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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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What Do We Do With This Great Love?

Francis's own song defined love for him. It was to live and be in God’s most holy will. And Francis has learned from Christ’s own words in the Gospels what God’s will is for those who love him. They are to feed the hungry, give drink to those who thirst, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. And they are to do all that for love of his love who did the same for us when he walked among us. He remembered when he was hungry and thirsty, and a stranger, and naked, sick and in prison. And there were those who gave him food and water, and welcomed him and the brothers when they were on the road, and those who visited him when he was sick, and wanted to visit him in prison and could not. Love is of the heart, Francis thought, but loving is about acting and living out God’s will revealed in Jesus Christ and in those who love him. How simple it all was if you loved the Lord. And it was good, and now he had done what was his to do. He prayed the brothers would do now what was theirs to do.

—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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A Grand Humility

In these “Praises of the Lord God Most High” are contained Francis’s experience of God. This is who this God he has loved late and long has become for him. These praises say, “O God, this is your song, you who are beauty so old and new. Late have I loved you.” And through it all Francis has tried to return such incredible love, a return of love that, Francis being Francis, was a great, though humble, love. As he sang at the end of his “Canticle of the Creatures,” we are to praise God “con grande umilitate,” with grand humility, not a puny, wimpy humility but a paradoxically huge, grand humility. For all his littleness and humility, there was in Francis something big, a heart full of largeness and largesse. Once Francis knew God’s love, he knew, as well, what St. Augustine put so beautifully. “And you see, you were within, and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things you have made.”

—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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Hold Back Nothing

In his Letter to the Whole Order, Saint Francis writes: “Let humanity kneel in fear, let the whole universe tremble, and let heaven rejoice when Christ the Son of the Living God is on the altar in the hands of the priest! O wonderful ascent, O stupendous descent! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity that the Lord of the Universe, God and Son of God, should so humbly hide himself for our salvation in what seems to be only a small piece of bread! Look, then, upon the humility of God! And pour out your hearts before him. Humble yourselves that he might exalt you. Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that he may receive your all who gave his all to you.”

—from the book Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo, OFM

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Bring the Gospel Back into Christmas

We ask ourselves, what is to be done, what can we do to bring the Christ of the Gospel back into Christmas in a way that is more than a bumper sticker slogan that ends up being mainly a political football? How can we bring the Christ of the Gospel back into our daily lives so that we actually live out the teachings of the Gospel where we first learned the story of Christ? Brother Thomas of Celano says of St. Francis, “His greatest care, his most vivid desire, his supreme resolution was to observe the holy Gospel….” And this very Gospel emphasizes over and over again the imperative of reaching out to those who, like the man in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, have fallen among thieves, which in turn calls to mind the rapaciousness of those forces and structures that control our economy and of the many who are left by the wayside. How, then, can we today reach out to those fallen and to the thieves, as well?

—from the book Surrounded by Love: Seven Teachings from Saint Francis by Murray Bodo, OFM

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