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?

Listening Hearts.

Have you ever met someone who loves the sound of their own voice? Have you ever been at Mass, for example, during the neverending homily and wondered to yourself, “I wonder who he is talking to?” such is the meandering, soliloquy taking place before you? Have you ever felt invisible, that people see you and hear you but take no real notice of you, much like being in a fancy Parisian restaurant?

Francis was someone who listened with his heart. In many instances, people ascribed a sort of mysterious wisdom to Francis, that he could see into the hearts of those he met. However, I disagree that there is anything miraculous about Francis understanding the deepest longings of others – he was an excellent listener. He didn’t have to listen to words but he listened intently to the whole person: their expression, the tone of their voice, their posture. If we take the time, all of us can listen to the hearts of those around us and leave the words to hang in their air.

Jesus’ lowly background was a barrier to the Nazarenes who failed to accept his message. As the prophecy and words of healing came from Jesus, it was much easier for the Nazarenes to dismiss him as “the carpenter’s son”. They even wished to throw him over a cliff! Does Jesus appeal to them? No. Their refusal to listen is all he needs to know and he walks past them and leaves the town.

To listen to someone, to really listen to their needs is to be fully present and to walk willingly into their confidence. It is to suspend our judgment of the individual and accept them as they are in the here and now. It is to respect and reverence God’s in-dwelling. Just by sitting with someone and listening without prejudice, resisting ever the urge to jump in with our own opinions and solutions, is a tremendous gift.

Pehaps this week we should try and uncover those “hidden prophets” that always surround us. With a little bit of silence, with the smallest effort to listen, we stand to learn much.


Sunday, 3 February

A reading from ‘The Legend ofthe Three Companions’ of Saint Francis.

The blessed father Francis, together with his sons, were staying in a place near Assisi called Rivo Torto, where there was a hut abandoned by all. The place was so cramped that they could barely sit or rest. Very often, for lack of bread, their only food was the turnips that they begged in their need, here and there. The man of God would write the names of the brothers on the beams of that hut, so that anyone wishing to rest or pray would know his place, and so that any unusual noise would not disturb the mind’s silence in such small and close quarters. One day while the brothers were staying in that place, a peasant came with his donkey, wanting to stay in that hut with it. And so that he would not be driven away by the brothers, on walking into the hut, he said to his donkey, ‘Go in, go in, because we will do well in this place.’ When the holy father heard the peasant’s words and realised his intention, he was annoyed at him, most of all because he made quite an uproar with his donkey, disturbing all the brothers who were then immersed in silence and prayer. Then the man of God said to his brothers, ‘I know, brothers, that God did not call us to prepare a lodging for a donkey, nor to have dealings with people. While we are preaching the way of salvation to people and are giving them wise counsel, we should dedicate ourselves most of all to prayer and thanksgiving.’ They left that hut for the use of poor lepers, moving to a small dwelling near Saint Mary of the Portiuncula where they stayed from time to time before acquiring that church.

Lord, even when people disturb us and claim from us what is not theirs. Let us be free and generous in our response. Amen.

Monday, 4 February

A reading from ‘The Life of Saint Francis’, by Thomas of Celano.

At that time, [while the brothers were still living in the hut at Rivo Torto,] the emperor Otto passed through that area, travelling in great pomp and circumstance to receive the crown of an earthly empire. The most holy father Francis and his followers were staying in that small hut next to the very parade route. He did not go outside to look and did not allow the Others to do so, except for one who, without wavering, proclaimed to the emperor that his glory would be short-lived. The glorious holy one, living within himself and walking in the breadth of his heart, prepared in himself a worthy dwelling place of God. That is why the uproar outside did not seize his ears, nor could any cry intrude, interrupting the great enterprise he had in hand. Apostolic authority resided in him; so he altogether refused to flatter kings and princes.

