The one experience that totally transformed the life of St. Francis of Assisi was the moment he PHYSICALLY embraced a leper. Something WITHIN him compelled him to confront the disgust he felt towards lepers; he despised even being near them. The moment he embraced that leper, that leper was transformed from an object of disgust into a human being with dignity. After the embrace, francis saw Christ in the human being he once saw as a horrible leper.
In today’s first reading, Paul has a similar experience, in that he sees Onesimus NOT as a slave but as a brother in Christ. In his own way, Paul embraced the slave Onesimus in his humanity and was able to refer to him as his child. What a magnificent transformation of Paul’s heart and this transformation occurred while he was imprisoned for his faith.
How does a leper become a human being with dignity? How does a slave, a piece of property, become a person with rights and dignity? The simple answer that takes a lifetime to unfold is CONVERSION of the heart. Francis and Paul surrendered their lives and their hearts to Christ. They allowed grace to completely transform their lives so that they began to see all of life through the lens of faith.
A saint is someone who lives under the influence of God’s grace. They experience the Kingdom as something alive and present WITHIN the human heart. Yes, the Kingdom of God is here…right now…within your heart. All of our experiences, especially our religious rituals and traditions , are meant to help us go “within,” allowing allow the Kingdom to come alive. Religion is a mean to an end , the end being an encounter with Christ, such that our worlds our turned upside down. Religion is all about transforming our hearts so that we love each and every human being and see the presence of God in them.
Let us pray that our religion and our hearts do not become like fossils, where we are surrounded by the hard rock of rigidity and isolation. For the heart to be transformed it can never be entombed in the fear of change and transformation, by its very essence, is all about change. We are pilgrims of transformation : only as our hearts are transformed will the world be transformed.
Buen Camino. Padre