Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pester God? (Lk 18: 1-8)

The Gospel this Sunday may lead to the thought that if we only continue to bombard God with our petitions He will grow weary and give in to our pleadings.  The judge in Jesus' parable that the Gospel features today does just that.  He is confronted with a widow who constantly goes to him, demanding a just decision.  Over and over she approaches him.  He grows tired of her pleading and demands and after a prolonged period of time the judge gives in to the widow and renders a just decision in favor of the woman.  He did so out of fear that if he would not the woman would actually strike him.

To really understand the words of our Savior, it is imperative to read on in the Gospel.  Jesus' point is not to pester God with our needs, although constant prayer to the Father is also a must.  Rather, the point of Jesus' parable is to persist in faith.  Do not give up believing in God and His ability to guide us through His Spirit to Himself. 

Faith requires much persistence.  We are constantly surrounded by events and even people who threaten our faith.  Even the strongest among us has moments of weakened faith because of our human nature.  One of the most prominent examples of this in recent years was that of Mother Theresa.  For years, she was in distress where her faith was concerned.  God was silent.  No matter how often she prayed, no matter what she did to gain His attention, He remained quiet.  Yet, Mother Theresa knew this too was a gift from God.  She used His silence to deepen her faith.  She did so through constant prayer, a daily holy hour, and continual working with the destitute and impoverished with the poor of India and the rest of the world.  Her persistence was rewarded later in her life as God once again began communicating more directly His love for her.

We must do the same in our lives.  We cannot pester God to do anything!   That is not the nature of our relationship with Him.  But what we can do is continually seek ways to develop an even deeper faith in Him.  Nothing we do of our own accord can achieve this.  We need the aid of the Holy Spirit.  As long as we remain persistent in our faith development, we will continue to grow in our love for God and come to appreciate the things He has granted us.  Our prayers will likely become less petition directed and more thanksgiving directed.  In living our lives this way we will develop an even more intimate relationship with the Father.

Pray always but realize that we must have faith always regardless of the circumstances of our lives!  If we do this, we can then assure Jesus that when He comes again, He will indeed find faith on earth!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Il Poverello--San Francesco

Today in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the feast of one of the greatest and most well-known saints--Francis of Assisi.  Francesco di Bernadone was born in a small hill town in central Italy in 1182.  He was the son of one of the wealthiest merchants in Assisi and was born into a life of extreme privilege and ease.  And, early in his life, he reveled in that lifestyle.

Despite his wealth and prestigious position in the social life of Assisi, Francis, much to his father's horror and disgust, rejected everything material and became a devoted follower of poverty for the rest of his life.  His way of life was radical for its time.  The church had become very corrupt with a clergy getting wealthy at the expense of the laity.  Favors, called indulgences, were being bought and sold like any commodity found at the local market.  Very few attended Mass and most, while they paid homage to God, did not practice Christianity.

Francis rebelled against this and tapped into something that, as it turned out, many were seeking.  He found a life of simplicity and complete devotion to Jesus.  From the time of his conversion, the time he turned his life from the material world to the spiritual, till his death, he lived an impoverished life by choice so as to imitate the life that Jesus led.  He wanted nothing to stand in the way of his relationship with the Savior. 

Soon, he attracted followers who were drawn to him by his simple, direct message of joy and hope as found in life through Jesus Christ.  In the beginning, he attracted twelve followers and found that they needed something to guide them in their new way of life.  This guide, known as "The Rule", was drawn up by Francis and approved by Pope Innocent III some 800 years ago.  The rule survives today as the main guide of Franciscan Friars in the world today.

Francis also drew woman to his side who wished to follow his lifestyle as well.  One, who, like Francis, came from Assisi, came to him in secret against her family's wishes, in order to be accepted into the way of life adopted by the early friars.  Francis accepted her and thus was born the order of nuns we now know today as the Poor Clares.  They, like Francis, lived a life of poverty, without possessions or anything else that may be a barrier to their relationship with Jesus.

Many married men and women came to Francis to request that they be allowed to live as Francis and his followers did.  But the friars and the nuns were all unmarried and took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  They lived in communities called cloisters and spent their days in prayer and contemplation.  But that did not stop Francis.  Promptly, he wrote a rule of life for the lay people to follow and all who were accepted into this fraternity became members of the Franciscan family.  All three orders founded by St. Francis, namely the Order of Friars Minor (ofm), the Poor Clares, and the Secular Franciscans still exist throughout the world.