Lord, let us not be swept up in a culture of celebrity and follow the false prophets of our age. Let us always be your disciples, Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, 5 February – St Agatha

St Agatha was one of the first martyrs, being killed in Sicily in the year 251. Devoted to God, she was accosted by a high-ranking soldier called Quintian. When she resisted his advances, she was imprisoned in a brothel, sexually assaulted and tortured for a lengthy period of time, including having her breasts cut off. Dying with words of forgiveness of her lips, her sad life has been forever remembered.

A reading from ‘The Legend of the Three Companions’ of Saint Francis.
[After the brothers had moved to the church of Saint Mary of the Portiuncula,] blessd Francis, in accordance with God’s will and inspiration, obtained it from the abbot of the monastery of Saint Benedict on Mount Subasio near Assisi. The saint, in a special and affectionate way, commended this place to the Minister General and to all the brothers, as the place loved by the glorious Virgin more than any other place or church in this world.
Avision one of the brothers had, while in the world, contributed much to the commendation and love of this place. Blessed Francis loved this brother with unique affection as long as he was with him, by showing him extraordinary affection. This man, wanting to serve God – as he later did so faithfully in religion – saw in a vision that all the people of the world were blind and were kneeling in a circle around the church of Saint Mary of the Portiuncula with their hands joined and their faces raised to heaven. In a loud and sobbing voice, they were begging the Lord in his mercy to give them sight. While they were praying, it seemed that a great light came from heaven and, resting on them, enlightened all of them with its wholesome radiance.
On awakening, the man resolved to serve God more faithfully, and, shortly thereafter, leaving the world with its seductions, he entered religion where he persevered in the service of God with humility and dedication.

Lord, help us all to find our spiritual home, our own place where we can be present to listen to you. Amen.

Wednesday, 6 February – Paul Miki and Companions

Paulo Miki was born into a wealthy Japanese family. He was educated by the Jesuits in Azuchi and Takatsuki. He joined the Society of Jesus and became a well known and successful preacher – gaining numerous converts to Catholicism. The Japanese daimyo, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, fearful of the Jesuit’s influence and intentions began persecuting Catholics. Miki was jailed, along with others. He and his fellow Catholics were forced to march 600 miles (966 kilometers) from Kyoto to Nagasaki; all the while singing the Te Deum. On arriving in Nagasaki, the city with the largest Catholic population in Japan, Miki was crucified on February 5, 1597. He preached his last sermon from the cross, and it is maintained that he forgave his executioners, stating that he himself was Japanese. Crucified longside him were Joan Soan (de Gotó) and Santiago Kisai, also of the Society of Jesus; along with twenty-three other clergy and laity, all of whom were canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1862.

A reading from ‘The Legend of the Three Companions’ of Saint Francis.
At that time, as blessd Francis was with his brothers whom he had then, he was of such purity that,from the hour the Lord revealed to him that he and his brothers should live according to the form of the holy gospel,
he desired and strove to observe it to the letter during his whole lifetime.
Therefore he told the brother who did the cooking for the brothers, that when he wanted the brothers to eat beans, he should not put them in warm water in the evening for the next day, as people usually do. This was so the brothers would observe the words of the holy gospel, ‘Do not be concerned about tomorrow.’ So that brother used to put them in water to soften after the brothers said matins.
Because of this, for a longtime many brothers observed this in a great many places where they stayed on their own, especially in cities. They did not want to collect or receive more alms than were enough for them for one day.

Lord, let us apply ourself to the holy gospel, and not count the cost. Amen.

Thursday, 7 February

A reading from ‘A Mirror of the Perfection of a Lesser Brother’
Once when blessd Francis was at Saint Mary of the Portiuncula, a very spiritual poor man was coming back along the road from Assisi with a bag of alms. As he drew near the church of Saint Mary, praising God as he went his way in a loud voice with great joy, blessd Francis heard him.
Immediately, with the greatest fervour and delight, he ran up to him on the road and, with great joy, kissed his shoulder on which he was carrying the bag with the alms. Taking the bag from his shoulder and putting it on his own shoulder, he carried it to the home of the brothers. He said to the brothers, ‘This is how I want a brother of mine to go for alms and to return happy and joyful praising God.’

