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Where Love Can Lead

Slavish imitation is not what holiness is about, but rather it’s about learning to love God in our own time and place with its own sensibilities and ways of following in the footsteps of Jesus with all our heart and mind and soul. It’s about doing and making choices commensurate with our own capacities, our own strength and/or weakness of mind and body. We don’t have to be nutty to be a saint, but being in love with God will sometimes move us to do things that others will consider nutty or unbalanced.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis

 

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Seeking Perfect Joy

The spirituality of St. Francis is not so much about the heroic deed as it is about the heroic love with which even the smallest deed is done. That is very clear from the quintessential story of Perfect Joy. It is not what Francis and Leo endure from the abusive brother that counts. It is, as Francis says to Leo, when we bear such abuse and suffering, “remembering the sufferings of Christ, the Blessed One, and how He taught us to bear all things for love of Him, then write down, Brother Leo, ‘This is perfect joy.’” Francis loved Christ and wanted to die into his love who is the incarnation of how far God will go in his love for us. He wants to be one with the Beloved, even in his rejection and suffering and unjust death at the hands of those for whom he came to reveal the goodness and love of God.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis

 

 

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Love Draws Us Back to God

Love God and do as you will, says St. Augustine, for love is its own commandment. That is how St. Francis took it and lived it. He sinned, as all humans do, but after his conversion, he always knew when he had sinned because Love’s commandment drew him back to the divine love that underpinned everything he was and did. It was not so much fear of punishment that motivated Francis but rather his commitment to him whom he loved, Jesus Christ. To separate oneself from Christ would be the sin for Francis. If he feared anything, it would have been that he would betray Christ, the love of his life.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis

 

 

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Loving Lady Poverty

A very early Franciscan document, Sacrum Commercium, The Sacred Exchange, begins with words reminiscent of the Bible’s Song of Songs: “Francis began to go about in the streets and crossings of the city, relentlessly, like a persistent hunter, diligently seeking whom his heart loved. He inquired of those standing about, he questioned those who came near to him, saying, ‘Have you seen her whom my heart loves?’” This kind of language and imagery for Franciscan poverty makes of poverty and penance a joyful enterprise, the joyful knight, Francis, going about the countryside as the embodiment of the good knight whose virtues are those of a knight of the new Round Table of the Lord. Poverty and penance, then, are not a grim affair, but the kind of derring-do a knight would perform to impress the Lady of the Castle, even rolling in briar bushes in the dead of winter to show his fidelity to her. This charges the tone of the early Franciscan Order with the chivalry and adventure of the Quest, a Spiritual Battle, fired by a deep and abiding love for Christ the Lord whose self-emptying is symbolized in Lady Poverty who was Christ’s vesture.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis

 

 

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The Highest of All Loves

Francis’s long journey into God was, at each step along the way, punctuated by learning again and again another truth that St. Augustine articulates at the beginning of his Confessions: “You have made us for You and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.”  It was a journey that involved learning to love anew the things of creation, his love constantly being purified by the overarching love of God. It was like a return to the Garden of Eden seeking again and again to restore the Paradise humans had so cavalierly destroyed. The journey forward into God is a journey backward to an original innocence we never fully recover but where a sort of semi-paradise happens when love turns into charity. This is the highest of all loves, which Christ defined as the love of God and the love of neighbor, the total love of God leading to true love of neighbor and the true love of neighbor leading to the love of God.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis

 

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Where Lion and Lamb Lie Down

Francis looked intently, and he looked with reverence and with love. He is moved. And it is that movement of the heart that leads to action. At the very least, it leads to praise; or if what is seen is broken or hurt, it leads to the need to help the other. And that need to help for Francis is not minimal. He pushes the envelope, for example, vis--vis the lepers. He doesnt simply give them a coin or food. He goes and lives among them and works mercy with them. It is a mutual exchange. They both experience mercy. That mutual giving and receiving is, I believe, the bedrock of Franciscan peacemaking. By overcoming shame or fear; or whatever it is that is holding you back from reaching out to the poor and broken ones, you enter a startling world of sweetness of soul that is not just self-serving but that accomplishes a profound reconciliation of opposites that makes it possible to experience a new, unexpected bond with the other. And you want to stay there, not necessarily in that physical place but in that spiritual and psychological space where the lion and the lamb lie down together. Nor is the bond something static. It only endures if you continue to overcome new barriers, cross new and fearsome barriers so that you yourself become the place of reconciliation wherever you go. That kind of portable peacemaker was who St. Francis was.  

from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo

 

 

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Persuasive Peace

Peacefulness is its own persuasion. That is the best option for those committed to living the Gospel. The Franciscan response to sin and division is to forgive myself and my neighbor, thereby becoming peaceful in my own center, and then to reach out to others and “work mercy” with them, even with those whom I find it difficult to love, who repel me in any way. We work together toward the good, or we perish as individuals, as societies and as civilizations. Saint Francis began a new evangelization in his own time, not by trying to be social reformer. He simply loved Christ and lived the Gospel, and he and his brothers became thereby catalysts for social change. They became “Holy Fools” who turned the world upside down by simply living the truth of the Gospel of Christ. Like Francis and his brothers, we all can learn to love again, even in the midst of division and war. And the map Francis gave us for learning to love is the Gospel and his own life of following in the footsteps of Christ. This map has been summed up beautifully in his Peace Prayer, a prayer he did not write but certainly is the way he prayed and lived and taught by example. It is a prayer that outlines everything that made Francis the peacemaker that he was and the model for peace that he is for us today. It is a prayer that shows us how to find the truth again, if we’ve lost it, or to continue living in the truth we’ve already found and are trying to live.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo

 

 

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The Way of the Love of God

A preference for light and beauty is one of the reasons St. Francis is attractive to us and why he was so successfully a peacemaker in his own time. It is why today his town of Assisi has been the site of peace conferences and prayer meetings to promote peace. St. Francis is seen as the gentle saint who shows us that the way to peace and justice is the way Christ has shown us in the Gospels, namely, the way of the love of God, which is THE way; and its companion is the way of love of our neighbor as ourselves. This basic Gospel truth is the message of the Gospel St. Francis finally was able to hear in the Gospel he lived and preached. He learned that if we put those two commandments in precisely that order, we easily see how and when we sin in departing from the truth and in hurting our neighbor. All truth is from God, and God’s truth is that we are to love God, and loving God will show us how to love our neighbor. Living the Gospel must start with embracing this basic Gospel truth. Only then will we, too, begin to hear the Voice of God…. It is only necessary to be true to oneself; and if it is called for, to speak our own understanding of what the truth is without denigrating others. Peace is achieved more effectively by trying to bring out the best, not pointing out the worst, in others. And we bring out the best in others by being ourselves peaceful. Our own peaceful presence will do more than trying to persuade others that we are right and they are wrong.

—from Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo

 

 

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Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Pray for Us

The earthly existence of Padre Pio was abundantly full of mysterious phenomena and events. However, the most important of the various charisms in his life was the stigmata, the wounds on his feet, hands, and side that he bore on his body for fifty years and recalled the “signs” of the passion and death of Jesus. For believers, these wounds demonstrated, and continue to remind us, that Padre Pio was a special person chosen by God to call the world’s attention to the great mystery in history: the redemption by Jesus through the most terrible suffering, a death on a cross. Padre Pio is the only stigmatized priest in history and has come to be called an “Alter Christus,” another Christ. Pope Paul VI defined him as “a stamped representative of the stigmata of Our Lord.” The stigmata is the feature that identifies and characterizes the life, message, mission, and holiness of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.


—from the book Saint Padre Pio: Man of Hope by Renzo Allegri

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