Perhaps the thing that Francis is best known for is his respect and love of nature.  Most statues, medals, and other images of St. Francis depict him with animals surrounding him.  Some artwork of this nature make him look like a zoo keeper.  In reality, the reason that Francis is so closely aligned with nature is that he saw God in all things, in all of creation.  He revered the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and all other creatures because they had as their creator none other than God.  In Francis' mind, this made every creature holy. 

Perhaps the most important thing to happen in the life of St. Francis was the imprinting of the stigmata of Christ.  These are the five wounds that Jesus endured when He was crucified.  Francis begged God to allow him to share fully in the sufferings of Jesus on the cross.  This was an amazing miracle.  It was the first time, as a matter of fact, that this had ever happened.  Francis endured these wounds during the final two years of his life.  They caused him unbearable pain.  During this time, he went blind due to an eye disease he contracted while in Egypt as he attempted to bring peace between the Christians and Muslims of the day.

The most remarkable thing about this little man from central Italy was his complete devotion to God and his deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ.  He found Christ in all things, including the lepers who lived in the area.  In Francis' day, leprosy was something to be profoundly feared.  Lepers had to live in colonies far outside the towns and the villages.  Whenever they traveled, they had to carry with them "clappers," and object made of two boards that when slapped together made a loud noise warning any oncoming pedestrian that a leper was near.  Lepers had to move out of the way of anyone else and let them pass.  They were forced to beg for their food and often went hungry since no one dare come into contact with them.

Francis was like everyone else where lepers were concerned.  He lived in mortal fear of them.  But he knew at heart that each one of these unfortunate human beings was made in the image of Jesus just as he was.  One day while traveling outside of his beloved Assisi, Francis encountered a leper.  Determined to change his way and truly find Christ in everyone, he climbed off his horse, drew near the diseased man, placed a coin in his hand and kissed him.  Repulsed, Francis moved away from the man but at the same time felt a sense of peace and joy that he had never encountered before.  When he looked back to see what had become of the leper, the man was gone, vanished into thin air.  This leper surely stayed in Francis' heart for the rest of his life.

So the lesson of St. Francis is this.  Find your leper, that person, situation, or circumstance that frightens you the most.  Learn about it not by running away from it but by running headlong towards it.  Embrace this leper of yours and realize that God and Jesus Christ are both very much alive in that leper.  Then feel the joy and peace that only they can bring.  That was the key to Francis' joy.  Not material things.  Not the security of this world, but the security of the love of God in every day life and in everything we encounter.

Pax et Bonum.  Peace and All Good!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Will Work for. . .Faith!

One fact of being a believer in Jesus is the fact that we must work for the faith that is necessary to be a good disciple.  It does not come easy and, once obtained, we must work at it in order to maintain it and grow it. 

Human nature is self-centered.  We believe and society reinforces that we deserve praise and good things from God for the good things we do.  We expect this.  As a matter of fact, if we were honest with ourselves, we demand it of God.  This expectation for a reward from God is often the reason we perform a good work in the first place.  It is a form of negotiation with God.  In other words, if we do this, then God will do that!  And that is preposterous!

We cannot ever have God in debt to us!  Never!  We must realize that when we perform good works, they are not our gift to God but God's gift to us!  All that is good, all good that happens to us comes from God.  It does not originate with us.  If we think that we have done something deserving of praise and reward from the Father, we have begun to think of things in terms of the flesh rather than the spirit.  We have begun to attribute the good in our lives as coming from us.  This is never true.  God is the author of good and no matter how good and faithful we may be, all of that comes from the Father. 

God is not in debt to us.  He has given us everything.  As a matter of fact, we can do nothing without the grace of God.  We can only do what He enables us to do so.  Even though that may be considerable, none of it comes from within us.  God gives us many gifts.  It is completely up to us whether or not we use them. 

When we have done all that we should do and then some, our disposition should be one of complete gratitude to God who granted us the ability to perform this act.  Work is a gift from God as well and we should never squander our time in working at our faith.  Temptations may--and will--come along no matter how diligent we are in our faith lives.  But if we aren't working at strengthening our faith, we will most certainly succumb to those moments.  When we are tempted, we must immediately turn to the Lord and plea with Him for His strength and courage to withstand the temptation.  He will not fail us as long as we remain faithful to Him. 

We may feel very good about being followers of Christ, and we should.  But we must also remember that being followers of Jesus is also a gift from the Father.  Jesus said as much when He said, "It was not you who chose me.  It was I who chose you that you should go and bear fruit that will last."  (Jn 15: 16)  When Jesus chooses us, then, it is not time to rest.  It is time to get down to work!  We must always be a work in progress as we continue to seek ways to grow our faith!