Lord, let us always be joyful and praise God, especially in difficult times of need. Amen.

Friday, 8 February

A reading from ‘The Assisi Compilation’
Once when blessed Francis had returned to Saint Mary of the Portiuncula, he found there Brother James the Simple with a leper covered with sores who had come there that day. The holy father had entrusted this leper to him, and especially all the other lepers who had severe sores. For in those days, the brothers stayed in the leper hospitals. That Brother James was like the doctor for those with severe sores, and he gladly touched, changed, and treated their wounds. As if reproving Brother James, blessed Francis told him, ‘You should not take our Christian brothers about in this way since it is not right for you or for them.’ BlessM Francis used to call lepers ‘Christian brothers.’ Although he was pleased that Brother James helped and served them, the holy father said this because he did not want him to take those with severe sores outside the hospital. This was especially because Brother James was very simple, and he often went with a leper to the church of Saint Mary, and especially because people usually abhorred lepers who had severe sores. After he said these things, blessed Francis immediately reproached himself, and he told his fault to Brother Peter of Catanio, who was then Minister General, especially because blessed Francis believed that in reproving Brother James he had shamed the leper. Blessed Francis said, ‘Let this be my penance: I will eat together with my Christian brother from the same dish.’ While blessed Francis was sitting at the table with the leper and other brothers, a bowl was placed between the two of them. The leper was completely covered with sores and ulcerated, and especially the fingers with which he was eating were deformed and bloody, so that whenever he put them in the bowl, blood dripped into it. Brother Peter and the other brothers saw this, grew very sad, but did not dare say anything out of fear of the holy father. The one who wrote this, saw it and bore witness to it.

Lord, let us follow this extraordinary sign of love and redemption from St Francis. May we never spare ourselves in our love for others. Amen.

Saturday, 9 February

A reading from ‘The Little Flowers of Saint Francis.’
It once happened that at a place where Saint Francis was staying at that time the brothers were serving sick lepers in a hospital. One of the lepers there was so impatient, so unbearable and obstinate that everyone believed as certain that he was possessed by the demon, and so he was. He so rudely insulted anyone who served him with words and blows and, what is worse, he hurled such angry blasphemies against the blessed Christ and his most holy mother the Virgin Mary, that no one at all could be found who could or would serve him. Although the brothers strove to bear patiently the insults and harm to themselves, in order to increase the merit of patience, nevertheless their consciences could not bear those against Christ and his Mother, so they decided to abandon that leper entirely. But they did not want to do this until they explained this in detail to Saint Francis, who was then staying in a place near there. After they explained this, Saint Francis went to that perverse leper and, coming up to him, greeted him, saying, ‘My dear brother, may God giveyou peace.’ The leper responded, ‘What peace can I have from God? He has taken from me peace and every good thing, and has made me all decayed and stinking!’ Saint Francis said, ‘My son, be patient, because the illnesses of the body are given to us by God in this world for salvation of the soul, so they have great value, when they are borne patiently.’ The sick man replied, ‘How can I patiently bear the constant pain that torments me night and day? And I am suffering not only from my illness, but the brothers you gave me to serve me make me worse, and do not serve me as they should.’ Then Saint Francis said, ‘My son, I want to serve you myself, since you are not content with the others.’ The sick man said, ‘I like that. But what more can you do than the others?’ Saint Francis answered, ‘I will do whatever you want.’ The leper said, ‘I want you to wash me all over. I stink so badly I cannot bear myself.’ Then Saint Francis quickly had some water heated with many fragrant herbs. He undressed the man, and began to wash him with his holy hands, while another brother poured the water. By a divine miracle, where Saint Francis touched him with his holy hands the leprosy went away, and there remained only perfectly healed flesh. And as the flesh began to heal, the soul also began to heal. When the leper saw himself being cured, he began to weep very bitterly. So while externally the body was being cleansed of leprosy by washing with water, so internally his soul was being cleansed of sin by contrition and tears.

Lord, may we wash the sins of others away by our kindness and our tenderness. Amen.

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