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?

Besieged By Doubt

Besieged by doubt.

It is an interesting turn of phrase to say that one is besieged by doubts. It literally means to be held captive by doubt, to be surrounded by hostile forces rather than to be merely cynical or suspicious of the mysterious or wondrous. Thomas in the Gospel read at Low Sunday is forever remembered as the Apostle who could not accept that the presence in their midst was our Risen Lord. It took physical evidence to dispel his doubts and to, therefore, set him free.

And so it is with us in every sense. When we are held captive by our doubts and fears, we can’t really stretch our wings when uncertainty shakes our confidence. It reminds us of someone walking a tightrope. “Don’t look down!” the spectators cry and, with eyes kept on the goal, doubt and fear remain as distant as the ground beneath. But this takes a great deal of fortitude and faith. Doubt is a normal part of our human condition. It takes a lot of effort to simply believe and yet that is precisely what we are called to do.

The intimacy of Jesus reassures us. He invites Thomas to touch his wounds with his hands, to come closer. Thomas’ doubt is not a rejection but a cry for liberation from disbelief. And like Jesus, our intimacy invites others into a confidence that enables faith to grow strong.

For even if we have faith to move the mountains, without love we can do nothing. If we have doubts that plague us and keep us prisoners, with love, there are no chains that can hold us down.

Bro Matt has been on school holidays.


Sunday, 7 April.

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

How handsome,
how splendid!
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,
slaw 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!

Monday, 8 April – THE ANNUNCIATION

The Annunciation (anglicised from the Latin Vulgate Luke 1:26-39 Annuntiatio nativitatis Christi), also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary or Annunciation of the Lord, is the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking his Incarnation. Gabriel told Mary to name her son Jesus, meaning “Saviour”. It is a story found in the Qu’ran as well as the New Testament.

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 Eke 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 blessed 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, we thank you for the gift of Our Lady and for giving your Son to the world. May we honour this gift of grace by returning our gifts and talents to the world. Amen.

Tuesday, 9th 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, blessed Francis came to that place by divine guidance. And when blessed 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 blessed 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 blessed Francis, he remained in great serenity and peace of soul and body.

Lord, let us go gently with ourselves. May we be the first to apolgise and seek pardon and may we also be the first to forgive and accept others with a redeeming embrace. Amen.

Wednesday, 10th 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, what are we to do when we are beset by demons that threaten and frighten us? Keep us in your care, Lord, and drive away all that would do us ill. Amen.

Thursday, 11th April

Stanislaus was born of noble parents on July 26th at Szczepanow near Cracow, Poland. He was educated at Gnesen and was ordained there. He was given a canonry by Bishop Lampert Zula of Cracow, who made him his preacher, and soon he became noted for his preaching. He became a much sought after spiritual adviser. He was successful in his reforming efforts, and in 1072 was named Bishop of Cracow. He incurred the enmity of King Boleslaus the Bold when he denounced the King’s cruelties and injustices and especially his kidnapping of the beautiful wife of a nobleman. When Stanislaus excommunicated the King and stopped services at the Cathedral when Boleslaus entered, Boleslaus himself killed Stanislaus while the Bishop was saying Mass in a chapel outside the city on April 11. Stanislaus has long been the symbol of Polish nationhood. He was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1253 and is the principle patron of Cracow.

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 signs and wonders are all around us. Never fail to surprise us and offer us the opportunity to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief.” Amen.

Friday, 12th 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, pride comes before a fall. May we be happy for those who have it easier than us and not resent them. May we always be the servants of others. Amen.

Saturday, 13th 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, thank you for the leadership of Pope Francis I and Pope Benedict XVI. As Pope Benedict stands aside to give us an example of humanity, Pope Francis shows us the way of humble service. Strengthen both of these servants of the people of God. Amen.

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