Last night, I went to a monthly gathering of a Franciscan community named Brother Jacoba. I am a member of the third order of St. Francis, now called the Secular Franciscan Order, and we gather to pray and support one another in our desire to follow the path of Francis. This great Saint from Assisi draws people from all walks of life and religions to embrace the gospel call to a life of poverty and simplicity. It is a daily struggle to face the many inconsistencies of trying to live the gospel and follow jesus. Part of following St. Francis is to see the world through the eyes of the poor and the stranger.
When I try and walk in the shoes of the homeless, the lonely , the undocumented , the abused…I am compelled to see the world through their eyes. And the world looks very different from their vantage point.
Francis teaches that the ultimate joy is to live through suffering and rejection without becoming bitter or resentful. Joy is that deep , wonderful virtue that refuses to let us become immobilized when life doesn’t go as planned. Joy gently pushes us out of our brokenness and forward into new life. The poor have much to teach us about Joy…and how this Joy can be a bridge that unites people of different beliefs and breaks down barriers.
Brother Jacoba is actually a woman Francis admired and loved. She was the only woman welcomed into Francis ‘ inner circle, so he referred to her as “brother.” Jacoba used to bring him his favorite treat : a dessert best described as almond cake, perhaps similar to marzipan. She was there at his death and she was buried very near to Francis in the lower level of the basilica in Assisi.
This is quite remarkable given the strict cultural codes that defined how men and women should interact. Having the presence of a woman in Francis’ living quarters certainly defied the norm. Francis was able to see beyond these codes of conduct to a new vision. And he didn’t stop there.
He traveled to Damietta to meet with the Sultan during the Fifth Crusade. He did not see the Muslim as the enemy and blatantly taught his followers (and us) to see christ in those who believe differently. The Sultan deeply admired and even loved Francis for his ability to love and accept the non Christian while still remaining loyal to his catholic faith.
For this, Francis is the patron saint of inter-religious dialogue. Given the turmoil and violence in the Middle East and other countries, we need to open
our minds and hearts to listen to those of other political and religious persuasions. In the West, we are largely ignorant of the teachings of Islam and reduce the beauty and truth of this religion to the fear of terrorism.
After the meeting I went over to the Christlindle Market to immerse myself in the throng of shoppers and tourists. Standing tall and magnificent was the tree, which during the day looks sparse and rather lifeless, but in the dark of night it becomes a beacon of Light…multi colored lights. Near this tree stands a Nativity scene, a Menorah and the Star and Crescent, three symbols of three different religions, together in a harmony of light…and peace.
Peace and Joy. Fr. Frank
Today begins the Advent Tradition of the “O Antiphons,” sung at evening prayer and at Mass. From
December 17 through the 23 there are seven Antiphons that name an attribute of the Messiah.
“Oh Wisdom who comes from the mouth of the Most High…teach us the way of prudence. ” The spirit of Wisdom filled jesus in his mission to spread the gospel.