ashamed.  Afterwards, blessM Francis said to him, ‘Brother, I was likewise tempted to have books. But, in order to know God’s will about this, I took the book, where the Lord’s gospels are written, and prayed to the Lord to deign to show it to me at the first opening of the book. After my prayer was ended, on the first opening of the holy gospel, this verse of the holy gospel came to me: “To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to the others all things are treated in parables.”  And he said, ‘There are many who willingly climb to the heights of knowledge; that person be blessed who renounces it for the love of God.’

Lord, help us to reject all arrogance and the trappings of power that are alluring and tempting.  Amen.

TUESDAY, 4th September

A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation’
Many months later, when blessed Francis was at the church of Saint Mary of the Portiuncula, at a cell behind the house on the road, that brother spoke to him again about the psalter. And blessed Francis said, ‘Go and do as your Minister tells you.’ When he heard this, that brother began to go back by the same road he had come.
Blessed Francis remained on the road, and began to think over what he had said to that brother. Suddenly he yelled after him, ‘Walt for me, brother, wait!’ He went up to him and said, ‘Come back with me and show me the place where I told you to do with the psalter what your Minister tells you.’ When they returned to the spot where he had said this, blessed Francis bent over in front of the brother and, kneeling, said to him, ‘Mea culpa, brother, mea culpa. Whoever wishes to be a Lesser Brother must have nothing but the tunics, a cord and short trousers the Rule allows him; and for those forced by necessity or illness, shoes.’  Whenever brothers came to him to ask advice about such things, he would give them the same answer. For this reason, he used to say, ‘A person is only as learned as his actions show; and a Religious is only as good a preacher as his actions show;’ as if to say, ‘A good tree is known only by its fruit.’

Lord, let us bear fruit that is good and that builds up your Kingdom, not ours.  Amen.

WEDNESDAY, 5th September

A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation’
Francis did not despise or disdain holy knowledge. On the contrary, he revered with great feeling those who were knowledgeable in religion. But, foreseeing the future, he knew through the Holy Spirit, and even repeated it many times to the brothers, that many brothers, under the pretext of edifying others, would abandon their vocation: that is, pure and holy simplicity, prayer and our Lady Poverty. And it will happen that, because they will afterwards believe themselves to be more imbued with devotion and enflamed with the love of God because of an under- standing of the Scriptures, they will occasionally remain inwardly cold and almost empty. And so, they will be unable to return to their first vocation, especially since they have wasted the time for living according to their calling; and I fear that even what they seem to possess will be taken away from them, because they have lost their vocation.

Lord, warm us up with your love and our knowledge of how to love you more.  Keep us alive inside and may our energy inspire others to love you more as well.  Amen.

THURSDAY, 6th September

A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation’.
Blessed Francis used to say, ‘There are many brothers who, day and night, place all their energy and care in knowledge, losing their holy vocation and devout prayer. And when they have preached to others or to the people, and see or learn that some have been edified or converted to penance, they become puffed up or congratulate themselves for someone else’s gain. For those whom they think they have edified or converted to penance by their words, the Lord edified and converted by the prayers of holy brothers, although they are ignorant of it. This is the will of God so that they do not take notice of it and become proud.  ‘These brothers of mine are my knights of the round table, the brothers who hide in deserted and remote places, to devote themselves more diligently to prayer and meditation, weeping over their sins and those of others, whose holiness is known to God, and is sometimes ignored by the brothers and people. And when their souls will be presented to the Lord by the angels, the Lord will then reveal to them the fruit and reward of their labours, that is, the many souls saved by their prayers, saying to them, “My sons, behold these souls have been saved by your prayer, and since you were faithful in little things, I will set you over many.”‘

Lord, hide us away from the honours that we may receive.  Keep us humble, working in secret to make your kingdom a reality in our time.  Amen.

FRIDAY, 7th September

A reading from ‘The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul’, by Thomas of Celano.
When Francis was in Rome at the home of a Cardinal, he was asked about some obscure passages, and he brought to light depths in such a way that you would think he was constantly studying the Scriptures. The Lord Cardinal said to him, ‘I am not asking you as a scholar, but as a person who has the Spirit of God, and so I gladly accept the meaning of your answer, because I know it comes from God alone.’  Once, when he was sick and full of pain all over, his companion said to him, ‘Father, you have always taken refuge in the Scriptures, and they always have offered you relief from pain. Please, have something from the prophets also read to you now, and maybe your spirit will rejoice in the Lord.’ The saint said to him, ‘It is good to read the testimonies of Scripture, and it is good to seek the Lord our God in them. But I have already taken in so much Scripture that I have more than enough for meditating and reflecting. I do not need more, my son; I know Christ, poor and crucified.’

Lord, let there be only one thing we really know – that you loved us to the end and with you may we hang upon the Cross.  Amen.

SATURDAY, 8th September – the Birhday of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A reading from ‘The Book of the Gentile and the three Wise Men’, by Ramon Llull.
The Christian said, ‘The Son of God was born with human nature, so that in human nature there would be born greater virtue of justice and humility.  The Gentile asked, ‘Tell me, this woman you mention who gave birth to the Son of God, of what King was she a daughter? Or what sort of nobility can a woman have so that God would want to take on human nature in her and be born from her?’  The Christian replied, ‘It is true that our Lady was of the house of David, who was a noble and most honourable king, yet the father of our Lady Saint Mary was not a king nor was her mother a queen; they were instead humble folk. And our Lady was a woman poor in earthly possessions, but in virtues she was richer and nobler than any other creature, with the exception of her Son. In fact, this woman was so poor that when she gave birth to the Saviour of the world, she had no house in which to do so, and she gave birth in a stable. All this was to show the great humility of the Son of God. For if the Son of God had wanted to be born of a queen, as ruler of all kingdoms of the world, he could easily have done so; but it would not have shown humility against pride and justice against injustice.’

Most holy and immaculate Virgin, Mother of Jesus and our loving Mother, being his Mother, you shared in his universal kingship. The prophets and angels proclaimed him King of peace. With loving fervor in our hearts we salute and honor you as Queen of peace.

We pray that your intercession may protect us and all people from hated and discord, and direct our hearts into the ways of peace and justice which your Son taught and exemplified. We ask your maternal care for our Holy Father who works to reconcile the nations in peace. We seek your guidance for our President and other leaders as they strive for world peace.

Glorious Queen of peace, grant us peace in our hearts, harmony in our families and concord throughout the world. Immaculate Mother, as patroness of our beloved country, watch over us and protect us with your motherly love. Amen.

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